Theatre in the Sky

Feature in Issue 15-1 | Spring 2003

The legendary wire-walker Philippe Petit describes himself as ‘a poet of the sky who wants to inspire people to be like birds’. World-famous for his walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, he is a confident, eloquent man who speaks passionately of his life in the clouds (heard by Circus Arts News at his book launch at the Institut Français and also on Radio 3’s Nightwaves). Referencing that famous Manhattan walk and other projects (which have included Sydney Harbour Bridge), he says that he doesn’t feel fear as he knows he has to succeed: ‘There is no maybe.’ Walking in the sky is seen as a metaphor for life: ‘I do not take risks or gamble my life. Preparation is my safety net.’ He is now planning a walk across the Grand Canyon – and carries his ‘dream box’ everywhere, a wooden briefcase containing a tiny model of the canyon.

Philippe Petit was not born in the world of circus – he calls the wire ‘a stage’. Having ‘stolen’ the cable from the circus world he fixed it in a solitary place where he could develop his act on his own terms. He started out (at the age of 4) as a self-taught magician and moved on to juggling then eventually wire-walking. His aim was to do something different on the wire – he was not interested in scaring or daring, but in making people smile, placing theatre in the sky. He found out about the twin towers when he was only a ‘baby wire-walker’ and had no conception of what he would be able to achieve – he put the ‘project’ away in his project box and only retrieved it years later when he visited New York. The whole process of planning and undertaking the walk was like a bank robbery, a ‘caper movie’, because he had to sneak onto the towers.

He is philosophical about his great talent: describing himself as ‘half bird, half man’, he says he is more comfortable in the sky than on the ground. ‘I am a man of a different planet.’

To Reach The Clouds by Philippe Petit is published by Faber & Faber.

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This article in the magazine

Issue 15-1
p. 3