Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Through The Lens - Emma (UK)

Since the last posting my diary has become so full I've had to start stapling extra pages in to hold each days list of demands.  Delivering the full time training schedule is challenging and incredibly rewarding as we see the five full time members flourish across the board.  Here at Sapana HQ we've welcomed two more trainers to our fledgling company - Maddie, our first circus volunteer, establishing training here last year, returned initially for a fleeting two week visit - a few whispers in her ear and we enticed her into extending the trip to a full month!  Clare an aerial specialist, yoga instructor and circus teacher is also here from the UK for five weeks - great to have this exciting transition time bolstered by such experienced and passionate folk.

Anjali and Saraswati developing doubles routine

Maddie and Renu working on a silks routine

We've been inundated by press of late.  With a visit from CNN India as part of their Freedom project - a bit muddy on the airing date for the footage, once it's been confirmed we'll be sure to share the news here. 

Hot on their heels was Jean-Michel a photo journalist from France - he spent a week documenting Sapana for the European press - take a gander at his website for examples of past youth action stories.  Links to Sapana related articles to follow.

We're still on the lookout for a venue to hold our April circus performance, a space where we can rig our aerial equipment is proving elusive - fingers crossed this week pulls up some gems! 

April also sees a collaboration with Shilpee Theatre - a Nepalese company who specialise in Commedia forms - stylised clown and mask work.  Firming up the details now - we'll announce the performance date and location within the next week.

As of May, we're in need of a new training space (large room, i.e. badminton court - with high ceilings, beams to rig our aerial gear) as our full time company will jump to a full house at 13 members...ideally we need to access this space Mon-Fri for around 8hrs a day - if anyone has any Kathmandu leads, please send them our way.

Ivan coaching tumbling

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Eight days a week - Emma (UK)

Radically restructuring the calendar in order to squeeze an extra day into the mix isn't going to happen - however, upping our current training schedule from 7hrs a week to a whopping 32 is!

Over the past month or so we've been chopping and changing our training sessions at the drop of a hat as rigorous studying and prelim's for the SLC's (school leavers certificate) take place.  All of us (trainers and Sapana members alike) are looking forward to that golden moment when pens will be placed alongside full exam papers with a sigh of relief.  

Mimicking movement with our puppet - Ghamlagnu

Polishing a routine

New moves for Jamuna

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Taukhel-Training-Time - Emma (UK)

January equals school holidays which in turn equals a month of activities at EBMF's refuge in Taukhel.
Sapana have been teaching circus to the younger kids - organised chaos, with an eager bunch of pyramid builders, tumblers, dancers, puppeteers and jugglers!  Great to see members of Sapana take the lead and share their volunteers were amazed at the cacophony of noise that resulted in relative order and beaming smiles of accomplishment.

Last fortnight saw the return of Ivan from his antipodean adventuring - aptly he'll be juggling teaching in Kathmandu with Sapana training until May (unless we can convince him to stay longer of course).

We also had and a visit from the hilarious Smile Project - travelling from Ireland to share their endearing antics with children throughout the Kathmandu Valley.  A wholehearted thank you for our morning of laughter!  The kids are still mimicking tricks from the day and calling "Jadu!" (magic) to each other in delight.

With the impending IMPORTANT final school exams looming over much of our troupe we've relocated two of our three training sessions per week to the refuge - cutting down on travel to/from the gym we usually train in - freeing up more time to hit those books hard.

Our tiny space here in Taukhel makes the gym appear palatial! There's no swinging to be had from these rafters - so our focus has had to shift away from aerial work.  Monday's have lent themselves well to juggling and manipulation sessions - everyone's making great headway - next week will see a group show and tell, then we'll move into choreographing short sequences together.

We dipped our toes and swayed the rest of our rhythm section into a traditional French dance workshop with Blanche and Nicolas - performers visiting Kathmandu who generously give their time to Sapana.  Some winning moves were mastered that could lend themselves ever-so-nicely to transitional choreography between circus this space for upcoming show info.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Beep beep, honk honk - Emma (UK)

It’s been five weeks since I landed in Kathmandu – on that first day spent walking the streets, swiftly finding my bearings (thanks to fellow circus volunteers, Ivan and Jo) I felt strangely at ease.   I say strangely, since KTM is like no other city I’ve encountered before; traffic swoops by - left, right and centre accompanied by the never ending chorus of “beep beep, honk honk”, gutted chickens and goats heads adorn stalls - neighbored either side by cashmere cardigans and, if you’re lucky, the Himalaya peeks it’s ridge above the mountains – as if to remind you that the world continues outside of the valley. 

On day two, I had the fortune to enjoy Sapana perform in full swing at the Alliance Francaise for International Children’s day.  The audience filled to the brim with laughter and excitement – a great day organized by Art En Poche…read the glowing review here

Sapana perform for International Children's Day

November into December was a busy time for Sapana – Camille and I shared handbalancing, explored character, stage technique and tumbling with a strong dose of conditioning.  All in contest with load shedding - power shortages in the city. 

The past fortnight has been disrupted by school exams and bandhs (the latter grinding the city to an absolute halt).  We've busied ourselves in this time making juggling kit and puppets and last night saw us return to training full steam ahead…we were all glad to get stuck in again! 

photographs: Lydia Bottcher

January will bring a visit from Irish based, The Smile Project - alongside the return of Ivan and the sailing of a tight ship towards THE BIG SHOW in early April.  With more exams on the horizon, we’ve much to get through between now and then.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

setting forth, past setbacks and backflips - Ivan (AUS)

photos by Craig Ferguson -
In the middle of October, Sapana took a sudden  swerve.

The Dubai show has been postponed until next year. It was a hard decision, made by our backers in Dubai, and supported by the Sapana team here and in the UK. The decision was so hard in fact that it was only finally decided two weeks before the scheduled performance. We got the news, at first it was just impossible to believe. The previous week, I'd had to tell two of the performers that we had tried everything and we simply couldn't get their passports in time. Telling those two girls that they were not coming with us to Dubai was one of the hardest things I've had to do. Strangely, telling the whole group, that none of them were coming to Dubai, was much easier.

"We will be going to Dubai next year, and when we do, we will not leave anyone behind" It sounded great, went down well. Is it true? I sincerely bloody hope so.

This Dubai show was mentioned in the original job ad which led me to this project. It was part of that funny phone interview I had whilst walking through a train station in Brisbane, dreaming of mountains. Having no idea about geography in general, I had supposed that the whole of Nepal was situated on the sides of mountains, and was wondering to myself whether it would be better to walk downhill to work in the mornings and uphill to get home, or vice versa. Just like those mountains, the Dubai Show became a part of our landscape, a speck on the horizon, but one that was growing larger daily. Everything beyond it was small and blurry. And then, before it ever actually happened, it was gone.

There was no time to commiserate. We seized the opportunity to make the classes fun, new, exciting, to try new things. We had a spate of new volunteers, Jo Zealand, our clown and performance specialist, and Marawa, a.k.a. "Marawa the Amazing", the hula-hoop extraordinaire. The hoop trio were incredibly excited to learn some new skills from Marawa, as well as that all-important pizazz, and they have been creating a new hoop routine which will blow away audiences at the Summit Hotel and the Alliance Francaise next week. With four profesisonal circus trainers, our wonderful dance teacher Libby and the occasional help from our extras, we gave the training sessions a much needed energy boost. Outside of the training sessions, we planned for the future: A new business model and training plan, to take Sapana to the next level. We were joined for a week by Mark and Robyn from Floorless Productions, the group who were responsible for the initiation of the Sapana project back in August 2010. That week was a blur of meetings, photo shoots, training sessions, drinks and discussions, all set to the soundtrack of Jazzmandu, a week-long festival with indoor and outdoor music events, bringing excellent musicians from around the globe.

Now we have new direction and purpose, and a lot of work ahead. There are three shows confirmed and possibly a fourth, before the year is out. The Sapana crew have been learning some great new pyramids and branching out on some new skills. This morning fellow circus volunteer and old friend Shaun Plumtree left for Bhairahawa, to begin working on his first permaculture project, and in less than two weeks I must leave Nepal for visa reasons. Camille, a Swiss circus performer, came to training this week and will be adding her hand-to-hand expertise to the mix, and there are two more volunteer trainers on the way: Emma from Scotland and Regine from France. And in January I will return to Kathmandu and Sapana.

Photos by Craig Ferguson -

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Charity circus show - Ivan (AUS)

It has been another epic couple of weeks here at Sapana HQ. The show last Wednesday went so well, but we have no time to rest on our laurels, we forge ahead and prepare for the next show, bigger, better than ever.

Two or three weeks ago, I was offered a nice gig in Singapore, just for the weekend. Mime and juggling on a little podium for a big festival. What a strange experience, Kathmandu and Singapore couldn't be more different. There I was, confronted by cleanliness, order, roads where you wait for the light to go green before you cross rather than throwing yourself into the stream of traffic and letting the cars and motorbikes slip around you like fishes. When the green man appears, a little timer appears above him to tell you exactly how long you have to cross the road. At the festival, there were circus performers, puppeteers, opera singers and statue artists from around the world. Some were friends, most were friends of friends, that's how it goes. Good times were had with the corporate-gig-family, stories were exchanged, some of the jugglers had heard of our Nepali circus company and were very interested to find out more. Look out for Sapana, I told them, some day they will take the world by storm. Two days later, back on the plane. Arriving back in Kathmandu, my first mission was to reclaim Shaun's meteors: a circus prop which was confiscated at Kathmandu airport on my way to Singapore. There, at the Jet Airways office, I waited at the front door. One by one, the office staff came and waited too, and we laughed together in that hallway because no-one had a key to get in. After an hour, a lady came and let us all in. A man searched every drawer and cabinet twice, calling countless people before finding and returning the meteors. I could only laugh: good to be home. Straight to the micro and to work for Monday morning, I had been in the office for less than an hour when a reporter turned up to interview us about the show. Who knows what I said? I should have been in bed, but the show was on in one and a half weeks, Cambridge Rickshaw Theatre Project were arriving that evening, and on top of our rehearsals we had to teach two circus/theatre workshops at the British School.

The Cambridge Crew wasted no time, I met them on Tuesday morning, and we went straight to the school to run our workshops. Then to lunch at the Patan Durbar square for momos before heading straight to the refuge for their first day with the kids. They were a hit from the beginning, some highlights from that day included the game where groups of kids were turned into a single monster, and of course Nkoko's beautiful call-and-response song.

We had a double bill performance: the Cambridge Rickshaw Theatre Company working with the kids from the refuge, and Shaun and I performing with Sapana. How they managed to make a show in eight days, how we managed to get our circus show ready with so little rehearsal time, I will never understand. But regardless, the crowd loved it. I've always had a thing for trapdoors, so as the show opened, I crouched in complete darkness, trying not to get any dust on my costume. I waited under the stage and stayed very still whilst the audience entered and the speeches were given. Finally the show started, and I heard the thud, thud, thud, of the opening act. This thud was a walkover, and that series of thuds was a roundoff-backflick-kick-layout. Each thud came with it's own ooohs and aaahs, as the Sapana kids delighted the audience.

Around 400 people turned out to watch the show, and Shaun and I have keep getting recognised in the unlikeliest places. People keep asking when we are going to perform again. Our next stop is Dubai, but we're all keen to put on more shows, so stay tuned.

Monday, August 29, 2011

film night-morning - Ivan (AUS)

We've been trying to organise a film night for the circus kids for so long now. We want to show them that circus is not what it used to be. Those big tops full of sawdust and elephant poo still exist, yes, but there is a lot more to circus these days. We want to nurture their creativity, so that we can come closer to giving them creative control over their circus company. People often say that Nepali people just aren't very creative, and when I hear this, I want to slap them. Then I decide not to slap them, but rather, to try and prove them wrong. We also want to give the kids a chance to do something different, something social, show them that it's not all just push-ups and handstands, painful stretches and continually picking up earthbound objects. After constant set-backs, cancellations and miscommunications, we managed to finally have our film night yesterday. In the morning.

They loved the videos, all of them. In that way, at least, we succeeded. Amazing to show them one of my favourite old clowns, George Carl, and see those Nepali kids just lose it. That's what it's all about, it's not exactly high-brow comedy, but the universality of clown  is beautiful to behold (and to readers who hear the word clown, and think of Ronald Macdonald, or some other over-the-top technicolour nightmare, check out George Carl. ). It's funny to watch if you grew up in a middle-class family Hawthorn, Australia, and it's funny to watch if you were sold off to be a child-slave in India at the age of 5.

I'd pictured the film night as an opportunity for the kids to unwind and open up. A casual thing, you know, groups sitting around tables, maybe some couches, bowls full of nibbles on each little table. I'd imagined promoting dialogue by asking simple questions, getting to know what people think, letting the kids talk freely. I got to our venue at 9:30 a.m. to see that it was set up like a cinema: rows of seats, all facing forward. Oh well, I suppose they were only trying to help. Between video clips, I stood up there and made an idiot of myself, asking everyone what parts they liked, what parts they didn't like, trying to talk about the difference between contemporary circus and old-school circus, or trying to tell them that if there were any skills which they wanted to learn from what they saw, then we could work it out together. Everything I said was met with mystified silence. I might as well have been talking Swahili. It reminded me of way back when I studied physics, and would sit in those massive lecture halls, with that little lecturer rattling on about quantum theory, completely oblivious to the chorus of snores and text messages all around him. I felt very alone just then. Towards the end of the session I finally gave up and just snuck around the room, chatting to people individually. This worked much better, and I discovered many of the kids' secret aspirations, and fears. I was explaining to one of the girls that these acts take years to master, and she said something like "But you're going to go away in a few months anyway, like all of the volunteers". I replied that I'm going to stay for at least a year, and she seemed genuinely pleased. It felt good to say this, because I'd been trying to decide how long I'd like to stay for, but now that I've said this to the Sapana kids, I have to follow through with it.

Since that morning of the film-night-morning, I've been hitting the Nepali books hard, I'm determined to get enough fluency with Nepali that I can break down this language barrier. Then we can really start making progress towards building this company together.