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(photo credit: Miriam Bulwar David-Hay)
Many people dream at some time of running away and joining a circus. We imagine ourselves soaring boldly through the air on a trapeze or tumbling and leaping through hoops of fire or towering over everyone on our stilts or perhaps making the crowds laugh with our colorful make-up and silly antics.
For most of us, those dreams fade quietly away as we settle down to ordinary life. But now there is a real opportunity for those who have always wanted to join a circus, at least part-time.
Israel's well-known Florentine Circus has begun running three schools for the circus arts in the center of the country, and it seems that the lure of the Big Top is just as great as it ever was.
"People are still attracted to the circus these days for the same reasons they were attracted in the past," says Florentine Circus manager Nir Dov-Kaplan. "There is the feeling that there are no limits, that everything is possible, that you can fly through the air. There is the color of the circus, the innocence, the comedy, the fantasy - the circus is bigger than life."
On an ordinary Wednesday afternoon in suburban Ra'anana, a dozen children ranging in age from 13 down to five gather in a divided-off section of the indoor basketball courts at the municipal sports complex. The children are split into three groups, each with their own teacher.
In one group, the children learn how to twirl batons almost as big as they are. In the second group, they take turns climbing up a trapeze that is suspended from the ceiling. In the third group, they practice controlled bounces on a trampoline. The teachers assist each child in turn, hands outstretched to help their young charges move safely through the air.
Dov-Kaplan supervises the trampoline group and does not take his eyes off the children as each takes a turn at jumping.
Why are modern children still drawn to the idea of performing in a circus?
"This may be the Playstation generation, but children still love being in a circus," says Dov-Kaplan. "A circus is bigger than a computer; it's not a box that you sit in front of. There is something for everyone. Some children want to be clowns and make people laugh; others like the physicality of gymnastics but don't like the discipline of a sport like that, so they enjoy the acrobatics. If you work in a circus, there are a lot of different types of physical activities combined with performing."
Dov-Kaplan, 33, says that as a child growing up in Tel Aviv, he was always enthralled by circuses and theater. After his army service, he traveled to Europe to study at a circus school in France for several years. He returned to Israel and started the Florentine Circus in 2002, so named because it was based in the Florentine neighborhood of Tel Aviv.
Dov-Kaplan saw his circus as having two roles - putting on shows for the public and teaching those who wanted to learn how to perform in a circus. So he began running a school for the circus arts, only the second such school in Israel (following one in Kfar Yehoshua). In the school's first year, 12 adults attended. In the second year, children began attending.
"When we started the school for the circus arts, people didn't understand it and looked at us strangely. It was also complicated getting insurance and equipment and all sorts of other things. But then people got used to it, and they saw that their children really enjoyed it," he says.
Earlier this year, the circus moved its base out of Tel Aviv to larger quarters in Kfar Hayarok, on the border of Ramat Hasharon and Tel Aviv. And recently it opened two new schools for the circus arts, in Ra'anana and in Kfar Shmaryahu. The three schools operate like any other extra-curricular activity. Participants pay NIS 250 per month for a 90-minute weekly session, during which they learn acrobatics, tightrope walking, trapeze acts, trampolining and juggling, as well as some magic, dance and theater.
Participants get a grounding in all the circus arts but eventually go on to specialize in a particular area. Dov-Kaplan says some 70 children and 10 adults are currently enrolled in the Kfar Hayarok school (with separate courses for children of different ages and for adults), while some 25 children are enrolled in Kfar Shmaryahu, and 17 are enrolled in Ra'anana. The teachers are all circus professionals, many of them from Eastern Europe.
When he is not teaching, Dov-Kaplan himself is performing. The circus's newest show opened during Succot in the colorful Big Top at Kfar Hayarok. Just as much theater as circus, the one-hour show tells the story of a bride looking for a groom. The suitors - among them Dov-Kaplan - juggle, do acrobatics, dance through hoops, and perform various other tricks to win the maiden's heart. The bride herself climbs a length of material to perform high above the heads of the crowd. Eventually, of course, there is a happy ending, with an impressive display of fire-juggling and acrobatics.
Some of the performers are graduates of the original Tel Aviv school, and one girl who performs on the trapeze is a student at Kfar Hayarok.
The show, which costs NIS 50 per ticket, will continue running every Saturday at 11 a.m. for the next few months, possibly until Pessah. Dov-Kaplan says that during the coming Hanukka vacation, the show will be expanded by some 20 minutes and will include more acrobatics, more comedy, and more interaction with the audience.
"This has always been my life - circus and theater, theater and circus," says the ringmaster. "Even now it fascinates me. I went back to France recently and saw some shows that completely changed my state of mind. A circus is alive; you can smell it and feel it. It's a feeling that involves all your five senses like nothing else does."
For more information
on the Florentine Circus's current show or its
schools for the circus arts,
call (03) 518-6169 or visit www.floretinecircus.co.il