The beauty of balance

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving”: Albert Einstein.

Balance. Everybody needs it, but few need it as much in their life as dancers, gymnasts and circus performers.

Having just seen Empire, the cirque show in Sydney, I’ve got even more respect for the art of perfect balance.

There are eight circus acts in the show (I’m not counting the “comic” banana spitting MCs) but am writing here about just three of them, a two man foot juggling performance, a solo representing the epitome of Zen and focus and three women who form stunning pyramids in the centre of the tiny stage.

Tariku Fufa (born in 1989) and Yonas Teka (1998) from Ethiopia perform foot juggling that is jaw-droppingly acrobatic and fast.

Tariku spins Yonas from his feet in a display that ends with Yonas making 50 consecutive somersault flips that earned a thunderous reception from the audience but also made me concerned for his long-term health in terms of later damage to his body. Ok, he’s only 15 or so but that kind of flipping and spinning can take a big toll.

With his body, flexibility, kinesthetic awareness and daring, he could be the new Carlos Acosta but I guess that once a circus turn, always a circus turn. I just hope he doesn’t flip too long!

The Gorilla Girls (a nod to the Empire State Building and King Kong and nothing to do with the feminist group, the Guerrilla Girls) quickly shed their monkey masquerades to reveal their youthful faces and toned bodies. They are petite but their muscle strength allows them to form the pyramid shapes they make that defy gravity.

The Ukrainian women, also known as Trio Bingo! (Kateryna Rudenko, Alina Reutska and Alona Stekolnikova), have taken part in competitive acrobatic gymnastics since they were children.

The most remarkable act of balance in Empire is performed by Memet Bilgin who builds a sculpture as he places one delicate branch on top of another, holding the construction in one hand and eventually on the top of his head.

As he builds, the criss crossed artwork of branches looks as though it might tumble down at any moment and the audience is hushed as Bilgrin’s back sweats but his eyes remain focussed on the task.

The performance is known as the Sanddorn Balance, an act created in 1996 by the Swiss theatre artist Mädir Eugster in 1996 in the play Balance … forever turning.

It seems the act was originally performed with the artist standing in sand as he built the giant mobilé from withered ribs of date and coconut palm leaves.

The Sanddorn Balance then migrated to the circus world and eventually Mädir passed on his act to other performers, among them Memet Bilgin who performed with the Rigolo Swiss Cirque Nouveau in 2008.

Mädir Eugster has said: “I trust my successors: They will guard this treasure, develop it further and give it a life of its own. The Sanddorn Balance bears many secrets, and every single performer can draw one of them out and present it in their own way”.

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Madir Eugster, Rigolo Swiss Cirque Nouveau, photo © Kurt Sikora

The Gorilla Girls, aka Trio Bingo, Empire, photographer unknown

Tariku Fufa and Yonas Teka, Empire, photographer unknown

Memet Bilgin performing the Sanddorn Balance, Empire, photographer unknown