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August 16, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

Grab a tissue

Salient’s Lewis van der Berg-Shaw ‘was lucky enough to talk to Morgaine Presser – an aerial performer – who is one of the acts at the Capital Fetish Ball on 28 August.

“Aerial performance” is a general term for a number of circus disciplines—trapeze, aerial acrobatics, the tightrope—performed above the ground. “Tissue” has recently formed a part of this canon, especially with the popularisiation of nouvelle cirque, typified by acts such acts as Cirque Du Soleil.

In tissue performances, also known as ribbon, the acrobat contorts themselves around two strips of cloth hanging from a gantry on the ceiling. The act is usually set to a oundtrack, and the performer is clad in a sheer unitard intended to prevent friction burns. The performer winds their way up and down the ribbons in an aerial dance requiring a tremendous amount of strength and flexibility, with spectacular contortions and unfurling aerial rolls designed to thrill the audience.

There’s obviously a deal of eroticism implied in seeing lithe—often female—acrobats entwining themselves in tight sheer fabrics, positioning themselves in ways which push the boundaries of physics and gymnastic capability. Small wonder, then, that the fetish community has embraced the discipline so wholeheartedly.

Lewis: Aerial performance is obviously very gymnastic and requires a great deal of strength. Had you done any related activities before you started tissue work proper?

Morgaine: Not really, I mean I trained martial arts for seven years beforehand. That was my physical background—I’d never been to the gym or anything like that.

Lewis: So how did you start doing tissue having not had any sort of gymnastic or dancing background?

Morgaine: I kinda went sideways—I’m from Melbourne originally and I was fire-twirling. There’s quite a large fire-twirling community in Melbourne and a lot are involved with circuses, so I somehow found myself in a circus training space. I ended up doing aerials and before I knew it was training five nights a week.

Lewis: Most people’s knowledge of aerial performance in New Zealand is limited to what they’ve seen of Cirque Du Soleil. How would your performance at something like the Fetish Ball differ from a circus show?

Morgaine: Shows like the Fetish Ball are more character based—there’s a theme to them, whereas the circus is what you call a trade performance—basically all about the tricks and the sparkle. It’s very much trick, ta-da, trick, ta-da. With the Fetish Ball there’d be more of a flow, and a character behind what you’re doing.

Lewis: Do you carry along a character from other shows that you’ve done?

Morgaine: I’ve never done a fetish ball before. I’m basically going with a character that I did for a theatre show. It’s not a set character—it doesn’t have a name, more a way of moving.

Lewis: What sorts of songs do you find work best with your performances?

Morgaine: Depending on the apparatus and depending on the scene, you need something that has a beat and carries itself along quite well, but isn’t too driving. A ribbon performance needs to flow. It’s not like a ground-based performance where you can jump in time with the music. It needs to be a smooth movement, but still needs obvious auditory cues, drops and things like that. For this show I’m using Tom Waits, ‘Tango ‘til They’re Sore’.

Lewis: You mentioned apparatus. When I think aerial performance, I think two pieces of cloth hanging down from the ceiling. Are they just fabric?

Morgaine: Because you’re doing dynamic movement the material needs to hold more than just your 60 kilos or however much you weigh. It needs to hold up to ten times your body weight, and the apparatus I’m using for the Fetish Ball has a single point loading of up to a tonne.

Lewis: What would you suggest to someone interested in starting performing tissue work?

Morgaine: Wellington has a group called the Wellington Circus Trust, which is dedicated to training and supporting performers throughout Wellington. We teach classes at all levels; I teach tissue along with a couple of others. We also teach a number of other classes, hand-balancing, pole and so forth. At the moment they’re also teaching trapeze, adagio (two-person balance). They also teach fitness classes which are based around circus acts.

Lewis: Any injuries?

Morgaine: It’s very rare that you’d get to the point of doing a tissue performance and not feel safe. By then you’ve gotten past the point of not knowing whether or not you’re going to do the move properly. The biggest injuries tend to be overuse of particular joints—not really looking after your body. Rotator cuff injuries and general back injuries which come from not warming up or overusing. In tissue you tend to be wrapped and locked within the material, so it’s very hard to fall. You’re usually more worried that your rigging is safe.

The Capital Fetish Ball 2010 is being held at the Garden Club from 9pm on Saturday 28 August. Students with ID can get tickets for $20 (plus booking fee). Tickets are available from Real Groovy stores or The theme for this year is “Skin”—costume is compulsory and it is (obviously) strictly R18.


About the Author ()

Lewis has been playing videogames since his family's PC Direct "workstation" in early 1996. He spends his spare time reading political blogs, working and welcoming complaints and suggestions.

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