Four thirty-foot long strips of white silk were suspended behind Aerosmith’s drum set in a Hollywood sound stage. We were one male and three female aerialists stretching on a dusty concrete floor creating an image like ghosts of a Busby Berkley musical. In two days, we would perform an aerial routine on that fabric during the American Music Awards.
The Band had hired Cirque du Soleil’s famed choreographer, Debra Brown, to create our routine. She pressed play on a recorded version of “Jaded,” the bands newest song, several times to give us a feel for the rhythm. Then she said, “Now play.”
“What do you mean?” I asked expecting her to have choreographed a routine to teach to us, thinking that she was making us do her work.
“Just do something,” she answered, “Whatever comes to you. Play.” She was without a preconceived plan, trusting in our ability, she wanted spontaneity and surprise.
I crunched a pebble of caramel-colored rosin with rubbing alcohol and patted the sticky mixture onto my palms to better grip the fabric. I looked twenty-five feet up and pulled my body to the top. I flipped upside down and hooked my right leg around the material then wrapped the free fabric around my left leg like a spider in a web. This left my arms free to pose.
“Don’t pose Christine.” Debra called from below. “Do something else.
Pulling upright, I knotted my foot to the silk, and stretched the width of the fabric around my body so that I sat hidden in a cocoon. Debbie shouted over, the music, “You’re still posing!”
Maybe she wants to see dynamic tricks I thought so I locked each foot into the fabric and dropped into a split. From there, I unhooked one foot and pirouetted into a foot hang. I finished the sequence by wrapping the fabric around my waist and rolling three times down the length of material like a tornado.
Debbie shook her head, “No, Christine.”
I slid down the fabric, sweat drenched, my mouth as dray as a desert, my muscles spent, feeling as frustrated as she looked. I could sense her giving up on me. I wasn’t giving her what she wanted, but I had no idea what that might be.
Bianca, the weathered veteran who had worked with Debbie before and had felt her war wounds, showed me. She started as I had by transitioning into a basic acrobatic wrap. But while suspended midair, she gathered the loose fabric in her palms and with eyes closed, caressed it against her cheek like a lover’s face. Her eyes then popped open and her head whipped back. In a violent frenzy, like a tigress on the hunt, she tore at the fabric and hurled it into the air. Her body draped into a foot hang and convulsed as if going into a seizure. Suddenly she fell limp like a rag doll and several seconds dangled lifelessly.
Slowly, as if realizing that she had killed, her body contorted into a small ball, her face twisted in anguish. A gasp erupted from her mouth. She pulled an armful of the silk to her breast as if she were nursing an infant. Her breathing rhythm changed, slowed. In Bianca’s hands the woven threads came alive.
I felt like a voyeur watching her through a bedroom window. I stood mesmerized watching mere fabric transform from a prop to an extension of her body. Now I understood what Debbie wanted. It had nothing to do with striking pretty poses or executing the most difficult tricks. It wasn’t about the “Ta dah.” During that rehearsal, I learned to turn movement into meaning and to merge artist with athlete.
Two days later at the Shrine auditorium I stood on stage awaiting the curtain to open. I pressed my index fingers against my ears and heard silence. My silence. From the wings the riggers gave us a thumbs up to motor lift us into the air. I gripped the soft fabric as we and the curtain ascended revealing a sea of musician’s faces in the audience.
When Aerosmith began playing, I heard the music resounding through my body, as if my body were the instrument. I was vibrating like a plucked guitar string. I listened to this music inside me and my heart gave it a voice. My mind shut down as my body began to speak. And for the first time in my life, I danced as if…I were the music.
Christine Van Loo is a dynamic high content speaker who is motivational in style. She shares the truly unique and engaging personal story of how she overcame obstacles, challenges and doubt and transformed herself from an inept athlete to a legend in her sport. Christine is a Female Olympic Athlete of the Year, Athlete of the Decade and is the only 7-time consecutive National Champion in acrobatic gymnastics, inducted into the Hall of Fame and the World Acrobatics Society Gallery of Honor. www.old.denverspeakersbureau.com/christine-van-loo