Give 'em Rope

A renegade ballerina and an aerialist string together a new show

Picture Cirque du Soleil directed by neurologist guru Oliver Sachs. Add a soupçon of feisty Carrie and the wry Miranda from Sex in the City. Shake it up with a few tutus, and you have some idea of the worlds about to collide in trickpony: An Aerial Romp Through the Brain, the new aerial/dance/theater work by Sally Rousse and Chelsea Bacon.

"When I first saw Chelsea naked and hanging from her neck, I knew immediately that I had to work with this woman," says Rousse.

Don't look down: Sally Rousse (left) and Chelsea Bacon flirt with gravity in 'trickpony'
Erik Saulitis
Don't look down: Sally Rousse (left) and Chelsea Bacon flirt with gravity in 'trickpony'

The attraction was mutual. "Sally can do things alone on pointe shoes that most of us couldn't do even with a partner," says Bacon.

After meeting as fellow performers in 3 Legged Race's 1999 multidisciplinary showcase "Blizzard in August," the women forged a peripatetic alliance. Rousse, a self-described "renegade ballerina" who dances with the James Sewell Ballet, traveled to New York a few times to work with Bacon, a new-wave aerialist. But the idea of creating a work together really took shape during a two-month period after September 11 when Bacon's New York apartment became temporarily uninhabitable and she came to live with Rousse.

During rehearsals in June, the women improvised material on three rectangular structures resembling trapezes, controlled by a complicated rigging system. A visitor then might have seen Bacon hanging suspended in one of the frames while Rousse tugged mightily at a rope that cranks the contraption higher. The petite, scrappy Rousse would go on to pratfall with each yank of the rope, while Bacon ascended serenely in little jerks--an Abbott and Costello take on leverage.

Other images from the show are more fragmented and earthbound. Bacon manipulates a headless, footless, and one-armed doll, while Rousse becomes tangled up in a coil of rope like a deranged cowgirl. Sometimes the two seem isolated in an aerial cocoon, finding effortless repose in torturous positions.

"This is not about circus," says Bacon, whose bracing directness as a performer matches her deadpan New York humor. Circus is hardly a word we use." Early on in their collaboration, Bacon introduced Rousse to a book of sketches by Nadia, an autistic girl who at age three became obsessed with drawing vibrantly animated horses. While the two insist that trickponyis not directly about autism, they do admit to a fascination with the "savant" state of many autistics. "We were fascinated by that brain state, so familiar to both of us, where you can't do something, but you can do something else extremely well," says Rousse.

"The way I use aerial stuff is not normal," says Bacon. "It's about perception--not a pretty dance in the air."

 
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