Wires Crossed — 2020 project uses tightrope walking to promote physical and mental balance

Last week Galway Community Circus launched its exciting GalWAY 2020 project Wires Crossed with displays of high-wire walking near the City Museum and at the middle pier of the Claddagh Basin.

From now, until August 2020, people from all walks of life will be trained in the art of ‘funambulism’, the art of wire walking while holding a balancing pole. Galway Community Circus, in partnership with nine European youth and social circus schools, will train people to walk the tight-wire and experience its empowering, transformative effect. This ambitious and inclusive project will culminate in a major funambulism event for Galway 2020, where 400 wire-walkers will cross the River Corrib together over a period of 2020 minutes on August 8 next year.

While Wires Crossed celebrates the thrills and skills of wire-walking, the project also has a serious side; highlighting the importance of head/heart balance and mindfulness. The fast-flowing Corrib embodies the beauty and fierce power of nature but it also, tragically, serves as a reminder of the fragile mental health of young people and has become synonymous with our city and county’s high rates of suicide in recent years. Wires Crossed aims to highlight this crisis and help restore balance within our communities.

Over an afternoon coffee, Galway Community Circus director Ulla Hakkonen described the inspiration behind the project and how the company will make it happen; “The Wires Crossed project came about from our long-term friendships and partnerships with other European youth and social circus schools,” Ulla begins. “Five years ago I was attending a social circus conference in Brussels hosted by the Ecole de Cirques de Bruxelles and during a break the school director, Vincent Wateurs, brought us into a beautiful old train station where they had 8-10 wires set up. He gave half an hour workshop and I was one of the people who tried it. It gave me such an empowering feeling when I realised I was able to walk on the wire with the pole. That was when I fell in love with tightrope walking. Then, when we were hosting a meeting in 2015, Vincent came here and we walked around Galway looking for places where we could do a crossing and he suggested Spanish Arch. We knew it would be a big project and were wondering where we could get the funding and the partners to make it happen so when Galway 2020 happened we applied and were successful. The EU Erasmus Plus scheme is one of our major funders for the event. ”

Ulla outlines how the project also highlights the issue of mental health; “I remember in January 2016 it was a tragic time, seven lives were lost in a short period. We knew we had to do something on that topic and in that Corrib location. High wire walking has a symbolic meaning; you are alone on the wire, nobody is there to help you but the whole community is around you, cheering you on and supporting you and you face the fear and keep going one step at a time and you learn to be calm and you do make it safely to the other side.”

Starting this weekend, Galway Community Circus will be hosting public workshops in wire walking as the troupe build up to 2020’s grand finale. On Saturday, June 2nd , behind St Joseph’s Community Centre in Shantalla, there will be free drop-in ‘taster’ sessions and on Sunday, June 3rd, there will 2-hour ‘discovery’ workshops priced at €20/€10 and catering for all ages from 10 upwards.

“You don’t need any special equipment,” Ulla points out. “You start at a low height and walking on a slack line. You can do it barefoot or with light shoes like converse. First you start on the ground learning the technique with the pole and then you go on the low wire. At the end of the two hour workshop most people are already able to walk on the wire a metre above the ground and quite a few can do two metres. We hope to have 400 performers in the final spectacle in August 2020 and we envision that half of these will be local people and half will be from our international partners. About 40 professionals will take part but it is mostly a celebration of ordinary people.”

The mental health aspect of the project’s inspiration will continue to be prominent in the run up to 2020; “We are partnering with First Fortnight, an arts and mental health festival, to run wire walking and mindfulness workshops,” Ulla reveals. “During August 2020 we will host a ten day long youth exchange with six partner countries which will be all about art and wellbeing in the widest possible meaning. That will include talking about mental health and how it affects young people and what tools there are to help and support yourself if you are struggling. We will also have a public seminar about the impact of arts and culture and participating in activities like the circus school and how it can help with your wellbeing.”

Further details of Wires Crossed, including registration, can be found at http://www.galwaycommunitycircus.com/circus-school/wires-crossed?fbclid=IwAR2GgNE9wP2ipP0gOW0TVOPMvnVEmaCuO8obmvffZB_Ks4m-ZI3edGZvO7w

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