Plenty of people know about “The Catcher in the Rye” and Holden Caulfield’s fictional travels through adolescence.
Colby Balch wants people to know about the catcher in the sky. That’s his job with the Flying Caceres, trapeze artists who travel through the air as part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
The famous circus troupe’s “blue” tour — “Barnum 200 FUNundrum” — begins an eight-show stay in Albany on Thursday night. Strongmen, clowns, trained animals and motorcycle daredevils will perform at the Times Union Center on South Pearl Street through Sunday.
The Caceres are the third trapeze outfit to perform in the 140-year history of the Ringling-Barnum organization. George Caceres, whose father, Miguel, founded the fliers, runs the show. Four women and three men are in motion when trapeze bars are in full swing.
Balch, 35, never thought hanging by his knees over a metal bar would become a career. Neither did Tara Ogren, one of the women on the flying trapeze.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Saturday at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday (May 8) at 1 and 5 p.m.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $12, $22, $40 and $80
Balch graduated from Stanford University with a degree in economics but said he wasn’t anxious to join the corporate world. He worked as a golf caddy and tour bus driver and taught English in China. In 2003, he got a job at the Club Med resort in the Dominican Republic, where a trapeze course was among the diversions.
Balch learned the ropes and later landed a job teaching aerial exercises at the Trapeze School of New York. He had known George Caceres, and when George needed a new catcher in January, he reached out to Balch.
Now, Balch reaches out for his colleagues.
“The basics of flying trapeze are you have fliers and catchers,” Balch said in a phone interview from Fairfax, Va., a recent Ringling stop. “A flier is someone who starts on a pedestal, usually 30 feet in the air. You swing on a bar back and forth and then at the end of a swing, you perform some trick that usually involves somersaults or twisting.”
Then it’s up to the “catcher” to complete the stunt — locking arms with the flier and swinging back to a home perch.
“This act is similar to that except that it has added dimensions that aren’t in a typical trapeze act,” Balch said. “Instead of having one pedestal, this act has four pedestals. Instead of having one person flying, you have up to four people flying at one time, from each of the four different pedestals.”
Balch is the only catcher. The job comes with a big top full of pressure.
See the Flying Caceres in action
To see the Flying Caceres in action, click here, then choose “Flying Caceres Double Decker Trapeze,” second row, third from left thumbnail.
“It’s pressure in a lot of different ways,” he said. “The flier performs his or her trick, and if you don’t catch them, it ruins the whole trick. And it’s a shame. The trick could be perfectly beautiful, but if they aren’t caught, the audience is going to think that it’s a failure. If they were just doing that trick down to the net, without a catcher, then the audience would appreciate the trick for what it was — but when they see you’re trying to catch them, that’s what they’re looking for.”
Balch has a pretty good fielding average. He said when things are going right above the three rings, fliers feel terrific.
“I don’t think there’s any feeling that’s quite like it,” Balch said. “The racing heartbeat, the exhilaration, the feeling of success. You’re doing something that people are connected to. You hear the audience, you feel their energy. After a good show, you always come down and have this big, huge grin on your face and you know you did something special.”
Ogren also likes the zoom factor. “I like the adrenaline, having to really put yourself out there every day,” said the 26-year-old from Boulder, Colo. “It’s a rush and it’s fun.”
The tricks can be tricky.
“I fly over the top of another girl,” she said. “So I have to worry about the person below me. And you have to know how to fall into the net. You also have to worry about possibly hitting the platform.”
Ogren grew up with gymnastics and studied graphic design at Florida State University. In Tallahassee, she joined FSU’s “Flying High Circus,” a campus collection of clowns, fliers and other performers. She posted flight videos on file-sharing website YouTube and was noticed by George Caceres. She’s been working with the team for the past two years.
“My dad always joked I was going to run away and join the circus,” she said.
Balch doesn’t have to worry about going to the gym. He’ll be in the air eight times in four days during the Albany engagement, so there’s always plenty of exercise. Sometimes, he said, circus performers will get together to play soccer after shows or during travel breaks.
Ogren also gets enough time to flex her muscles. She’s getting used to the circus lifestyle, which means she enjoys traveling on the ground in addition to her trips through the air.
“It was really very difficult at first,” she said. “Now I’m used to it. I was living in one house in one city and it took an adjustment being in different cities where you really didn’t know what’s around.
“Now it’s more exciting. I’ve done this part of the tour before, so I know the cities and it’s ‘I want to go back to that place.’ It’s more comfortable now.”
Balch believes audiences enjoy trapeze swingers — and other circus daredevils — because performers exhibit extraordinary skills. “It shows you how far people can push boundaries and what we’re capable of accomplishing if we set our minds to it,” he said.
“The circus is a way of seeing things you don’t see in your normal life that you yourself might never be able to achieve or accomplish. Yet, somebody has dedicated their lives to that single form of expression and taken it to the highest level.”
Ogren said it’s all about propulsion and precision.
“It’s that little bit of unpredictability where they know anything can happen,” she said. “They’re aware of this person flying through the air and all of a sudden, there’s somebody there to catch them.”
Categories: Life and Arts