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How are aerial silks born?

The history of aerial silks from Roman times to Cirque Du Soleil

The discipline of aerial silks has very ancient roots and does not have an inventor or a precise moment of birth. As often happens in the circus world, it is a succession of modifications of tools and disciplines already present, with the aim of creating something even more spectacular and unique.


It is impossible not to see the affinities between an aerial rope and an aerial silk, it is in fact probable that the first circus performer to climb on a silk simply thought of using a silk instead of a rope, it is in fact known that, already at the time of ancient Rome, to get to the Roman rings, suspended between 5 and 10 meters above the ground, the acrobats performed a short number on a rope which up until the end of the 1900s consisted of a technically difficult ascent which showed above all the strength muscle of the acrobat.


Proof of the fact that the late 19th century trapeze artists used aerial silk can be found in a late 19th century photo that immortalizes the trapeze artist Amy Bowers (1871 -

1953) of the group “The Flying LaVans” of brothers Fred Sage Van Alstine Green (1859-1897) and Harry Van Alstine Green (1867-1952) with whom she was married.

It is very probable that Amy Green, as well as the acrobats on the Roman rings before her, used the silk to get to the flying trapeze and that in doing so she showed short-li

ved movements and figures. The fact that no articles of the time mention this or any other number on the silk proves that it was nothing really innovative and noteworthy compared to the main flying trapeze act.

If on the one hand, therefore, silks were already used since ancient times, we must consider that they were very different from those we think of, the polyester material had not yet been invented and it does not seem that anyone had yet thought of a silk divided into two flaps, let's talk therefore of mono silk of non-elastic material.


In 1982 on the ashes of the "Gala de la Piste" the "Festival Mondial Du Cirque De Demain" was born with the aim of promoting young talents who do not come from traditional circus families, this stage will be fundamental for all the innovations that will follow one another, including aerial silks.

Particularly in the 1987 edition, enthusiasts realized that the circus world had entered a new era: Victor Fomine (1941) at the request of the director Tereza Durova (1965) found himself having to create a trapeze number for Elena Panova and a vertical string number for Nikolai Chelnokov which will be presented at the festival du Cirque De Demain in 1987.

Victor was a good gymnast but lacked specific knowledge of trapeze and rope technique; undeterred, she Tereza told him to go to the school library and read everything she could find on the subject.

Both acts introduced styles and movements that are now taken for granted but were completely new at the time: constant full swing, pirouettes with ankle holds on the strings (not to mention heel holds in full swing) for the trapeze act for Elena, intricate and spectacular knots and pirouette on the upright rope for Nikolai. In particular, Nikolai's number foresaw the use of the rope as the main tool and not secondary to a trapeze or Roman rings as was the case before then.


That edition of Cirque De Demain, and in particular those two numbers, ignited the imagination of a circus teacher from the Ecole Nationale De Cirque in Montreal, Andrè Simard (1946) who later, after the fall of the Soviet regime, found himself as a colleague Victor Fomine himself.

Another important inspiration for André Simard and Victor Fomine for the construction of a number on aerial silk came from "The Panteleenko Brothers", a couple of Russian acrobats who were the first (already in the 70s) to introduce innovative elements on an ancient Chinese discipline which involved the use of a pair of straps. In those years they too landed on the new continent and were hired by the company "The Big Apple Circus".

An ancient discipline from the Roman era, an incredible festival, the meeting of two visionary teachers, the inspiration from an extraordinary act on straps were the fuse that led to aerial silks as we know them today.


Isabelle Vaudelle will show the world the first act on aerial silks as we know them today, Isabelle was born in France in 1978 and practiced gymnastics from an early age, she will discover the world of the circus during her studies on contemporary dance and will study at the Ecole Nationale De Cirque in Montreal where Andrè Simard and Victor Fomine were teaching, here he will study and train in aerial silks.

He will present his act on aerial silks in the edition of the “Festival Mondial Du Cirque De Demain” in 1995. His act on the red silk with two flaps will enchant the world of fans and lead to a circus specialty with a reputation and a quantity of unprecedented practitioners.

QUIDAM - 1996

As had already happened to Nicolai Chelnokov with "Saltimbanco" in 1992, also for Isabelle Vaudelle the success at Cirque De Demain will open the doors of Cirque Du Soleil in 1996 with "Quidam" one of the most famous and iconic shows of the Canadian company

The show focuses on the story of a young girl named Zoé, who feels marginalized and forgotten by modern society, but the artists, including Isabelle Vaudelle, will teach her to free herself from her fears and find her voice, becoming a symbol of hope and courage for the spectators.

Isabelle Vaudelle will leave Cirque Du Soleil the same year but will show and teach her act to Isabelle Chassé who will make it known to the whole world.

If the Cirque De Demain festival with Isabelle Vaudelle had introduced fans to the new specialty of aerial silks, it was Cirque Du Soleil with Isabelle Chassé, who allowed the whole world to know, appreciate and imitate it.

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