Thursday, June 20, 2013

And the Word Was Wallenda: And Now, Across the Grand Canyon Goes the Word.

Reuters photo.

You are about to witness the real thing. Circus 101.  A thriller chiller in the making.  All vendors, cease!  Band men, at rest!   Fred Bradna, your whistle!  Ringmaster Ronk, your finest hour!

This weekend, Nik Wallenda, without safety device, net or mechanic, is set to walk across the Grand Canyon.

I tip my hat to the guy, and I pray God's speed - steady and careful, please.  We do not long for the strains of a harp.

Don't underestimate the quiet intelligence of TV viewers to know the critical difference between this walk and that other one last year over Viagra Falls, when not a few rather polite commentators pointed out that, "Oh, he is using safety wires attached to his feet".  No matter what our more skittish circus owners may tell you, audiences are not followed by lifelines. Audiences feel the difference, and no matter what they may say, the difference is a let down.

I'm impressed with this Wallenda's guts.  This will take guts.  Had he asked me, I would likely have tried to discourage Nik.  But oh,  look at the thrilling stakes.  A triumph over the great American Canyon will lift the already  revered Wallenda name into a higher stratosphere of cosmic acclaim. They are a brood without boundaries. 

Says Don Covington, "Karl Wallenda would be proud!"

Add to Karl, the entire family, the American circus community and its affiliates at large around the world, those still connected, however tenuously, to the roots of circus art, which is all about, to quote English scholar Helen Stoddart, "risk taking."  Repeat after me, RISK TAKING.

Greatness crowned the Wallendas, with family roots dating back to 1780,  when they opened to a prolonged (5-15 minute) standing ovation at Madison Garden in 1929.  Equestrian director Bradna had never witnessed anything like it.. Tragedy stalked them three decades later in Detroit, when a fall left two dead, others seriously injured.

After that, once again, when Karl Wallenda, age 73, while treading a wire strung between hotel towers 10-floors-high over San Juan, Puerto Rico, fell to his death.  He surrendered to mortality doing that which he loved the most.

The ever-present dangers in a life of heroic striving are what great circus aerialists force us to confront when they go high. When they symbolize (but actually risk) the peril inherent in great daring adventures, from mountain climbs to space flights into the unknown regions of infinity. 

The Wallenda walk, to be seen on TV this Sunday at 8 p.m.  will proceed over, it is reported, a distance "four football fields long."  The walk will hover above earth, as high as the Empire State building at its peak.  The walk will skate the sky that shepherds land owned by Navajo Nation.  The walk will transcend Little Colorado River. The walk will rivet the nation.

Discovery Channel executive producer Howard Schwartz told Michael Starr of the New York Post that his team has "a lot of safety precautions in place."  Circus star Nik hasn't. Attached to his body, however, will be two cameras. This guy is a true showman, and overnight I feel an instant respect, especially contrasting this to his cosmetic Viagra Falls stunt. Which makes me wonder, was that purposely wired to safety in order, by brutal contrast, to make this one feel even more ominous?

The walk, without unthinkable interruption, is expected to take around a half hour.

To this day, I can still say that my most riveting moment around a sawdust ring hit me at about the age of 10, when, in the Grace Pavilion at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, there on high during a performance of Polack Bros Circus, appeared  "The Great Wallendas."  When they proceeded to astound my young being by forming a seven-high moving pyramid across the high wire -- stillness everywhere, the band and barkers still, the house still, even the rafters still, I sat there spellbound by the power of a force that seduced me for life -- The Circus.

Let the fearless peerless Nik Wallenda wow the world, and let the world be reminded, however abstractly, what circus art is all about when it throws caution to the Gods, somersaults off axis, reaches the unthinkable, and causes jaded eyes to open wide.  When it excites us to think, as Karl Wallenda once told me, "Look what a man can do!"

We'll be looking again this Sunday.

(Some of this information was gleaned from the New York Post story, forwarded to me, courtesy of cyber courier Covington).

1 comment:

John Herriott said...

All of us in the circus community know Nic, his family, etc and will be watching this addition to circus history unfold. Too be sure this is an awesome undertaking and we wish him "gods speed" whatever that means. Amazing. john herriott