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Bridge daredevils dance in Bern

Öff Öff performers hang from Bern’s Kirchenfeld bridge during their aerial dance performance

If dangling from a 30-metre high bridge on a thin wire cable is your cup of tea, then Bern is the place to be this week. Until August 22 an aerial dance troupe called Öff Öff productions is performing on and off the Kirchenfeld bridge with bungee ropes, trapezes and chiffon tissue.

The six-strong group includes dancers, ex-climbers and mime artists under the direction of the group's founder, Bern-born Heidi Aemisegger, who has dreamt of using the bridge as a stage since she was a small girl.

The production, which premièred last week, is called "The Bridge: a symphony of man and monument" and it aims to whet appetites ahead of the 15th Bern Dance festival which opens on August 24.

After dark, the performers, dressed in brightly coloured costumes, wriggle into their harnesses and take up temporary residence in the mesh of metal below the bridge.

Daredevil acts

Silhouetted against the night sky, they perform all manner of daredevil acts, throwing themselves off the steel girders on bungee ropes which bounce just before they hit the ground and swinging past one another on high trapezes.

As the audience gazes up at the bridge from far below, the question of safety seems a primary concern. But the show's choreographer and director, Micha Berghese, is quick to point out that safety comes first.

"Of course it is safe," he says, " we have had three months of preparation and 80 per cent of this time was spent finding various routes and hanging points in the bridge and making them 150 per cent safe. Whenever we have a change and that's when I come in and say I don't really like that bit, that means two days work to re-rig and make things safe again."

Although their equipment is checked and rechecked, the performers need nerves of steel to climb onto the bridge - the job is not for the faint hearted.

As they scamper along the girders, they make it look easy but appearances can be deceiving.

"It is really high," says Jenni Arne, one of the aerial dancers, "I have to admit the first week I was working here I was a very serious girl. I didn't smile at all, I was very afraid. But funnily enough you do get used to it. Now I hardly look at the ground, I just look at the metal which is in front of me and I'm no longer afraid."

Choreographed to high-tech music

The show is performed to an original score composed by the Swiss musician, Simon Hostettler. The high-tech synthesised music incorporates the bridge's background sounds with microphones hidden in the girders to pick up the noise of the passing trams and the nearby River Aare's flow.

After every performance the audience cheers and applauds from the hundreds of deckchairs below the enormous metal structure. The idea to use deckchairs came from the show's director who injured his neck during his previous high-wire choreography for the Millenium Dome in London.

"It was one of my crazy ideas," says Berghese, "I had a neck injury from looking up for three years. I spoke to Heidi and said I needed a deckchair to work and look up.

"And during this conversation we said why don't we have deckchairs for the audience as well. It's a wonderful picture, everyone lying down looking up into the bridge."

by Sally Mules


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