Read the original French version of this text

Since 2007, the Manufacture Jaeger-LeCoultre has published an annual book, in large format, which is based on the news of the Grande Maison in the Vallée de Joux that open up wider horizons in the worlds of culture and art.This year Jaeger-LeCoultre devotes its sixth yearbook to round watches and more broadly to the symbolism of the Circle.

On this central theme, Jaeger-LeCoultre commissioned Erika Lemay to write an article to talk about the circle in her own way. This gave birth to a very personal written creation on the unusual relationship between a woman and the circle.

Here below, the complete piece that you can also find in the Jaeger-LeCoultre Yearbook SIX


The Secret of the Circle

by Erika Lemay


Photo David Cannon

Photo David Cannon

The word circus comes from the Latin for circle: the circle takes on all its meaning for a circus artist, and on several levels. The circle is a foundation for the circus arts, a key tool. Not only does it dictate the path of the animals when they run round the ring in a traditional circus performance, but it also reminds contemporary circus artists like us that we are on stage in this round ring that defines the craft we love. Just as a circle represents a kind of defensive belt surrounding a city, for me it protects my temple, my universe, offering me a sometimes too ephemeral promise of eternity...

I go onstage blinded by all these spotlights that suddenly seem to shine ten times brighter. Unable to see them with my eyes, I can feel all these looks converging on me, enfolding me, admiring me and warming me. Buoyed on by the emotion which floods my whole body each time I step into the “enchanted circle”, an ancient term for the traditional circus ring, I find myself in quite another dimension, where time and space are manipulated at the whim of the artist on stage: a sort of wonderland where the wonders have to be created by the person who has been allowed the honour of occupying the ring.

Photo David Cannon

Photo David Cannon

There are two of us on stage; my aerial hoop, a sort of metallic circle which I use as a means of transport and expression, and myself. Before I can fully apprehend the preliminaries, my feet no longer touch ground, I am already thrust into an aerial climb and a succession of supple and vaporous movements, circling on my unlikely partner. My body no longer belongs to the world where gravity has a meaning. The magical world of the circus has momentarily replaced it so that I can innocently throw myself into the arms of my metal companion who seems to have come to life to accompany me in this thrilling moment, under the voyeuristic gaze of hundreds of people. My aerial dance, like that of the whirling dervishes, is inspired by cosmic movement, sucking my body and soul into a three-dimensional whirlpool.

I live the present moment as never before. The rush of adrenalin that has been my constant craving ever since I set first foot on stage aged four, fills my veins and gives my body supernatural strength.

The spectators present and I gradually build a connection as my performance progresses. I don’t know them personally but each person present that evening already owns a fragment of my soul, laid bare on stage, out on a limb in the black emptiness of the show.

Every precisely executed movement is a source of danger and delight, and brings me back to the circularity of gravitation. I would sometimes like to break this circle which locks me into an unstoppable rotation so that the whole audience can see the vulnerability that I hide so well behind the elegance and precision of my performance, the fruit of years of arduous training. I am carried away by the frenzy of the circle with the promise of returning to the starting point: the ground, hopefully, gracefully.

Photo K. Ivanov

Photo K. Ivanov

My legs are so fragile and sometimes can’t remember which direction to go in, even though they have repeated the sequence thousands of times to the point of exhaustion, day after day, year after year. My body seeks this continuity that will save me one ounce of strength for the rest of the performance. Some might assume this strength innate, but I actually have a fragile body, that I feel I need to strengthen anew every day of my life to be able to carry out these daily feats. I sometimes wish I could leave some power in reserve on the circus ring to pick up when my acrobatic circuit returns to that same physical point, when my muscles are loaded with lactic acid threatening to jeopardise the rest of my tour de force. In any case my performance is a ceaseless turning that keeps bringing me back to the same alignment. My movements follow on from each other smoothly and fluently while my mind soars sometimes faster than the turns my body makes above the heads of the audience.

From up there I can see the vague shape of the ring intersected by the lights that rush by my eyes so fast that they draw bright circles like burning hoops. If only I could jump through them and warm my soul. 

My slender, limber acrobat’s body masks chronic insecurities, the fear of not attaining perfection, of flying away forever this time, or of being trapped forever in this burning hoop.

To the applause of an astonished audience, I fly, I turn, and I still can’t see a thing. My hand takes my whole weight and ties me to the promise of a faithful relationship with the aerial space, till death do us part. My flying pirouettes now continue, this time in an immaterial dimension that makes me feel as light as air.

And this circle of emotions ends up taking over and leaving me with a feeling of ecstasy that every artist should be allowed to taste at least once in their life: the secret of the circle.

Erika Lemay


Read the original French version of this text