Fri, Oct 20, 2006 - Page 13 News List

The Flying Wallendas sweep into town

In an age of "new circus," traditional troupes are still wowing the crowds

By Noah Buchan  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Flying Wallendas have pushed the art of the high-wire to the limits in a centuries-long family tradition.


Has there ever been such a smorgasbord of circuses incorporating so many styles from so many different countries in Taiwan at one time? The Great Moscow Circus has been touring the island since the beginning of this month. At the end of October, Spotlight on New Circus will showcase various contemporary circuses and experimental theater groups in the square between the National Theater and National Concert Hall. And beginning tomorrow, the Flying Wallendas will bring their version of circus to Asia for the first time to dazzle and delight audiences with some acrobatic drama and tightrope titillation.

The Wallenda family has a rich history of entertainment that dates back to 1780 when it wandered Europe as a traveling circus troupe composed of acrobats, jugglers, clowns, aerialists and animal trainers.

By the early 20th century, the Great Wallendas — as they were known at the time — had established themselves as one of the preeminent circus performance troupes touring the world with and headlining circus acts such as Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey. Once in Akron, Ohio, the wire slipped while they were performing and all four members fell to the wire, yet they were relatively unhurt. The next day a headline in a local paper proclaimed them “The Flying Wallendas,” and the name has stuck ever since.

In 1947, Karl Wallenda began building a circus of his own. It was also at this time that he created his death-defying Seven-Person Pyramid consisting of four men standing on a wire 10.5m in the air, two pairs yoked together by shoulder bars. On top of them stood two more men and at the pinnacle was a woman sitting and then standing on a chair. This feat, like all other acts on the tightrope, is performed without using any kind of safety net.

Performance Notes:

Who: The Flying Wallendas

Where: Taipei Arena (台北巨蛋), 2 Nanjing E Rd Sec 4, Taipei (台北市南京東路四段2號)When: Tomorrow and Sunday at 10:30am and 2:30pmTickets: NT$500 to NT$3,000, available through ERA ticketing,

Tino Wallenda, who now leads the troupe, started out on the wire at the age of seven when his grandfather took him into his backyard, put a balance-pole in his hands, taught him how to place his feet, control his body and where to focus his eyes. By the age of 17, he was a full-fledged member of the troupe.

When he was young, all he could think about was performing and didn't think too much about the tradition that his grandfather had established.

“The legacy that it involved didn't hit me until later on. It's like my kids right now: When you are younger you only want to perform. But now that I'm getting older, I've begun to realize the significance [of what I do],” he said in an interview with the Taipei Times.

The lineup of top-notch performers coming to Taipei will be overseen by Charley van Buskirk — a ring master complete with handle-bar mustache and black top hat — and includes trapeze artists, aerialists, trampoline acts along with jugglers and comedy clowns that perform on and off the high wire. A highlight of the show is the man who sets himself on fire 12m in the air and then dives into a small air mattress. And of course no Flying Wallenda performance would be complete without their Guinness World Record seven-person pyramid.

Tragedy strikes

The success of the family has also been marked by tragedy, most famously in 1962 when a pyramid collapsed in Detroit, leaving two performers dead and Mario Wallenda — Tino's uncle — paralyzed from the waste down. Family patriarch Karl Wallenda died in a 1978 fall from the wire in Puerto Rico.

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