Who: Jill Pages, 31
Where: Circuses around the world
Trust. It's the glue that binds extreme teams, the foundation of a fast company. It's also one of the fuzziest, most elusive terms in business: difficult to define, impossible to measure. But for aerialist Jill Pages, trust is as real-world as it gets. When trust fails, she takes a very public free fall.
Pages, 31, is one of the stars of the Flying Pages, a six-person trapeze troupe that has headlined with the Big Apple Circus. Outfitted in a star-spangled costume, with her muscular shoulders and her black hair piled high, Pages looks like a 105-pound flyweight version of Wonder Woman. She also soars like a superhero. She was the first woman aerialist to throw a quadruple somersault, and her triple flip — some 40 feet above the circus ring — is the apogee of the act. Some consider her one of the greatest female trapeze artists ever.
Pages is a gifted acrobat, but it is trust that holds the act together. Her husband, Willy, a compact man with a Marine crew cut and Popeye forearms, is her catcher. Pages believes implicitly that if her timing is off by a millisecond, if she comes out of a turn too early, Willy will make the great catch and "pull me out of the net." Still, they are only human. And there have been days when they've missed three out of three attempts at the triple.
"When three in a row hit the net, that's it," says Pages. "Our focus is gone. All we can do is give each other space and start to rebuild."
At such times, Pages tries to recall her hard-won understanding of the elements of trust. It starts with believing in yourself: "When things go wrong up there, what you fall back on is you." But trust comes only when you prove yourself: "You're not truly a member of our troupe until you earn our respect." And trust flourishes when you put the team's goal above your own ego. "The troupe always, always comes first," she says.
On a recent night, alone in the spotlight, Pages readies herself for the triple flip. At the sound of a drumroll, she pauses and breathes deep, then leaps from the top platform. She swings out once, twice, and releases the bar. A tuck, three somersaults through the air, and she vaults into the hands of her husband. The crowd whoops and cheers.
At least on this night, trust held. Tomorrow will bring another test.
Catch the Flying Pages next month with the Royal Hannaford Circus (www.royalhannafordcircus.com).
A version of this article appeared in the August 2001 issue of Fast Company magazine.