The world’s greatest high-wire artiste reveals the secret to walking a tightrope at insane height 

E book OF THE 7 days

ON THE Superior WIRE

By Philippe Petit

(Weidenfeld & Nicholson £9.99, 115pp) 

When my son ran away to join the circus, I additional or a lot less ran away with him. I could not be kept absent from the Academy of Circus Arts, the apprentice arm of Zippos.

Most weekends, I would cook dinner a barbecue for the clowns. I would drink single malt in the firelight with Konny Konyot, whose Hungarian spouse experienced an exploding saxophone.

It was an honour to get to know the legendary ringmaster Norman Barrett, whose comical budgie act creased me up every time. As regards the contortionists, I didn’t know which end to give them my celebrated tacky-dip celebration sausage.

The significant-wire artistes, nonetheless, tended to hold to them selves. They were moody, solitary kinds. After examining this reserve with large satisfaction, I somewhat started to appreciate why.

Philippe Petit  (pictured walking concerning the Twin Towers in New York) presents perception into the abilities essential to be successful as a substantial-wire artiste

As Philippe Petit describes, a in no way-ending, monkish devotion to the job in hand is expected — rehearsing, practising, perfecting the approach. Relaxation is not permitted. There are no off-duty sessions for the tightrope-walker. Nothing can be still left to opportunity, as ‘chance is a thief that under no circumstances will get caught’.

Petit, who started as a unicyclist and juggler of burning torches, enjoys dazzling the public with what he can accomplish — or, as he places it in his Frenchman’s way: ‘Limits exist only in the souls of all those who do not aspiration.’

To that stop, he has strung his wires in between the towers of Notre Dame, the Twin Towers of the Environment Trade Centre, the two north pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the skyscrapers in the vicinity of the Cathedral of St John the Divine, in Manhattan.

It took Petit 10 times to put in the devices to cross Niagara Falls — the trick was not to appear down, ‘for the motion of the waves will make you reduce your balance’.

If any person fancies following in Petit’s footsteps, the initially process is to get to know your wire. Will it be tight or slack? Will it bounce about or droop and sway?

Wires, in point, are woven alongside one another to variety a strand. The strands are twisted and sheathed jointly to build a steel cable, which ‘is lubricated when it is manufactured’. The tight-rope walker has to wash the coils with gasoline and rub it down with emery paper ‘until it is cleanse and grey’.

Even so, grease can ooze from the stretched cable when it is exposed to the very hot sunlight. At the other climatic intense, ‘I have kicked off snow with each step as I walked alongside a frozen cable,’ claims Petit nonchalantly. It is also important to appear out for kinks and damaged strands ‘that even the best stress simply cannot eliminate’.

Petit indicates the tightrope-walker wears slippers with skinny, rubber soles, cotton socks or only bare ft. ‘You need to be in a position to use the big toe and the second toe to grip the wire and hold on to it.’


File range of consecutive skips performed on a higher-wire

Just like, presumably, a gibbon.

‘Work devoid of stopping,’ we are advised. ‘Little by tiny, the wire should belong to you.’ A wire that at to start with is tethered in the vicinity of the floor, but which is rigged bigger and increased as self-assurance is received.

What is remaining discovered is that crossing a superior-wire will require a continuous, if hair-elevating, sequence of balancing and adjusting, ‘on 1 foot, on the other foot, yet again, and once again, and yet again . . . Immediately after a great quantity of crossings back again and forth, you will know what it is to go and what it is to return.’

I can grasp that — honestly I can — and I am so uncoordinated I can scarcely stand up without having owning to sit down once more.

Petit, having said that, with his showman’s want to cause ‘an virtually palpable excitement’ in his audiences, enjoys overcoming impossibilities.

In his circus acts and other stunts up on a wire, he has performed the splits, well balanced on a single knee, spun cartwheels, danced with ‘daggers hooked up to his ankles’, executed tips with hoops and skipping-ropes, climbed a ladder, reclined in a chair (‘its struts and legs resting on the rope’), worn a blindfold and carried an accomplice piggyback.

He is disdainful of fellow artistes who dress in safety harnesses, linked by an ‘almost invisible cable’ to a belt beneath the leotard. As for a basic safety web: ‘Anyone can use a web,’ sneers Petit.

However, he could have been happy of one the day he came a cropper, ‘falling 40 ft and struggling damaged ribs, a collapsed lung, a shattered hip and a smashed pancreas’.

ON THE HIGH WIRE By Philippe Petit (Weidenfeld & Nicholson £9.99, 115pp)

ON THE Large WIRE By Philippe Petit (Weidenfeld & Nicholson £9.99, 115pp)

Which is the only matter I have in prevalent with Philippe Petit: pancreatic difficulty.

Understandably, the tightrope-walker has no truck with margins of mistake. Pretty much, there cannot be any. Bogus steps occur only, we are informed pretty firmly, for the reason that of a lack of focus.

Petit, in truth, sees himself as the equivalent of a bullfighter, willingly and habitually confronting demise in the afternoon — ‘the terrain of the substantial-wire walker is bounded by dying,’ he says, grandly, if honestly, and undoubtedly Hemingway-esquely.

He even hopes to be killed undertaking what he is so passionate about: ‘I demand to be allowed to conclusion my daily life on the wire.’

Very well, not on the wire, certainly. A lot more like, ker-splat, on the ground following he has slipped abruptly from it — although Petit does point out a person who fell with these types of rapidity and drive that the wire sliced their arm off.

It is a scandal, as Paul Auster rightly claims in his brilliant introduction, that ‘circus techniques are assigned marginal status’, as if they are at most effective ‘a small form of athletics’, belonging with gypsy orchestras, Pierrot shows and stop-of-the-pier entertainments.

Acrobats and aerialists, with their juggling and dangerous stunts, on a regular basis accomplish ‘complex combos, intricate mathematical styles and arabesques of nonsensical beauty’.

I have often taken care of that the circus should to be accorded equivalent standing with the Royal Shakespeare Company or Covent Backyard garden Opera — it really should be Sir Norman Barrett, for case in point, or Lord Zippo.

And as for Philippe Petit, irrespective of his fondness for transcendental uplift and his endeavours to convince the reader of the interior ‘lightness that is so wonderful at wonderful heights’, all that issues definitely is that he doesn’t really drop for some time to arrive.

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