Backstage with the Gemini Twins’ Trapeze Show

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(Host) You might not think of Brattleboro as a training ground for the trapeze. But the famous “Gemini Twins” have made this home and they coach other aerial artists in an old factory. This weekend, that training results in a show.

VPR’s Susan Keese has been backstage for a preview.

(Keese) Suspended from the ceiling of an old factory in Brattleboro, a woman in tights dangles from a hoop.

(Sound of training) “Should I still do it from the knees then? You can if it makes you more comfortable. You can go from there, it’s going to be a bigger drop.”

(Keese) Flowing from the hoop is a swathe of blue fabric. These aerial dancers want to learn to use the fabric to fly around the hoop like birds above blue water.

(Serenity Smith) “Can you use your left leg, like turn and use your left hand to wrap your left leg around the fabric? Yes, good, cause you’re going to fall forward through the hoop.”

(Keese) Serenity Smith, one of the famous Gemini Twins, provides direction. She and her sister Elsie have been in the business since their teens.

Today, they’re training Sharon Whitting on a new performance piece. Whitting and her partner have come to the workshop from Washington D.C. They’re trying out a new move on the hoop.

“This is where we’re getting prepped for the leg thing. And now my foot stirs, continues to stir….”

(Keese) At the end of this week’s workshop will be a performance in the twins’ “Nimble Arts Studio.” There’s a teenage contortionist, and a tumbling duo whose act involves a glitter-painted volcano. Serenity Smith says lots of different people are drawn to trapeze work.

(Smith) “It’s like working with people on an Outward Bound Program or a ropes course. The challenge to their perspective, the perception of what they are, who they are and what they’re capable of really allows a lot of personal growth.”

(Keese) The 33 year-old twins were already veterans when they took up residence two years ago at their father’s Guilford farm. They’d taught at the Circus Arts School in San Francisco. Serenity had toured with Ringling Brothers. Together, they’d spent several years touring in Asia and Australia with the Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil.

Elsie says they started on the trapeze in their teens, in an unlikely setting.

(Elsie Smith) “We started doing circus through Club Med. We went down there on vacation and they had a circus program and they invite you to go on the flying trapeze with a safety belt and a big net.”

(Keese) Eventually they got a job as counselors at a circus summer camp. The daughters of the owner of Ringling Brothers just happened to be attending.

Elsie says being a mirror image twin adds a certain mythic intimacy and power to the physical ability to perform astounding feats.

(Elsie Smith) “The first piece we created and performed was really about our being twins. The fact that, you know, pulling apart when one of us is high up on the ropes and one of us is hanging from the bar and then drawing back together to make mirror images that are more like sharing the womb.”

(Keese) The piece they’ve chosen for this performance is sassier, they say. Dressed in red, like Spanish beauties, they whirl and merge and separate on a single spinning trapeze. With impossible grace and muscular intelligence, they balance their identical bodies, toe to toe, knee to elbow. It just has to be seen to be believed.

For VPR Backstage, I’m Susan Keese.

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