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Zambian Circus Artists Build Links to Upper Valley

  • John Mwansa slowly rides a bike around in a circle as Vanlodostov Family Circus camper Sabina Holubar, 8, learns how to jump on the front of a bike in motion at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on July 19, 2016. Mwansa and the other members of Circus Zambia are helping to instruct campers while learning new skills themselves. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Besides practicing, teaching, and learning circus skills, Circus Zambia members spend time learning english and math, as well as business skiils such as video and accounting. Benard Kaumba studies accounting during a break from circus training at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on July 19, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Using a calculated mix of trust, strength, and timing, the members of Circus Zambia practice one of their choreographed acrobatic dances at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on July 19, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • No tightropes or trapezes here -- the members of Circus Zambia use each other to fly during a rehearsal outside of the Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on July 19, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Circus Zambia member Amos Malokwa juggles a barrage of pins thrown by his fellow performers while learning new skills in the gym at Marion Cross School in Norwich, Vt., on July 19, 2016. (Valley News- Sarah Priestap) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2016 10:00:11 PM
Modified: 7/21/2016 11:52:51 AM

The first time he watched the six members of Circus Zambia walking over each other’s heads and shoulders and abdominals, somersaulting over each other in single bounds and otherwise defying gravity and credulity this summer, Barry Lubin noticed two things.

“They came with a huge vocabulary of acrobatics,” Lubin, whom fans of the Big Apple Circus might remember as the clown Grandma, said during the Tuesday afternoon session of the Van Lodostov Family Circus camp at Marion Cross School. “They also came with a sense of humor.”

For the tour of their show, “Discover Home,” Gift Chansa, Amos Malokwa, Benard Kaumba, John Mwansa, Thomas Banda and Patrick Chikoloma also brought a sense of mission to the Upper Valley this summer — to learn life skills as well as additional circus tricks and showmanship before returning to Zambia’s capital city of Lusaka to teach them to kids in the slums where they grew up.

The ensemble’s visit is part of a budding exchange between two unlikely hotbeds of circus education: the Upper Valley and Chibolya, a Lusaka slum. Students from the Upper Valley performed in Zambia in February, and their Zambian counterparts arrived here June 19. This is circus with a social, as well as physical uplift. The Zambian acrobats perform this afternoon at 3 at Lebanon’s Colburn Park.

“It’s so much to take in,” the 24-year-old Chansa, who cofounded Circus Zambia with Malokwa and Kaumba, said between a tutoring session in math and bookkeeping with local volunteers and working with Van Lodostov campers. “But we have to take whatever opportunity we find and take it back home.

“We want to allow young people to dare to dream.”

As children, Chansa, Malokwa and Kaumba rarely dreamed about exploring beyond the mean streets and alleys of Chibolya — which in the Nyanja language means “abandoned” — while daring each other to outdo their impromptu acrobatic feats.

Then their vision broadened, with an invitation to sharpen their skills with Lusaka’s Barefeet Theatre Company. That opportunity led to a year of training at an acrobatics school in China, and eventually to the re-creation late in 2015 of Circus Zambia as a non-governmental organization, with a British-born logistics manager, a Dutch program manager — and Northern Stage founder Brooke Ciardelli as its producer in the United States.

“They’re really grabbing the bull by the horns, taking every opportunity they have,” logistics manager Charlie Hall said at Marion Cross School on Tuesday. “Not only to learn the physical skills, but to learn all kinds of life skills that they can pass on to the younger kids.”

This past February, Ciardelli, who previously did producing work for Barefeet Theatre, and Van Lodostov founder Ted Lawrence led a delegation of 15 Upper Valley teens and adults to Zambia for a youth circus exchange.

“That was an eye-opener,” Lawrence said on Tuesday at Marion Cross, while Mwansa pedaled a bicycle on which campers balanced on the front axle. “How little resources they have, and how much they’ve accomplished, is incredible.”

To help the Zambians build a circus school beyond its current programs for children ages 6 and older, the families who visited Chibolya in February arranged for the Circus Zambia members to come to the Upper Valley and stay with local families this summer while they learn language and math skills, teach circus skills, raise money and fine-tune their own act.

“It keeps getting better and better every time we do a show,” said Chikoloma, at 17 the company’s youngest member. “Every day we learn things, and do something new.”

Among their tutors is Woodstock-based actress Lisa Harrow, who has been running workshops for the Zambians on their presentation.

“We see how we can improve the show, so it keeps changing,” Chansa said. “Each time we do it, it keeps changing. But the theme is always there.”

Along with the theme is a stage presence that caught the practiced eye of Barry Lubin during one of their early shows.

“They really filled the space,” Lubin recalled. “They have a way of bringing the audience into the show, which a lot of people have trouble teaching to performers.”

Before they even started sharing “Discover Home” with area audiences, Lubin added, Circus Zambia mesmerized some Van Lodostov campers with a Zambian dance routine.

“Those kids probably don’t realize that performing and engaging people this way makes the world smaller,” Lubin concluded.

“Exchanges like this are really, really valuable, I think.”

Circus Zambia performs “Discover Home” on Lebanon’s Colburn Park at 3 this afternoon, during the Norwich Fair at 5:30 Saturday afternoon, and during the Bread & Puppet Circus in Glover, Vt., on Sunday afternoon at 3 and 5.

Subsequent performances are scheduled for Storrs Pond Recreation Area in Hanover on July 31 at 1 p.m. and on the Norwich Green at 3 p.m. on Aug. 13. For more information about Circus Zambia and its efforts to develop its school for young slum-dwellers in Lusaka, visit facebook.com/circuszambia.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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