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WhatIsWhat 1.0 2003

Cirque: Choreography; The Aerial Atherton Twins

The first day I came in to choreograph aerial I had the twins doing tut style angular forms and trying to explain New Yorks house hip-hop and martial arts influenced Zoo-Fu style that I had learned from dancing with the Step-Fenz since 97.  I came in trying to get rhythms with freezes and glides.  I watched what they had too when we started out, which appeared to me to be the classical chest out flying “like in a dream” look combined with a drama-workshop-esque build of primal roars! at one another and thankfully some serious power and balance combo positions. i was envisioning a possessed techy Egyptian style. An aerial act of mechanisitc hieroglyphic flying form with 90 degree ankle and futuristic interlocking tic-toc skateboard referencing aerials.

See video

ABOVE: The Atherton Twins perform an early version of the Aerial Straps Act in Cirque Du Soleils, Varekai.

I also realized through engaging with the twins in the choreographic process that The Shannon Technique transitional threading hand moves would transfer easily to the straps. I had been using the back of my hand, my elbows and wrists to thread thru the Rocker Bottom Crutches, creating more dynamic crutch grabs by pushing my hand further thru the opening than necessary, expressing the arm in terms of form and only then going on to the utilitarian purpose of the reach and grab. I was in effect camouflaging the twins utilitarian grabs of the straps in the way I had been doing on my crutches for years. This hiding of the mechanics of grabbing the straps set the pacing of the rest of the choreography taking place on the ground. It was during these times that I felt the twins were most appreciative of my contributions. Did I mention THEY HATED IT and their French Canadian coach hated it and the props master for act who also happened to be a previous choreographer of the Aerial Acts. He hated it.  If you watch the reality series Fire Within you will witness my triumph over one of the obstacles the twins in league with their coach had thrown in my path to putting my work on them.  All this to say the resistance to my highly stylized form was completely evident in the version of the performance you see here. This rejection most readily apparent in ankle angle and the toe going to a classical soft edge from the angularity I was thematically instilling. The over arching style of the freezing forms and gliding forms being mine is undeniable because they are evident within my own dancing far earlier than what they have done. Every time they pointed their toes they were going against what i was looking for as a dancer who constantly positions his feet in the air. CRITICALLY this is when I realize I am just one guy in the big picture and its literally a fucking circus and if the coaches and the props master and the artist are against my styles and creative process as the choreographer, I was going to have to suck it up and make my mark indelible regardless. I had to push my way to the forefront. To this end the stylistic tone of the act is purely mine. Its departure from the history of cirque aerial clear and crisp. It might possibly be the first hip-hop influenced aerial act by Cirque Du Soliel. Over the past 8 years the twins have evolved this act to smooth out every moment. I have never been invited back to the big top to work with them on their evolution of the act. Still to this day the flavor of my dance vision lives within it and remains readily apparent to anyone who knows my work.

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Anonymous wrote 7 years 31 weeks ago

What a shame!

I did watch the Fire Within series. It was clear the issue everyone had with you at the time of the Varekai creation was that you were very unprofessional and unmotivated yourself. You were surrounded by such talented artists and creators (as you are yourself) during your time with the Cirque du Soleil. You had an amazing opportunity to show to the world your special talents as a choreographer. Instead you gave them so much less than what you are. It's clear the act you claim to have choreographed was changed as soon as you left Varekai. The twins, the coach and the rest of the team hated your work for a reason. Your work was BAD! Hopefully you've grown up a bit since those days. There's no doubting your talents as a performer. Your talents as a choreographer are very limited. What a shame you give yourself far more credit than you deserve.

Bill Shannon wrote 7 years 31 weeks ago


Dear anonymous,
thank you for your comment.
This comment will help me clear up a few commonly misunderstood aspects of my work as an artist and my work with the Atherton Twins specifically that you have raised.

>"It's clear the act you claim to have choreographed was changed as soon as you left Varekai."<

To state that I am "claiming" to have choreographed the Atherton Twins Aerial Act in Cirque Du Soleil's " Varekai " show act is ridiculous on its face. However I will publish your comment and this response anyway because I think some of the sentiments you express are worth exploring. While I readily give the twins credit for sharpening the pacing of the act to perfection overtime and growing the elements of the aesthetic and strategies I gave them to new heights, it should also be noted that this is an inevitable part of creating work for a touring Cirque show that lasts for years and years. As a creator of a show you have to let it go and allow it to take on a life of its own. Changes in the act by the coach and the artist on tour for hundreds and literally thousands of shows do not negate the work of the original creator who set the birth of the piece at its premiere. To the contrary, changes prove whether the original creator put together a work with enough flexibility to permit growth within it. Honestly no other piece in the entire show has the same freedom of the athletes and artists within it to work and rework the minute details of the choreography to their hearts delight. This is very important to understand as it relates to this next point I am going to make.
Part of the challenge of working with the twins was that they came from an athletic training background. While they were informed by arts workshops and classes and some limited show experience they were at their very core athletes of the highest order. One important philosophical and creative difference I had with the coach and twins was how choreography should be created. The methodology of the choreography I created and still create with is one of coaxing the performer of the choreography to embrace the rules of a style I set forth and explore within that "rule set" to discover their own path within its "world". This is a non-dictatorial style of creating content within which the coach and the twins were left feeling alienated. One regret I have now is not verbalizing this aspect of my choreographic approach to them. The problem being at the time that I had always simply done things the way I did with the twins without ever having to differentiate my methodology from anything else. If I were to do it over again I would definitely be more professional about clearing the air of the process of creativity I follow in my pursuit of excellence and to not allow my approach to be misunderstood as lazy or unprofessional. Unlike a dictatorial approach I was not getting in close and giving them direction in specific terms from a pre-ordained playbook. Rather, I was standing back, listening and directing the exploration of the aesthetic in various directions, cutting, editing, refining and pushing them towards hints of something valuable they embodied through their own trajectories. I also placed specific moves on them but this was not central to the creative process as was the discovery process by the twins. The rehearsal tapes in my possession show vividly the birth of the overriding aesthetic of the aerial twins act and the manner in which the twins in effect discovered the specifics of the movements. My eye was guide and my voice was one of refining the choices and building the world of the piece. A good example of this is how they first applied centrifugal force to their aerial freezes. When the piece was created this element had a limited application. The twins took that centrifugal force element I worked out with them and spread it throughout the work. I am thankful for this development as it really moves the work forward. Ultimately, in the creation process I chose what to keep and what to throw away along with the twins who threw things away for their own reasons such as physical wear and tear. ( a move might be great once in the creative process but they also had to consider if they could do it several times a day for years ) Anyway, I knew the aesthetic I was looking to create and anyone who watches the act today will see that choreographic vision remains as a crisp contrast to the history of the cirque aerial aesthetic in all of their other dreamlike oh so beautiful aerial acts. To this end I challenge you or anyone to compare the aesthetic of this aerial act I choreographed with any other act in the history of Cirque Du Soleil. What sets this act apart is not the acrobatics, yes they are great acros but no thats not what sets it apart. What sets this piece apart is its angularity, still beats and quirky arrhythmic choreographic pacing. The act is further set apart by the uniqueness of the twins and their constant pursuit of perfection.

>"The twins, the coach and the rest of the team hated your work for a reason. Your work was BAD! "<

this assertion is laughable. that my choreographic work with the twins was BAD? it was the choreographic work that kept me in position as a choreographer on the twins act. It certainly was not because we were mates and having a grand time. Im not sure how old you are but in case you have not heard, Good and Bad are subjective opinions. I am an artist who works toward a vision, I am not a crowd pleaser or a kiss ass. I could care less if the whole world hated it. The fact is it came into being along a path of integrity. It stuck to a core concept and is ultimately a great work because of that commitment on my part. I never apologized for being very very different from what they thought was good or bad. The coaches were possibly the most laughable of the haters because the one woman who I worked with kept trying to insert the worst choreographic choices imaginable.. thanks for the laugh though.

>Hopefully you've grown up a bit since those days.<

change is the only constant.. growing "up" is just one way of growing.. your reveals are pathetic

>There's no doubting your talents as a performer. Your talents as a choreographer are very limited.<

this is an interesting statement mainly due to the fact that I choreograph the work I perform and that the work I choreographed that I perform can be seen all around the world and most critically its how I make a living.. of course all limitation is relative to possibility.. so thank you for this criticism I accept limitation with open arms.

>What a shame you give yourself far more credit than you deserve.<

I take credit for the choreographic departure of this great aerial work from the history of Cirque Du Soleils aerial choreography aesthetic. I take credit for sharing with the twins street dance movement categories such as "tic-tocs" "tuts" "glides" and "threads" to inform their direction of movement away from ballet and gymnastics body language they would subconsciously default to, I take credit for imposing a realist aerial aesthetic of snowboard and skateboard aerials over the Cirque aerial aesthetic of " as if in a dream flying ". I take credit for the static pauses within the choreography that are idiosyncratic and signatory, I take credit for applying centrifugal forces to the mid-air duo freezes. I take credit for the slickness of the engagement of the straps as it relates to my threading in and out of crutches.. ( years of experience fed this pursuit) I take credit for the striking shape of the tic-toc tutted freeze transition that marks the shift from separate straps to the same strap. I also take credit for recording everything on video to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt these claims to credit I set forth. its all on tape.. contractually I cannot show these tapes without risking my royalties.. still the record remains for private review

finally anon, thank you for reminding me how ignorant the average person is to creative process and artistry in general. Fire Within is a reality documentary that was thankfully well made. However please consider, when watching reality TV that for the creation of story there must be a conflict. To create conflict, editing out information becomes the key to success. It is not what is in the documentary that is the story of the creative process of creating the twins aerial act, it is what is not there. ..

--more comments please .. I will approve anything short of flaming profanities