One of the most magical parts of any stage version of Peter Pan – ballet or otherwise – is seeing members of the cast literally take off and fly around the stage. Cincinnati Ballet’s upcoming production is no exception. So, how did the ability for performers to fly on stage come to be?
To answer that question, we must time hop back to 1954 and meet up with a mid-century, theatrical magician named Peter Foy. Foy was a stage flying effects specialist, hired to fly an actress named Mary Martin in a new musical version of Peter Pan being staged on Broadway.
Martin wanted her Peter Pan to fly higher, faster, and farther than had ever been attempted before, but the flying equipment of the day couldn’t accomplish the task. Because of this, Foy invented an entirely new flying system, which allowed Martin to fly beyond what were traditionally considered “control zones” and move her very, very rapidly through the air. Foy’s flying innovation ushered in a new era of extraordinary, highly-controlled, natural-looking free flight.
According to Flying by Foy Contract Administrator Jim Hansen, Foy’s determination to preserve the magic of flight by concealing its mechanism from the audience’s view then led to his introduction of the Track-On-Track system in 1962. The ingenious arrangement allowed independent control of lift and travel. It’s the same mechanism used to make Peter fly in this production. “Track-on-Track quickly became the most ubiquitous system used,” Hansen said. There’s one flying operator for lift, while another flying operator controls travel across the stage.
“In one way you can look at the operator and the dancer as dance partners. The lifter is the operator off stage. It’s very much like an adagio or a duet. The lifter in an adagio is visible. In this dance, the lifter (operator) is invisible,” Hansen explained. A separate pendulum system is used to make Wendy and the Darling children fly.
Foy’s trade secrets are so protected, photographs of the flying equipment itself, including harnesses, are strictly forbidden in order to protect their patented devices, and to preserve the ‘magic’ of the flying effects.
If you’d like to come see Peter Pan Take flight, Buy tickets here!