What a thrill to receive this photo from documentary filmmaker Philip Weyland, at work on his project The Last Great Circus Flyer about Miguel Vazquez, seen here a week ago looking at one of my books at the Ringling Circus Museum in Sarasota.
Miguel was the first to spin four somersaults from swinging bar to catcher's hands, and he spun them with remarkable consistency for well over ten years above the world's greatest circus rings. To my knowledge, no other aerialist has come close to matching Miguel's record and achievements.
When Phil began the project back in 2009, he interviewed me in L.A. on the subject of trapeze history in general, Miguel in particular. Work on the documentary, updates Phil, is "proceeding nicely," with many interviews completed and a number more scheduled. The Hollywood-based actor expects to finish shooting in the next six months. I can't wait to see how Phil shapes his vision into a finished film, and, of course, I hope he lands outstanding placement on TV.
I sent Phil's e-mail to my friend Boyi Yuan, sharing with him my excitement and telling him of Miguel's first quad being turned in Long Beach, CA in 1981 on my birthday. "His big day is also your big day," replied Boyi, who on his own did some clever computer digging and discovered a wonderful YouTube of Miguel competing at Monte Carlo in 1990, the year he and his family won the Gold Clown award. Amazingly, I have never seen the video. I found it very moving. Here is the link:
I can't recommend it enough. There are three things to study here that brilliantly highlight Miguel's mastery and superb artistic delivery:
1. On an evening of high drama, Miguel misses catching the quad on his first attempt. He returns up the rope ladder to try again. Camera closeups of his face as he applies yet more rosin to his hands and then carefully positions himself for another take off reveal the steely confidence and resolve of one phenomenal performer.
2. Miguel's angelic form is finely controlled, as controlled as that of a Russian ballet dancer. Follow the singular line of his body, of how all of his limbs conform, nearly perfectly, to one fluid stream. At Monte Carlo before an astonished audience, the triumph that fate finally hands Miguel -- he and his catcher, brother Juan, connect perfectly on their second try! -- makes an astounding feat feel even more astounding.
3. This flyer never once over-reaches for the crowd's approval. His approach is more subtle (think Pinito Del Oro or Gunther Gebel Williams) -- as if he desires not to detract from the art he so magnificently represents. In the afterglow of his achievement that historic night, Miguel appears to be looking graciously upwards in thanks to his own personal God. You are in the presence of a greatness the world may never again witness
Oh, to have been there at Monte Carlo that night of nights! To have shared in the victory! Another asset are views of the audience itself. Those who witnessed the event, I take it, were themselves some of the circus world's most gifted contributors -- be they performer, director, owner, producer. Prince Rainer III, who founded and hosted the annual festival (viewed by many as the most respected of its kind in the world), can be seen at the judges table.
Prince Rainer III presents the Gold Clown award to Miguel, center, and his family at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival in 1990.
The heights to which the 17-year-old circus star ascended earned him overnight acclaim, The Chicago Tribune declaring, "Miguel Vazquez may be the world's best athlete."
I'd say he was. Thank you, Miguel and Phil, for the photo. And thank you, Boyi, for finding the YouTube, which reminds me why we go to circuses, forever hoping that somewhere, somehow, another Miguel Vazquez, in the air, on a bike, with clubs in hand or a wire to scale, will magically appear ...