THEY CALL IT "aerial ballet." Some might also call it crazy, though we've been assured that the 11 trapeze artists in Les Arts Sauts are in no peril as they soar from one end to the other inside a 20-meter-high dome.
But what about the spectators, reclining in deck chairs just below them?
"There is absolutely no danger, for the audience or the trapezists," says Caroline Gravel, spokeswoman for the French troupe, which performs Saturday through Aug. 17 on the plaza of the Kennedy Center. The audience is positioned to the sides of the dome's floor. A net separates them from the trapezists.
"We play with the falls when they happen," Gravel says. "It's not bad, it's just something that happens."
Les Arts Sauts, founded in 1993, is the latest of circus acts coming out of France -- following shows such as Cirque Plume and Zingaro, among so many others. Gravel attributes the stream of new circuses to France's long tradition in the entertainment form.
"It's a normal evolution of an art," she says. "Like in dance, you have classical ballet and now contemporary dance. There are new artists in the circus discipline, so they have a new vision of what they want to present. And the government is putting money into it."
What the artists in Les Arts Sauts present is just about everything the human body can do in the air, from swinging and soaring from a trapeze to whirling around in strips of fabric. This last trick is performed by the lone woman in the group. A cellist and singer are also positioned up in the air with the aerialists.
The troupe actually prefers to fly out in the open, says Gravel, but the dome became necessary because of the vagaries of the weather. This is the group's first U.S. tour; it has just finished up performances in New York after a tour of Asia.
"We had a three-week break and everyone was exhausted," Gravel says. "But as soon as we got to New York you could see everybody was so anxious to go back up there. You'll see when they are up there they are so happy. They are so comfortable up there. They love it; it's second nature."
LES ARTS SAUTS -- Saturday through Aug. 17 at the Kennedy Center. Call 202/467-4600.