Sandciel Circus College at Kibbutz Yakum

Yarden swings on the trapeze with her head down, her lips reach her ears, her curly hair dancing around as if in a solo performance. Beneath her, the rest of the group creates a staircase as she hops down from the trapeze onto their backs — a gazelle upon rocks. Her well-set rubbery body melts into the bodies of the others in the arena. Her smile disappears as she melds into the living staircase upon which a figure in full costume now moves upwards toward the trapeze. With this, our attention shifts to the next act, which promises hilarity. Clothes fly everywhere until Breno the choreographer shouts, “That’s it.” …We will not watch this comical act this time, but we see the performers help Yarden stretch back on the trapeze to begin the scene once again. We are at the creative class of Sandciel Circus College at Kibbutz Yakum.

Young adults with a consciously planned profession

The training of Israeli circus performers differs greatly from the experience of their European counterparts. In Europe, students are 5-6 years old when they begin their studies; by 20, they are already fully professional acrobats. Here in Israel, while students may have some early experience and a firm concept of the profession, training only begins after the army. From the start, they are disciplined, surefooted, and know from the bottom of their hearts that they want to work as circus performers. According to Breno Caetano (28), the Brazilian choreography teacher, ”They know this more clearly than those who had the decision made for them when they were young children.” Breno came from deep poverty in Brazil, worked his way through the stages and rings of Pina Bausch in Wuppertal and other European companies to become Israel’s guest instructor for the next several months before returning to Europe as a dancer-choreographer. He intends to return to Israel next year, driven by his love for this school.

Breno Caetano, Creation class instructor, Sandciel College, Israel

A circus is not only somersault and rope dancing, but the sharing of a body with the world. Handstands, trapeze work, and dancing on a rope may be painful, but they do not necessarily fully express challenge.  According to Breno, ”If I lose control over gravity and my partner is in the air, I must go deep into a motion that is completely my own. While lost in this motion, I become the boss. This is what I consider a challenge. The audience loves challenge. People love watching things that they know they could not execute themselves. This is what I am trying to teach my students.” If Breno can teach his students about this positive concept, he will already be doing important work.

Everything is about life in the circus

During the lunch break, we walk together along a narrow forest path to the few tables in front of the circus tent that serves as the most interesting classroom. The students bring nutritious lunches for themselves, constantly aware of their bodies and committed to healthy living. These students are very cool. In general, Israelis are cool, but when it comes to Israeli acrobats one cannot help but admire their tenacity.

Yarden Sayag is a second-year student at Sandciel. Since childhood, her dream has been to dance. After completing her army service, she roamed Australia and the Eastern hemisphere for a year. During her journey, she joined circuses, movement theaters, and acro-balance companies where she could dance. After returning home, she hiked the famed Shvil Israel, and soon after passed the rigorous entrance exam for Sandciel.

Yarden has chosen the path of the professional circus and walks it with grim determination. ”My sister is a dancer and a yoga trainer. We are the only ones in the family who have embraced physical creativity.” She maintains some hesitation regarding the direction she will choose in her upcoming third and final year at Sandciel.

“The greatest psychological aggravation during the second year is, for me, choreography, or creation class, as we call it. Here, we have to design a show, creating the different performances by ourselves. We can do it as couples or as a group, but the class is about our individual skill as a physical artist. Some of us are so spontaneous that if you tell them to create something they would be ready with a full performance in a small moment. By the way, Breno is actually teaching us this kind of effective creation. The body is the subject, and through the body we act out life. In my opinion, everything is about life in the circus. Juggling, balancing, clowning, acting, they are all elements of life. In this college I am truly learning about life. ” Yarden smiles constantly, visibly showing her love of acting life.

Yarden Sayag, second year student, Sandciel College, Israel

Classical side-show and the artistic vision

The modern-day circus is an extraordinary breakthrough in the history of circus. It reinterprets our childhood image of the circus — the lion jumping through a burning hoop, or the equestrienne and rope dancer balancing a huge rubber pole. In the not-so-distant past, curtains and doors within the circus tent would open into tiny spaces giving the audience an opportunity to view people with physical oddities (in those days termed “freaks”). Women would be carried around on wires and hung by their hair above a trapeze.

In the modern-day circus, aesthetics and physicality control the performance. Ballet, physical theater and the contemporary dance elements of the traditional circus cast a new form of enchantment upon the audience. In the past, at the old circus school, maces would be thrust into the air, to dance brilliantly between a juggler’s hands, moving behind his or her back, under his or her arm, everywhere. We would often give a standing ovation for a juggler’s performance. This irresistible mace-throwing art is no longer considered a nostalgic performance. The contemporary juggler’s dance partner has become the mace. Today, the mace fully comes to life as it moves about the body. This new act has such profound beauty that we are no longer left in awe of the jugglers of old. However, without the art of the trapeze, a hangover from the old circus that still takes our breath away, we would never have felt the magic of the new circus. The ringmaster and the drumbeat have become the past, while the once peculiar clown has indeed become funny.

Travelling Circus College

This year, Kibbutz Yakum hosted Sandciel College and other Sandciel institutions, but just as circuses have always been migratory, this educational institution has no permanent address. The Sandciel Circus College is supported by the Ministry of Culture and other government bodies. During the three years of studies, students study modern dance, acting, air and ground acrobatics, juggling, acro-balancing, gymnastics, anatomy, physiology, and much more. The college works with a number of international foreign guest teachers. Students participate in field trips and student exchanges, attending international festivals and joining the international circus community. The beautiful name Sandciel comes from a mix between the English word sand and the French ciel, or heaven, and it feels like angels are dancing in these circus sands.

Creation class, Sandciel College, Israel