Wednesday, November 19, 2008

More Daring Than the Flying Trapeze

From the Ringling Bros. web site: "While the eight members of the Torres Family, five brothers and three cousins, were growing up (most of them in Caaguaz, Paraguay), they were big fans of the many circuses that traveled throughout South America. The fact that none of their parents had a circus background was no deterrent to their collective wish to perform, and they found a means to do it..."

The circus we attended last week came in two parts, with an intermission. Just before the intermission, a large hollow sphere was moved out to center stage. The sphere was make of steel mesh, so the inside was visible. Ringling calls it a "16 foot globe," which I suppose is diameter.

Consulting my research assistant Google, I see that the surface area of this steel-mesh sphere is 4πr-squared, or 4 x π x 64, or about 804 square feet. Not a very large performance space. The sphere, which was held in place by support beams, also had a hatch on the lower hemisphere that allowed access to the inside.

Ringling continues: "All [the Torreses] began participating as youngsters in the sport of motocross – 'a very popular pastime for kids in Paraguay.' Eventually, each raced professionally on the many circuits that thrive in Latin America, and... a fellow motocross competitor and friend also happened to perform for a local circus. His act involved racing his motorcycle around and around inside an enormous steel globe in concert with several other riders. The Torres family was hooked immediately."

The hatch was opened, and five of the motorcycling Torreses rode into the sphere and waited there, revving their engines dramatically. I'll be damned if they didn't then start riding around inside the sphere. At first all in a row, roughly at its widest part. Then some of them pealed away from the internal "equator" of the sphere and start moving in other circles around the interior that intersected with the riders still going around the "equator." Yet no one hit anyone else.

It seems like an accident would have torn the riders apart. But there were no collisions. How is this possible? I suspected some kind of trick, but the more I watched it, the more I realized it was real, and utterly amazing.

"The Torres family describes their technique inside the globe as 'very much like what pilots do in an air show,' ” Ringling continues. "Blowing a whistle and revving their engines as prompts to one another, each rider embarks upon a set pattern, or path of trajectory, around the interior surface of the globe. Once the riders are in motion, maintaining constant speeds (which can reach up to 65 miles per hour) is critical..."

Then a sixth Torres joining the act; and then a seventh. Seven Paraguayan motorcyclists racing around a 804-square-foot surface inside a steel sphere going as fast as I do on the Interstate. Circuses ought to be about spectacle, and this was spectacle.

Several homemade videos of this are on YouTube, naturally. This one is short but gives some sense of the act at its fastest. The Ringling site has a slide show of still pics that also convey a sense of the act.


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