Esperienza Acrobats: A Night Out in the Boonies

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Dominik shows that: “It pays to look past the big billboards at the train stations, and the radio and television advertising. This acrobatic troupe, Esperienza even justify a trip to Zurich’s boonies”. What are the boonies? Read on.

Esperienza Acrobats: Ganz Grosses Kino

Esperienza are from Hinwil in Canton Zurich: they hold performances once or twice a year. This performance took place on the 5th and 6th of April, 2014.

Thrills, stunts and an immediate sense of danger. That’s what awaits at the annual show of the acrobatics’ troupe Esperienza. The show’s title «Ganz Grosses Kino» translates to English as «Really Big Cinema». The troupe are obviously inspired by stunts in big Hollywood movies like Kill Bill as Esperenza think big, pushing themselves to their limits, and occasionally a bit further.

Esperienza is not a professional troupe of acrobats. But unlike some other small clubs in the larger Zürich area, the 17 people that make up Esperienza are not content with being small. Like many clubs and projects outside of Zürich’s main cultural scene, projects that don’t fill big venues and get a lot of money in ticket revenue, Esperienza exists on the fringes of a rich scene full of people who do their things with Herzblut.

pic 1 esperienza

Compound-Nouns like Herzblut and Rural Quirks

‘Herzblut’ is a German word that translates to «Blood of the Heart». It is short because of a grammatical quirk that allows Germans to connect nouns ad infinitum. Sure, at some point, the connected nouns stop making sense, but you can line them up until you run out of space or time.

When not being a grammatical oddity, Herzblut is something that is poured into projects that have little to no chance to be a commercial success. In fact, the people doing the Herzblut-Projects do it because they believe in it. They believe that they’re doing something good, if only for themselves. And sometimes, they fill entire Säle somewhere out in the areas that the people living in the city of Zürich would refer to as «The Boonies». And what are the Boonies? The full name is Boondocks and means ‘Agglo’ short for ‘Agglomeration’ in German (or agglomeration / the greater Zürich area).

Säle are another odd thing. Säle is the plural of Saal, which translates to ‘great hall’. But seeing as Switzerland and the adjective «big» aren’t really mentioned in the same sentence all that often, a Saal in Switzerland is usually a large room that holds a few hundred people. They are places where the local yodel-choir holds concerts; or a town’s third-graders hosts their very first piano concert after hitting the musical instrument with their tiny fists for a year.

Once a year, the smaller villages and communities hold their annual political gathering called the «Gemeindeversammlung» (German for Gathering of the Community). This is a meeting where a small fraction of voters meet with the local mayor and decide on who should get citizenship, what big amounts of money should be spent on and a great many other things only to then complain alongside the people who didn’t go that the government always gets everything wrong and never asks for the people’s opinion. Ah, rural Switzerland, you’re a wild and confusing world. Gemeindesäle got popular in the early decades of the 20th century and are often attached to restaurants that were popular at the time. Over the years, they’ve lost a lot of their significance or – with the steady growth of communities around the country – got too small. So the old Säle have difficult standing in Swiss society. A relic of times gone by, a black hole for money, and rarely used.

Trapeze, Kill Bill and Real Danger

With all grammar and history of rural Switzerland out of the way, let’s get back to Esperienza. Back to daring circus-numbers that have been inspired by movies. This show dares to push the limits of what amateurs can and cannot do. There are three women who learned how to climb up silky pieces of fabric and wrap themselves up so that they seem suspended by nothing. They think big, dance with fire and occasionally, something goes wrong during the big show.

pic 3 esperienza

The acrobats in «Ganz Grosses Kino» take their inspiration from big Hollywood blockbusters. There’s a fire-dancing number inspired by Indiana Jones, a man on a slackline dressed up as Zorro, jugglers looking like the blue alien Na’Vi from James Cameron’s Avatar and many more. The show is not perfect by a long shot but it is demanding. The acrobats train for the better part of a year to make this happen. The young man balancing on the tightrope has to put his foot on the ground every now and then and lands on his behind after his back flip grand finale off the tightrope. The music cuts out unexpectedly during an exciting battle between a Jedi and a Sith-Lord fought with glowsticks; and one acrobat gets tangled more than once during the aerial silk number. But it is these imperfections that makes their efforts even more impressive. Because, after all, there’s a young man doing a front flip off of a wobbly line that is about a foot off the ground. Let’s see you do that.

Two people dressed as Jedi and Sith have taught themselves to whirl around glowing sticks at high speeds, even crossing the paths of their rotations and being in perfect sync. The insane amount of work and dedication – Herzblut – put into the show is obvious. And when their acts end, the acrobats are panting after their muscles were visibly straining. But it’s not over for them. A quick costume change backstage and they are back onstage again, doing more daring acrobatics, pushing themselves once more. This goes on for two hours. Go out on stage, change costume, and go out on stage again.

Whenever a member of Esperienza stumbles, a murmur goes through the Saal. People gasp. But unlike many professional circuses, this show is actually more engaging. They show that they can and will fall: sometimes painfully. And when the members of the troupe build a human pyramid about 13 feet high, and the girl who should make up the top of the pyramid struggles because the two people she’s supposed to stand on are just too far apart, the audience holds its breath. When three trapeze artists dressed like Beatrix «The Bride» Kiddo from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill let themselves fall from their trapezes only to catch themselves about 7 feet off the ground with their feet on their trapezes, the audience has already had vivid images of the three women’s skulls crashing into the ground.
pic 4 esperienza

This creates a very emotionally-charged experience. It is evident that the young acrobats give this their all. They push themselves far, probably a bit too far occasionally. But they dare. Along with their physical show, their creativity extended to designing their own costumes. Outfits included: crocheted hats that resemble the Minions from the CGI-animated movies Despicable Me; and, leotards that resemble the ones from ‘the Incredibles’ by Pixar.

Esperienza originated in the Children’s Circus of Hinwil, in Zurich. After the members of the troupe got too old for the children’s circus, they founded Esperienza in 2004. Since then they have produced one big show per year. They conceptualize, they plan, and they train hard. And it all culminates in that one big show that happens once or twice a year.

This is why it is worth looking past the big billboards at the train stations, past the big announcements and commercials on radio and television. Acts like Esperienza make it worthwhile to spend a Saturday night away from the thumping basses – a change from watching the girls in short skirts, or the guy’s with their slick hair gel. Just make sure you catch the last train back to the city.

Pictures copyright of Stefan Friedli

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