The circus kids

by Emma Mancini |  7 febbraio 2013

Kol Saber! on stage at Hebron. (photo: E. Mancini) [photogallery 1/4]

The theme is the oppression in human relations. The actor wearing dark jacket and straps impersonates the abusing authority.

A juggler.

The golden jacket represents the dream, the creative freedom.

The first school for the circus was founded in the Palestinian Territories in 2008. This exclusively youthful experience introduced the art of the circus into a context that had no knowledge of it. Today hundreds of boys and girls attend its courses. Let's discover what makes them share their dreams using a form of communication that knows no barriers.

(Hebron, West Bank) – The afternoon of 2nd February 2013. The hall is full of children and the five actors on the stage trigger off their laughter with their acrobatics and somersaults. The Palestinian Circus School is in the city of Hebron with the show Kol Saber!, one month and a half after the death of Mohammed Zaid Awwad Salayam.

Mohammed was 17 years old and was one of the students of the circus school. On 12th December, his birthday, he was going to buy a cake to celebrate with his family when he was hit by a bullet fired from a pistol by an Israeli female soldier, near the check point of the Mosque of Abraham, which divides Hebron into two parts: H1 and H2, the former under Israeli civil and military control and the latter under Palestinian control.

Mohammed was near the checkpoint when he quarrelled with the soldiers: according to the Israeli army, he was holding a toy pistol which frightened the soldiers. According to some witnesses, the young boy had defended a child.

Many of the children and youngsters of Hebron who were at the circus on 2nd February were Mohammed’s fellow acrobats. “When he was killed, we were on tour in Belgium,” Shadi Zmorrod, founder and director of the Palestinian Circus School told us. “It was a shock for us: Mohammed was an outgoing boy and great fun. We will go and visit his family. The School has never stopped, the courses are continuing in Hebron in Mohammed’s memory.”

In Palestine it is difficult to forget about the military occupation. The question bursts forcefully on to the scene even when doing acrobatics or juggling with clubs and hoops. “The title of our show, Kol Saber!, means “Eat the cactus!” or, metaphorically, “Eat patience!” The show which we are taking around Palestine and Europe,” one of the actors, Fadi Zmorrod, explains, “is about this: the relationship between the oppressed and the oppressor, the way people act and are transformed when they are in a position of power.”

Fadi is 32 years old, lives in Jerusalem and has been an actor and teacher at the circus school for eight years. He started almost by chance, curious about the project set up by his brother, Shadi: “Before, the only way I could express my creativity was through painting. Now, as an actor, it is much easier. Acting I change every time, I mature and I grow. This is thanks to the continuous interaction with the public and my companions. The idea of Palestine is also changing continuously, the perception of the land, of a homeland changes.”

Fadi is getting ready for the show, going on stage in a few minutes. With blue eyes and an athletic body, he smiles as he talks to us in Italian, learnt in the two years he spent at the circus school in Turin. “The message that we want to send with the show is the role that oppression has in people’s lives, the dynamics that authority produces. This happens all over the world. It is a message that can be applied to any situation.”

On stage, the attention of the actors and audience is attracted by two jackets: a golden one representing the dream, the second a black one with stripes on the shoulders, i.e. power. The five actors jump, run, climb and walk the tightrope: everything to get hold of the jacket of authority. If the golden one unites them, bringing the characters physically and mentally close to one another because it is the harbinger of a common dream, the black one fails to attract them, creating distances and hierarchical roles.

“The idea of Kol Saber! Came about from our common experiences,” explains Fadi.”Each of us brought their personal idea of authority which, in discussion, became common and collective. In the show we never speak except at the end. The word limits the message, it makes it absolute. Acting only using the body, we let the audience (and before them the actors) the possibility of interpreting the message, of making it their own, of using their imagination. The show changes in relation to the audience; children or adults, Palestinian or international.”

The Palestinian Circus School has been pursuing the objective of instigating the imagination for more than six years. It was August 2006 when Shadi Zmorrod and a handful of other dreamers founded the first circus school in Palestine, distant from traditional Arab arts. “I’ve been doing theatre,” he tells us, “ever since I was 12, in Jerusalem, but during the second intifada I left. I did not what to share my art with Israeli actors. Then something changed; I went to Europe, where I worked with theatre artists from all over the world. And I realized that art has the merit of bringing people together and cancelling differences. I came back to Palestine and I opened the School.”

The main centre is in Birzeit: the art of the circus is taught here at three levels, from beginners to professionals. Then there are the Circus Clubs, weekly lessons in different towns in the West Bank: Ramallah, Hebron, Jenin and the refugee camp of Al Fara’a. One hundred and seventy-eight students take part: 96 male and 82 female, aged from 10 to 27. They learn juggling, acrobatics, aerials, stilts but also theatre.

“I began studying circus arts in March 2008,” Noor Fawaz Abu Al Rob, aged 21 from Jenin tells us. “At the time I had no idea what the circus was. I discovered that it is not limited to a particular type of sport or art, but opens up to all cultures. It is the only thing that I want to do, my dream was to become a teacher and I’ve succeeded.”

In a few years, the Palestinian Circus School has become firmly established: shows in theatres, in the street and at Palestinian festivals but The School also tours Europe, with many organized in Belgium and in France.

The artistic and educational dimension of the circus to fight injustice, the occupation, physical and metal oppression in which children and adults are forced to live, constantly subjected to humiliations and therefore to anger and frustration . “We have a twofold objective,” the manager Shadi explains.”At local level, Palestinian society often accuses the Israeli occupation of every type of shortcoming and restriction. This is certainly true, but we have to learn to work on ourselves, in our culture, change it and improve it, in particular in the relations between the sexes. This is why children are our target: they are the future leaders of Palestine and, when they are adults, they will have been influenced by the negative energies assimilated when small. We have to give them positive energies.”

“At international level, our aim is to open the doors of Palestine to those who do not know it or to those who are stuck at trite stereotypes: the world watches us but does not know us. Through the circus we show them our real face.” A face that is creative, deep, original and outgoing. As only a circus can be.

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