At the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children, Saddorn Balance holds the attention and breath of families attending the show on Wednesday at Hanager Theatre.
Before it begins, festival founder Mohamed El-Ghawy informs the children in the audience that they won’t be able to leave the theatre once the performance starts.
But he barely needs to, because as soon as the short but intense act begins, they are quietly captivated.
Performed by Lara Jacobs Rigolo, Saddorn Balance involves balancing the long ribs of palm tree leaves, carefully placing one over the other, creating an ethereal structure that seems to float and threatens to collapse with any wrong move.
Though its mysticism can make it may seem like an ancient art from another time, the origins of this act date not too far back to 1996.
Twenty years ago Swiss theatre producer Maedir Rigolo created this art while developing a balancing act for the stage production titled Saddorn.
Rigolo was awarded in 2013 the Kamiwaza Award in Japan, the term Kamiwaza meaning a master with superhuman abilities.
Today, the performance can been seen in a variety of shows and circuses, in theatres, museums and opera houses.
To keep up with the show’s international demand, Rigolo has shared his experience and transferred the art of Saddorn Balance to a small and selected number of performers, including his oldest daughter, Lara Jacobs Rigolo, who performed the act at Hakawy.
“It's my father’s act, and I joined when he gave Cirque du Soleil the license to do the show and he was casting for people who would be able to do it,” Lara tells Ahram Online.
She was the first one picked at Cirque’s casting.
“I probably knew the concept better than everybody else because I’d seen my father doing it all my childhood,” she says.
Since then, a total of five performers other than Maedir Rigolo are qualified to do Saddorn Balance around the world, each presenting it with their own individual style and personal variations.
Saddorn Balance (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)
The Rigolo Swiss Nouveau Cirque website states: “Memet Bilgin Rigolo adds his own energetic touch to the act in Australia. Miyoko Shida Rigolo, the Japanese dancer and choreographer, reinterprets it with Zen-like touch. Naima Rhyn Rigolo entrances audiences by enriching the performance with her own voice. Roman Mueller Rigolo follows in the footsteps of the great master, as does Andreis Jacobs Rigolo.”
Marula, the youngest daughter and apprentice of Maedir, is the latest addition to the Balance performers, and was introduced to the public through the Wings in My Heart performance in late 2014.
As for Lara Jacobs Rigolo, her style emerges from picking up the sticks in a special way.
“From the beginning, I immediately began picking up the sticks with my feet, and that became my thing,” Lara says.
This adds a physical challenge to the balancing act, as she is frequently standing on one foot while holding the structure.
“I also like bigger sticks, especially when I have a big stage like the Royal Albert Hall in London. There it’s a different show, and the bigger sticks make a better impact in a hall of 5,000 people,” she says.
At Hanager Theatre, the sticks are smaller and lighter than her usual, because of the size of the theatre, and because it’s difficult to travel with the bigger, heavier sticks.
As such, the way Jacobs performs her Saddorn Balance is very physical, and no matter how graceful and effortless the act seems, it takes immense physical preparation behind the scenes.
“Usually I can be doing 10 shows a week, so I need a lot of strength. I train everyday and lift, but I also need to stretch my back and my arms a lot, because it's very intense,” Lara says.
Lara started dancing when she was four years old and was doing circus acrobatics, including the trapize and tightwire and unicycle, so to her the act is also about the moves she makes around balancing the sticks.
“The balancing comes a lot from a physical knowledge, understanding of weight and balance, and less about mental preparation,” she says.
Despite her constant practice, Lara is also sometimes outside of her element in certain shows.
“In new places, I’m a little nervous because I don’t know what’s going to happen. The door could open and the feather would fall off, its different sticks than those I use so I have to find the balance again, so I have to concentrate a lot and focus on getting the moves right.”
This is less so when she is in her element, at a stage she is familiar with. “There, honestly it can feel sometimes like a job, because I’ve done it more than a thousand times,” she says.
“Every once in a while it’s nice to have that unfamiliar challenge. But I also like to be in my environment and not have the stress.”
For the audience, every move holds tension and hope, wondering if the structure will fall apart or if it’s possible for a human to balance more and more sticks so gracefully.
After the show the children could be heard excitedly challenging each other to do the same.
The show can be caught next at Hakawy on Thursday ,10 March, at 6pm and on Friday at 2.30pm and 5pm.
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture