Cir­cus kids as­tound­ing skills

The Tribune (NZ) - - FRONT PAGE - RICHARD MAYS

New Zealand and Chi­nese flags flut­ter from the four peaks of the yel­low and blue striped big top. The Zirka Cir­cus is in town.

In­side the gi­ant mar­quee, a small group of ac­ro­bats, tum­blers and jug­glers are qui­etly pre­par­ing for an evening per­for­mance. They are all young, signed on from a cir­cus school in China’s Hubei prov­ince. The youngest is 9-year­sold, and like the rest of the troupe gets on with the prac­tice rou­tine.

There are one-handed hand­stands with raised legs in the splits po­si­tion; a re­verse jug­gler ric­o­chets balls off a glass podium, and an older male serenely lifts his fe­male part­ner in a se­ries of grace­ful but im­pos­si­ble-look­ing lifts.

Ben­jamin Hemi is the ge­nial man­ager of th­ese per­form­ers.

‘‘They may be young, but this,’’ he ges­tures at what is go­ing on in the ring, ‘‘is the re­sult of 8000

‘‘They may be young, but this is the re­sult of 8000 hours of ded­i­cated train­ing.’’ Ben­jamin Hemi cir­cus man­ager

hours of ded­i­cated train­ing. Ev­ery morn­ing they prac­tice, and learn new rou­tines as well.’’

The kids, he says, come from back­grounds of grind­ing poverty in China.

‘‘In New Zealand, we don’t know what poor is. Their par­ents see cir­cus school as a way out.’’

And here they are, an ex­tended fam­ily of paid per­form­ers who in their off hours are tu­tored, play video games, go sight-see­ing and fish­ing, look af­ter their gear and cos­tumes, and are tour­ing the world. Well, at least this part of it.

There are lessons in maths and English set down for the af­ter­noon.

‘‘Mon­day night is fam­ily night,’’ Ben­jamin ex­plains. ‘‘We play games, and en­joy one an­other’s com­pany.’’

Zirka’s Cross the Ocean tour will take two years to cover the coun­try.

At the end of a ro­ta­tion, some will stay on, oth­ers will join Zirka’s sis­ter cir­cus in Aus­tralia.

‘‘And some will go home. Most won’t want to. This will be Palmer­ston North’s only op­por­tu­nity to see th­ese per­form­ers.’’

Ben­jamin sees his role as adding value to the young per­form­ers’ lives and en­hanc­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence of New Zealand.

‘‘If any­thing, it’s they who’ve been teach­ing me – show­ing just what can be ac­com­plished with com­mit­ment, self-dis­ci­pline, hard work and ded­i­ca­tion.’’

Zirka Cir­cus fin­ishes its sea­son on the Rail­way Land this Sun­day, March 20.

‘Doc­tor, it twinges when I do this...’ Jay Chen holds Cassi Deng, 15, while re­hears­ing a Zirka Cir­cus rou­tine.

PHO­TOS: MUR­RAY WIL­SON/FAIRFAX NZ

Zirka per­form­ers Zack, Char­lie and Zen demon­strate an el­e­vated hand­stand.

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