“The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.” ― Confucius
The sports hall is plastered with posters of western sports events, the faces of heroes that accomplished fame through physical activity, bucket loads of sweat and perseverance. The floor is covered in mats and Nepalese youngsters; a toddler staggers around in between stretching adults, in between cones that fly through the air; a young woman slides down the silks that are attached to the framework that holds the roof up. We marvel at the contagiously playful optimism, the graceful girls hanging upside down, the boys standing on their hands with traces of their past only visible through the physical scars that sometimes show when a shirt lifts up or some hair slides out of place. We marvel at the former band of outsiders that is now the family of ‘Circus Kathmandu.’
“Circus Kathmandu is Nepal’s first and only contemporary circus,” Gaia says. There is a hint of pride in her eyes. The 24 year old Italian has been with the circus for almost three months now, helping 27 year old lead trainer Martin, another foreign supportworker. Together they prepare the company for a set of carefully choreographed contemporary acts.
The first circus performance I witnessed in Kathmandu was not quite like the circus I had visited back home as a child. There were no elephants running around, and the only clown we saw was not wearing big shoes but a big smile on his face instead. This circus was a contemporary piece of art, performed by ten young Nepalese people who had been rescued from child trafficking and a life on the streets.
“The show is multidisciplinary,” Martin explains. “It contains aerial acts, group juggling, partner acrobatics and a decent amount of bending and stretching.” Watching the final preparations for the show, I felt the excitement I had felt as a child, watching with my mouth wide open and clapping at all the wrong times because simply everything had appealed to me.
The company exists of ten young adults, mainly women. “Aren’t they amazing?” Soben says, and it wasn’t a question really, but more like a statement. Today is Soben’s first day. He met a sponsor from England who enabled him to travel to Kathmandu to have a test run with the circus today. Gaia tells me that almost all of the artists travel for hours to train in Kathmandu every day. “And when the bus breaks down, they walk for two hours.” That same dedication shows on their faces as they move so gracefully from one act into the next. Soben gets excited when he learns we come from England, just like his sponsors. “What is it like?” he asks me when we sit down on a mat together. “It’s cold and wet and people spend their mornings shoulder to shoulder on the train.” “Why do they do that?” “I have no idea.”
In between the intervals and huddles he shows me pictures; the smiling faces of his family and friends back home; a wedding in his town; pictures of his sponsor. “It is not about practice you know,” he says, bringing his attention back to the room we are in, “it is about performing with the heart.” He shares the same positivity as the young people that preceded him into the company and it is easy to forget the long road they had to take to get to the ropes, the rings and the cones.
“Working with the company has been a fabulous experience,” Martin says. “After experiencing deep life struggles in their past, they are managing to transform their experiences into strength, and by doing so, they spread a message of hope and positivity throughout Nepal.”
Most of the artists did not get a formal education and being in the company offers them a chance to master something. It gives them a chance to find their own way, to contribute a valuable role in society. Traveling for hours and training more than four hours almost every day requires a certain mindset. These young adults know how to work for their dreams. “Circus in general offers a strong social and physical development,” Jouan adds, “it also offers them a family, a team, and a responsibility towards it. They are engaged on a national and personal mission namely the one of
fighting against the trafficking of women and children.”
The importance of Circus Kathmandu reaches further than the rings and the mats. Besides giving the members of the company a voice and a way to express their talents in a rough society where child trafficking and poverty exists, it gives them the power to fight these very things by reaching out to the community. The outreach programs, and sensibility actions help raise awareness among both Nepalese and foreign visitors.
Both Gaia and Martin seem to have intensely bonded with the company over a relatively short period of time. “This is not a job you finish when you go home,” Gaia says after the training, “I take these people home with me. If I would come back, I wouldn’t train with them as a teacher, I would train with them as a friend.”