Person : Millman, Bird

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Practice tightropes are generally set at four to eight feet off the ground, but the low tightwires used in performance are usually higher. Low tightwire-walkers have traditionally used a parasol for balance. It may not seem like much of a help to those watching from the sides, but air pressure on the large rounded surface provides just enough resistance to help steady the performer. In the golden age of the circus, two of the greatest low tightwire walkers, however, elected not to use a parasol: Bird Millman and Con Colleano.

Bird Millman d├ębuted in a small circus with her parents when she was only six. By the time she was twelve, she was performing her own solo wire act; by 1914 she was a center-ring attraction for the Ringling Brothers and in the same class as Lillian Lietzel. She was a favorite in the early 1920s for the carefree ease and the joy she expressed as she waltzed and ran across her thirty-six foot wire. It was twice as long as the normal low tightwire and therefore provided more flex. Her story has a much happier ending than Lillian’s: She met a Harvard graduate, fell madly in love, quit the circus cold, and lived happily ever after. Contemporary gentle low wire ballet routines, like the magnificent performance by Agathe Olivier and Antoine Rigot on the 1988 Cirque du Soleil, and that of the charming Ayin de Sela with the Pickle Family , are at least in part attributable to the early artistry of Bird Millman. (Hoh, p. 171-2)
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