Going to the circus is an entirely different prospect today than it was in Barnum’s day. Gone are the seedy reputations and the dubious animal and human rights records, replaced by tightly run multi-national businesses. The most well know, and one of the most popular live performance events around the world, is Cirque du Soleil. Acrobats have inspired awe throughout the ages, but in the modern circus world the levels of dedication and skill needed is often on a par with professional athletes.
Horacio Alcalá’s film, Grazing the Sky, follows eight different aspiring acrobats from around the world. Long gone are days when you had to be born into a circus family in order to learn the craft. Today, there are specialised schools where those whose dreams hover up in the air can study to realise their ambitions. Alcalá uses interviews to discover each acrobat’s motivations but it’s the beautifully choreographed scenes with the performers that really capture the elegance and the majesty of what they do.
Grazing the Sky is a film which feels as much a work of art or philosophical treatise on the meaning of live as it does a documentary. It feels like a metaphor and it’s more of a stream of consciousness at times than linear narrative. Being an acrobat can be a lonely life, with constant travel around the world, but despite being highly individualistic they find kinship and make bonds with their fellow artists and performers. However, they often find it impossible to keep their feet on the ground.
Grazing the Sky is released on DVD and Blu-ray by Matchbox Films on Monday.