My wonderful and creative partner, and Co-founder of LA Dance Chronicle Martin Holman came up with what I think is the perfect title for this new series that includes writings from dance professionals who are forced to stay at home during this horrific COVID-19 pandemic. Our second contribution to “Stories From the Inside” was provided by the amazing Judith FLEX Helle, founder and choreographer of the Los Angeles based Luminario Ballet.

Judith FLEX Helle - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Judith FLEX Helle – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Judith FLEX Helle grew up in Boston, MA and studied dance at the Walnut Hill School, Boston Center for the Arts, and the Alvin Ailey School of American Dance NYC. She has a BFA in Film from the San Francisco Art Institute. In 1981, she left the US to dance in Berlin, Germany at the Deutsche Opera Berlin, where she formed her first dance company, “FLEX”, with dancers from the Deutsche Opera and other fine US and European ballet/modern companies. While in Berlin, she also appeared in movies, TV shows, theatricals of all kinds, cabaret, industrials, and experimental theater.

After moving to LA in 1988, Judith taught dance at Idyllwild School of the Arts, performed in Los Angeles with various companies, and signed with dance agent Julie McDonald. In 1996 she retired from performing but continued to have a very successful career in performing as a single trapeze artist, surfing the wave of popularity via Cirque du Soleil. At this time, she also became highly sought after as a private aerial dance coach, and her students are now stars of the international cirque world. She has unlocked the key to integrating aerial dance into terra dance, and the dancers in Luminario Ballet truly are venturing into new uncharted territories in the air. Her choreography career took off with the founding of Luminario Ballet, and Judith has choreographed many ballet and aerial dance works for the company, as well as commissioned ballets and aerial dances for 5 symphony orchestras, including the LA Philharmonic. Judith is a representative of the global conversation about dance here in LA and holds up her end with Luminario Ballet!!  For more information, please read my November 7, 2019 interview with Judith FLEX Helle here.


Hansel and Gretel Walk the Plank (naked ) by Judith FLEX Helle

Summer 1985 in Berlin was a doozy for me.
It was the coldest summer in Berlin in 20 years.
My German Rockstar boyfriend and I were not doing well. His Rockstar arrogance combined with his complete self-centered outlook on everything was killing us; and my treasured European Wildcat, “Bunnie” had gone missing.
She’d never stayed out for more than one night.
As a European Wildcat, she was extremely sensitive to being seen and completely oriented towards being with me in whatever place I happened to be. She went everywhere with me, by bus, train, plane, car, bicycle, motorcycle, or, just tucked into my leather motorcycle jacket with her head popped out to see the world with me.

I’d toured Europe with her, confidently leaving a window open for her wherever I was and a worn sweatshirt on the bed so she knew the right place to return to. My little furry talisman, my witchly familiar! She was so careful to always come back!
I searched everywhere for her, put up signs, but no one returned her.
I felt the center of my world was slipping away, the boyfriend was cruel and the cat, my centerpiece of calm, had disappeared.

One night, my boyfriend and I went to a concert to see the band Gibbon perform, a fun, funky rock/pop band at the Quartier Latin, headed up by one of my American ex-Pat friends, lead singer Rik Maverik. After the show, as the band was packing up on stage, Rik found me in the audience. My boyfriend was off socializing with his rock pals, being his usual egotistical fabulous self. I am watching Rik’s drummer; an exquisitely beautiful young blonde man pack up the drum set. There is a golden aura shining out of his head which blinds me, I am hypnotized by him, and I and turn to Rik and say “NEVER introduce me to your drummer. EVER.”

Judith FLEX Helle with Siamese cat 1978 - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Judith FLEX Helle with Siamese cat 1978 – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Several weeks later, Rik called up and asked if I would dance with Gibbon on tour for a few gigs that summer. The money was pretty good, the locations were great, I needed the cash, it sounded fun, so, I took the job.

I get into the practice room with Gibbon to get the flavor of their vibe and realize that I was so attracted to the young drummer that I could hardly concentrate! Completely inappropriate for a professional, so, I didn’t even look at him, rehearsed with my back to him, and, proceeded to go on tour with them, dancing and having a blast.

One of the gigs was at the Metropol, one of Berlin’s largest venues. Rik had specifically asked for trapeze at this gig, so, my FLEX Dance Company twin trapeze partner Hanne and I provided.

The Metropol easily holds 6,000, and was a place I had performed many many times on my trapeze. I knew that place like the back of my hand as we had used the Metropol for daily trapeze training for about 6 months when I first arrived in Berlin, every corner was familiar. We even shot scenes for a Berlin movie I starred in, Rosa
Von Praunheim’s “The City of the Lost Souls” there. So, kind of a second home for me.

For the trapeze portion of the show, we had decided to hang above the band on stage instead of over the crowd, to be more connected to the guys- so had rigged a
rope to climb down from top onto our trapezes. I hung them from a single scenery batten, which crossed over the stage like a curtain rod. This was a much more dangerous method than when we performed over the crowd, as trapezes could be attached to a special motorized apparatus where the tech guy just lifted us up hydraulically.

To get out into the middle of the stage from top, we had to walk a 12 inch wide wooden plank catwalk with guide wires set on either side at knee height about 40 feet out to the middle of the stage. In pitch dark.

The stage was 90 feet below.

Our trapeze act was a twin act on 2 trapezes hung side by side from one batten, with my partner Hanne, who I danced with in the FLEX dance company, who was also my best friend.

I had trained her for the last couple of years on trapeze. But she wasn’t that experienced, and the catwalk was really just about as scary as one would ever find anywhere- tremendous poise and courage was required to simply walk out to the rope- and then we had to climb down and do our act!

The band’s dressing room was all the way down on the bottom floor, underneath the stage, and Hanne and I were in the top dressing room. With my boyfriend. On his best behavior.

There was a small hole cut out at the top of the wall in the corner of the room which led us out to the catwalk plank.

So, he’s sitting upstairs with Hanne and me, cocky and rocky as always, and the beautiful young Gibbon drummer is downstairs, not knowing about him, and I am just hoping that none of the band is coming up to the top dressing room. I am counting on their togetherness to keep them all downstairs.

We knew Gibbon had started to play because of course we heard them, and looking at the dark hole at the catwalk plank, it was time!

I had thoughtfully brought several small flashlights with us, to set on the catwalk so we could see to get to the center of the stage where the descending rope was.
As we walked the plank, I could feel Hanne shivering with fear. There was no question- our bodies sensed we were 90 feet high and there was nothing to grab onto unless we crawled on our hands and knees to touch those guide wires. But it was filthy and splintery!

We crouched across, me setting a flashlight about every 6 feet so we could see. One facing forward, one facing back where we’d come from.

Like Hansel and Gretel in the forest, leaving a crumb trail.

The band on stage, playing far, far below; us in the pitch dark, them in blazing stage light.

Judith FLEX Helle performing trapeze at the Metropol in Berlin, 1983 - Photo courtesy of the artist.

Judith FLEX Helle performing trapeze at the Metropol in Berlin, 1983 – Photo courtesy of the artist.

Incredibly, we made it to the rope, and climbed down to place on our trapezes.
This is a lesson to you circus-curious peeps out there:
NEVER hang 2 apparatuses off the same batten with someone who shakes!
We’d performed so many times together but never had to approach the trapezes from this height, and the Metropol was such a huge stage (80 feet across) with such a large audience- Hanne’s nerves pretty much shattered. So, we get into position on our trapezes and she’s shaking so much that my trapeze is shaking!!!

I had to physically push back against her shaking, and I even yelled at her out of the side of my mouth “Get it together! Stop shaking!!”

I looked at our bodies: we were wearing tiny gold bras and g-strings as costumes, covered in black dirt from the catwalk- our feet were black and there were sooty smudges on our thighs and stomachs.

The air was electric as we began our performance, 40 feet above the band’s heads. As we stretched our bodies into splits, hung by our ankles, somersaults and upside down contortion moves, the audience roared with pleasure.

I felt fantastic and perfect, but Hanne never stopped shaking.

Somehow we made it through our routine, and exited our trapezes safely.

The rest of the show was a blur, with me ending the show on stage next to Rik, dancing in a zebra bikini and Hawaiian flower leis, breathless, ecstatic, sweaty.

A few weeks later, all the shows were completed, and my boyfriend and I had decided to split up. It was no longer possible for me to endure his constant barrage of mean spirited commentary, so, I’d arranged with my gay friend Karl nearby in Shoeneberg to move in with him and his dog Sandy.

So ended the coldest summer in Berlin memory, about 40 degrees every night- we were all basically in leather pants, jackets, and boots the entire time.

I had left the window in our apartment open all of July and August, 2 whole long months, hoping may cat Bunnie would come home. With the window open it was freezing!

Moving day came.
Cold. Gray. Sad.
I got out of bed and went into the hallway, and an explosion of gray puffy fur came barreling into me, purring so loudly and vibrating so hard with cat-happiness that I could barely hold her, Bunnie had returned!
She’d escaped captivity and scampered home on my last day there!
Perfect timing!

Incredibly, that same day, the beautiful young drummer called, and asked me to have coffee with him.


Compiled by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, March 28, 2020.

To visit the Luminario Ballet website, click here.

Featured Image: Judith FLEX Helle and Hanne Weyh – Metropol Berlin 1984 – Photo courtesy of the Judith FLEX Helle.