At the Israel Circus School's training center in Kfar Yehoshua balls,
clubs and rings fly through the air as children practice their juggling,
while others totter about on stilts and unicycles, or work on acrobatics and
movement skills on mats and trampolines. The center, which opened its doors
last fall, is home to the new Children's Circus, a project aimed at bringing
circus performance skills to the children of northern Israel - Jews,
Muslims, Christians and Druze alike.
Australian-born David Berry is the co-founder and artistic director of
the Israel Circus School (ICS), which offers full-time training in circus
and physical theater performance to young adults, as well as classes for
children by age group and level. The Children's Circus is the latest effort,
bringing together 20 Jewish and Arab youngsters ranging from 9 to 15 years
of age from the Kiryat Tivon area and surrounding villages to learn "circus
"The idea is to create a joint learning experience between Jewish and
Arab children, using the environment of the circus to create an atmosphere
where they can learn to be together, to play together, to work together, in
a context that's very challenging, but noncompetitive," says Graham Jackson,
a native of England and the chairman of the Association for the Development
of Circus Arts in Israel, a nonprofit group Berry founded in 2002 to expand
circus-related activities in the country.
Berry and Jackson say the goal of the program is clearly not just
teaching circus skills, but also fostering relationships between young
people of different backgrounds through the neutral backdrop of circus
performance. "It's very important to see kids working together," Berry says.
"The Jewish children face their fears about Arabs, and the Arab children see
that Jewish people are not monsters."
Jackson adds that the Children's Circus helps foster trust between the
groups, and also helps them to gain confidence in their own abilities and
the abilities of those around them, as they practice together and perform in
front of audiences.
"When you build a human pyramid, you have to learn to rely on the people
on your team. Everyone relies on each other," Jackson says. "If they all
succeed, they all succeed together. If they fall down, they have to figure
out how to get back up together."
"[We are] putting the kids in situations with difficult things to do,"
Berry adds. "They have to develop a lot of concentration and skills. At
first they can't do it, and then they can do it, which helps build their
Berry - also known as "Dharma the Clown" - moved to Israel in 1989 from
Australia, where he had trained and performed as a dancer in the Australian
Ballet, and had also worked with children and the disabled. Using his skills
in dance and performance, Berry began working with young people in Kiryat
Tivon. Soon, with the help of his wife, he created the MIMOS Street Theater
Group for Youth in 1993, in which children aged 7-17 learned skills in
acrobatics, dance, stilt-walking and juggling. The group performed
throughout Israel, as well as once in Germany in 2000.
Jackson immigrated to Israel from England in 1977, and currently teaches
marketing and business management at the Technion - Israel Institute for
Technology. He has previously served as a local coordinator for Peace Now as
well as a member of its national secretariat, and also served on Kiryat
Tivon's local council and headed its cultural committee. He became involved
in the circus field through his daughter, who had participated in the MIMOS
As the MIMOS group expanded in the late 1990s, it attracted new teachers
with extensive experience in circus performance, such as Russian immigrant
Roman Linkov, a top acrobat who had performed for years with the Moscow
State Circus. He and Berry decided to branch out to create the ICS in 2000,
beginning with training young adults interested in professional circus
performance and teaching, while continuing to offer the MIMOS classes for
children. The school now has several instructors in various performance
areas, and moved last year from Kiryat Tivon to a newly renovated facility
in Kfar Yehoshua, now the home of the Israel Circus Center.
The focus of the Children's Circus' activities over the next several
months will be rehearsing for a theatrical-circus performance created by
Berry and entitled, "The Lion and the Leopard," which the group says is a
"symbolic representation of two cultural streams, both fighting for the
right to dominate a shared cultural heritage." The debut is scheduled to
take place next April at the first International Circus Convention in the
"Free-Dome" circus tent in Binyamina. The group will then travel to Cyprus
for a week to perform and run workshops for children in the city of Nicosia.
Berry calls the upcoming performance "apolitical-political," with its
humorous approach to issues of coexistence and communication. "I don't have
strong political views, since I think there are problems on both sides," he
says. "I see kids as kids, not ethnic groups."
While Jackson notes that there are many efforts to bring Jews and Arabs
together in northern Israel, with its many neighboring Jewish and Arab
villages, he says the Children's Circus is a unique phenomenon that goes
beyond discussions and debates.
"It's all activity in the field. We're not talking about peace, or
politics or Geneva agreements," he says. "This is what we mean by