Circus kids astounding skills
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.
Zirka performers Zack, Charlie and Zen demonstrate an elevated handstand.