The Glissendo Performance, and Machine-Assisted Circus

I was recently pointed to the most amazing thing, a music / fire / street performance called Glissendo, conceived by one “Ulik, the Machanical Clown” and executed by French art group Le Snob. They’re playing “Lightning” by Phillip Glass on a Dixieland band, riding Segways under the robes, and of course the band leader has dual hand-mounted flamethrowers.

Elegant, beautiful, and strangely sad.

The only substantial thing I can find on this Ulik character is this video. In it, Ulik performs with some of his contraptions such as a home-made jet-engine backpack (used with skis or rollerblades), a life-sized puppet who holds a camera and interviews him, and the front half of a car. It’s all wonderfully creative stuff, and it makes me wonder why we haven’t seen more hi-tech in circus.

For the potential is ample. We could use modern control-system technology to perform previously impossible man-machine feats of daring. I wonder about automatically balancing Segways 30 feet high than one could dance on top of, harnesses connected to a crane that cancels out its own friction and inertia and modulates the effective gravity under performer control, a ridiculously precise robotic juggling partner, or powered jumping stilts with built in balance and timing systems. This is not mere robotic circus; at their best, such machines become something between costume and vehicle, an extension of the performer’s body that makes them, taller, stronger, faster, or able to move excitingly inhuman ways.

Given that such wide artistic and technological possibilities exist, I find it hard to believe that they won’t be developed. We may currently be witnessing the last generation of aerial circus that does not make heavy use of technology.

3 thoughts on “The Glissendo Performance, and Machine-Assisted Circus”

  1. Whoa, what an insane performance. So cool! I didn’t even know you could ride a Segway without your hands. I find it quite creepy, somehow. I think it’s the inhumanness of it. Uncanny valley, etc.

  2. That’s awesome. And I’m actually a big fan of Philip Glass, though I’ve never heard his music performed quite like that before.

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