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Under the Big Top:
How Coexistence Works

Imtiyaz Delawala
[Text in Deutsch]

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 arts."

"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 confidence."

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 program.

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 coexistence."

Source: Ha'aretz Anglo File, December 26, 2003, article has been edited by the CGNews staff, haaretzdaily.com

Text in Deutsch

From the Common Ground News Service
hagalil.com 18-12-2003

hagalil.com 18-12-2003



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