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Cirque Nova goes Stellar / 26 May 2009

It has been nearly six months since we started training and gosh so much has happened. I was meant to keep a regular blog but that has somehow not happened, so am going to explain what we have been doing.

We started the Stellar training project at the end of January 2009. Our aim was to train a group of disabled people in a range of circus skills. We started our training at the Circus Space in central London. The venue was very nice, and the training was very accessible to everyone. The group came from all over London, the South East and from as far afield as Bristol. We worked for three months in the same venue, and got some great results.

One of our teachers Russell Jones who is a paediatrician and a pilates teacher, as well as a part time aerialist, used his knowledge of the human body to give all of the volunteers a personal training program to strengthen core muscle and improve their stamina - as well as learning to climb silks (large pieces of cloth that are used in performance).

Another teacher Francisco, got the group to learn a variety of juggling skills, from balls to poi’s, rings and Chinese silks. One of his greatest strengths has been his charm. The girls seem very attracted to his sessions. Fair enough if it works to get people coming I am all for it! I taught the group to tumble hanging from harnesses, making them swing in the air. They had to learn how to control their bodies upside down. This is difficult for some and requires a lot of mental strength, but most managed to do so successfully.

Thanks to our Facebook group we got several contacts that proved to be fruitful. In one weekend we were invited to perform for both the Beautiful Octopus Club and at a Circus Festival in Oslo. We got to the Beautiful Octopus Club in the afternoon to put our equipment up, and realised that we were short of rigging gear, which meant having to adapt our work. We had a late rehearsal that afternoon just before audiences started coming in. The gig went well and Penny Clapcott performed gloriously with Francisco, in an aerial and diablo love story performance. We had to wait till the club shut down before we could take our equipment down and head for the airport. We slept on the seats for three hours, before checking in for our flight to Oslo. We arrived at the venue; put Penny’s silks up again and did two rehearsals. No need to say that we were knackered, but the day wasn’t over yet. After the general rehearsal, the director insisted on inviting us for dinner to chat about our common projects. He worked his charm on both Penny and I!

Next day we had an early rise to go for a walk and visit the town centre. The temperature was minus 15 degrees centigrade and there was 3 feet of snow everywhere. So pushing the wheel chair was no easy feat! Still we had fun whilst being filmed by a crew that are reporting on our work. We then set off to the theatre and prepared for the show at 3pm. Penny’s act went down a storm and she had her first experience of working in a real circus environment, with fellow aerialists, jugglers, hula hoop artists, etc. It was great fun. We flew back to the UK immediately after the show to sleep for 15 hours!

The Circus Space where we were training was rented to us at a low rate, but with the condition that when there was a full price paying client, we had to move out. So by mid-March we realised that our income was dwindling and we had no real venue to work in. We managed to pull several strings, get some more funding, and a space in Woolwich. So we started the program again in April, after a break.

Everybody was enchanted by the new venue which was maybe less accessible, but higher for aerial work. It also gave us more equipment to work with, and had less restrictions - and so to date the group have loved it. We also finished a 12 week program that we had started with a production company that booked us to train homeless youths from Centrepoint. This was specifically for a series of 3 minute wonders documentaries for Channel 4 that will be shown on TV in June. These youths loved our work. And as we are an inclusive company and felt that these young people were dedicated, we offered them spaces on the ‘Stellar’ project.

We have also found some new teachers. Tina is teaching the group how to work with the silks to create cocoon like shapes. Francesca is teaching juggling and movement, whilst I am teaching how to work with bungees whilst tumbling and making summersaults in the air.

Francisco was teaching acrobatics but has had to leave the country due to work permit issues. So we are working on getting him a new permit to return. He has become a power of strength within the group and has a calm and sensitive way of teaching and reaching everyone.

We now have several challenges coming up. The Festival that we were originally performing at has gone bust, and so we have no venue to showcase our work. Liberty seems to have booked a different company for the circus skills this we have to create our own event, and are hoping to raise enough money to do so on the last week end of August.

Also money is running short, and we have to cut down on teachers. We are now renting a globe as we don’t have the funds to buy our own one that is needed for the show (and that actually needs to be bigger than the one we train on). We are having costumes made and are going to start choreographing the work next weekend. So we have moved from the learning skills to the training and creation stage of the project.

We have a gig in which four of our volunteers will parade for the Tottenham festival on 20 June and we hope that other gigs will come up! We are now doing the bureaucratic work to become a charity so that raising funds will be easier. We take each step at a time, depending on small amounts of income to pay for the needed work. But what is most amazing to me is the commitment that the whole group have in coming as often as they can. They travel for miles to get to us taking up to 3 hours in the early mornings of what would normally be the weekend, to join us and learn, train and work hard. We all get on really well. They love the work and they give us great feedback.

The mother of one of the volunteers with Asperger’s wrote to me to thank me for the changes she sees in her son, who used to fear travelling to London from Kent and now every Saturday gets in the train and takes tubes and buses to reach us by himself. Another volunteers’ father mentioned he had noticed that she moved better and stood better upright. So the physical and mental changes are enormous. The group have set up a blog to exchange their stories with the world about their experience of training with us.

We are looking into the new program for 2010, hoping to make that project work more smoothly than this one, whilst the volunteers of this program continue training next year alongside 15 new recruits. We hope to make a video of the show in August, which will allow us to contact local authorities and festivals nationally and internationally. Some of our volunteers have really become total addicts to all things circus, and can’t wait to perform.

This story is going to continue, so look us up on Facebook and/or 3 minute wonders on Channel 4, look up our website that in June should go out as a totally accessible website with a new look, and if you want to join contact us via email on the website...

Get in touch if you are interested in joining us for the next series of training? You can either email me via or contact us via or

All the best JMA

Keywords: circus