Colombian circus takes to the ring

Colombian circus schools showcase the talent of their artists to the world

Come May, a swathe of the world’s finest circus acts will have descended upon London for the Roundhouse CircusFest. Circolombia are one such act, with the premier of their latest show, Urban, incorporating breakdance and parkour (free-running) with dramatics, choreography, South American hip-hop and swagger, a spectacular show of athleticism and poise coupled with power and grace.

Founded in 2002, Circolombia is from Cali, Colombia, and is the sister company of the school Circo Para Todos (Circus For Everyone), both created by local performer Hector Cobo and British circus artist Felicity Simpson: “we started in 1997 as a scheme to help children from difficult backgrounds make the most of their skills and bring Colombian talent to the world stage”, says Simpson. “It’s based on excellence and circus skills but also solidarity, co-operation and teamwork, leading to great group acts which you don’t get in Europe now as people don’t do more than duo or trio acts”.

Circo Para Todos was inspired by Cobo and Simpson’s being part of the founding of Brasil’s famous Intrépida Trupe circus in the 80s; from this, a small group of performers began the group work that Circolombia now excels in. Moving to Colombia, Simpson quickly recognised the talent but saw a need for a long-term project rather than the shorter workshops prevalent in South America. “In Brasil, some of the short term workshops do more harm than good – they finishes, the circus moves on, but the kids are in the same situation as before with nowhere to go – it’s like covering holes with a band aid”.

The school has a yearly intake of 25 new students, providing children and youths aged 12-20 with a four year scholarship with a free circus education plus a conventional one, and training to become a trainer. However, after the first group graduated in 2001 Simpson realised former students lacked in business sense: “they weren’t able to negotiate their contracts and were receiving ridiculous offers because employers knew that they came from a social scheme”.

“We set up a local agency [Circolombia] to stop the exploitation of our artists, like how 
in some Brasilian football clubs, where after moving to a big club they give back to the smaller club a player came from; we set up a two year programme to monitor their leaving school, verifying work conditions, employers, contracts and better wages. Then, 30% of their salary in the first year and 20% in the second goes back to the school”. Circolombia now sets up 83 circus students in jobs in the USA, Europe and on cruise ships, the world over.

Another project they’re affiliated with is the Brasilian NGO Crescer e Viver, who’ll also run workshops in May (see box below). Urban, supported by the Roundhouse and performed by 14 graduates, is a new direction for Circolombia as Simpson reveals, they’re no strangers to the UK but “it’s the first time we’ve a show in London we passionately wanted to do; the kids are telling the story they want to tell”.

By Olly Hunter

Brasilian Circus Workshops

The Brasilian circus education pioneers Crescer e Viver (Grow and Live), featured in the 4Thinking Minds of JD#52 (Dec‘07), uses the teaching of circus to try and better the lives of children living in situations of risk in Rio. The NGO, whose work is renowned throughout Brasil, will participate in the festival at the Roundhouse. Four youths from deprived communities who graduated through Crescer e Viver will be leading workshops for 14-21 year olds in acrobatics, juggling and aerial skills on 8th & 9th May, 1-4pm.

6-9th May, £10-15, 7.30pm
Chalk Farm Road, London, NW1 8EH • 0844 482 8008
Chalk Farm

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