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Tightrope walker re-creates Twin Towers feat in East Hampton

Philippe Petit walks a high wire during the

Philippe Petit walks a high wire during the Longhouse Reserve's performance of "Look Up" in East Hampton on Aug. 7, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

On Aug. 7, 1974, French tightrope walker Philippe Petit made headlines when he walked fearlessly between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Exactly 40 years later, Petit, now 64, brought past and present together at the LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton with a stunning re-creation of the famous endeavor.

The sun was just beginning to set on Thursday when Petit, dressed in black, appeared before the audience. The wire was secured on trees roughly 20 feet above and 65 feet across a lily pond — a shallow and lush alternative to the World Trade feat. Grasped firmly in his hands was a large balancing stick — the same one used in his original walk decades ago.

“I remember listening to it on the radio, watching it on television that day,” audience member Elaine Grove, 70, of East Hampton, said. “No one could believe what was happening, that’s all anyone was talking about.”

Actress Melissa Leo provided a voice for Petit, narrating the performance with a dramatic reading of his inner monologue, quoted directly from “To Reach the Clouds,” Petit’s memoir of the 1974 walk.  

Grammy Award-winning musician Paul Winter accompanied Petit on soprano saxophone, playing solo while floating on a large lily pad boat in the middle of the pond.

Petit and Winter have collaborated before, as artists-in-residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Both Winter and Petit have been an active part of St. John’s art program since the 1980s.

“When we first get together, I improvise until I find the themes I want and the ones that he feels best about,” Winter said, on working with Petit. “By the time we get to the performance, we’re pretty organized.”

According to LongHouse Reserve president Dianne Benson, this is the first time LongHouse has hosted an event of this kind.

“We realized that this was something actually historic,” she said. “So we stopped everything and took the time to understand what would be require of us [to make it happen].”

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