Review: Zip Zap circus shows at vNAF-available to watch as video-on-demand until July 31, 2020

Once Upon a Circus – R50, 35 minutes booking link

Journey Beyond- A Symphonic Circus R70, one hour and 17 minutes, booking link

Scroll down for production info and details about Zip Zap

In 1994, Cape Town’s famous circus school, Zip Zap toured to what was then known as The Grahamstown Festival and is now known as The National Arts Festival (NAF). Makhanda. [Grahamstown was renamed as Makhanda].  In the year of the pandemic, 2020, Zip Zap is back at The National Arts Festival- the largest arts festival on the African continent- which is being staged digitally on the festival’s encrypted platform. Zip Zap is flying the circus flag with two recorded shows which are available as video-on-demand on the vFringe. These shows are thrilling and evoke a sense of “circus magic” which is at the heart of Zip Zap and its extraordinary journey in making dreams come true for youngsters from diverse backgrounds.

The shows which are being streamed on the vNAF are Once Upon a Circus and Journey Beyond- A Symphonic Circus.

Once Upon a Circus is a new show which was created during lockdown for the vNAF. It was filmed, with strict social distancing in place, from June 8-12, 2020, at the Zip Zap Dome, which is in the Artscape precinct in Cape Town. The dome is Zip Zap’s Big Tent and is a landmark structure. Journey Beyond was staged and filmed at Artscape in 2018.

Journey Beyond- A Symphonic Circus was staged on an epic scale with Zip Zap accompanied by The Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra and with vocals provided by opera star, Robin Malan. It is extraordinary to watch this show in lockdown. The artistry of Zip Zap is juxtaposed with the stunning orchestration by the Philly. There’s a wonderful interaction between circus artists and musicians, under the baton of conductor Brandon Phillips. It is playful and uplifting. This was filmed in front of an audience. We see people walking in late. It seems like another world when we could commune at the theatre and make our way down aisles, apologising for knocking people as we passed – “sorry, sorry, excuse me…”

Gathering to watch Zip Zap has always been a wondrous experience. Since its inception in 1992, Zip Zap has worked with young people from under-resourced communities. We hear snippets of stories in the intro to Journey Beyond and at the end of Once Upon a Circus. Plot alert – when you see the credits at the end of Once Upon a Circus, don’t stop watching. This short film (35 minutes) ends with poignant insights into how Zip Zap Circus has been a change maker – a safe and creative hub for performing artists from beyond challenging backgrounds.

Once Upon a Circus is a gem of a film- meshing circus artistry with narrative documentary and superb cinematography, sound and lighting design. I hope that Zip Zap submits this highly considered film to film festivals. Filming and editing is by Nic Good from Fresh Air Crew. Imagine the logistics of shooting a film in a dome, during lockdown, with limited access to services and working with a company which has not been able to work for three months. Imagine the anxiety of stepping into that dome – and the excitement of being back. I think that it is amazing that Good and his team was able to tap into the sense of unease that we are all feeling and that he was able to capture their expressions on their faces and convey the precarious sense of the company making its way through their acts.  This was not about going into a studio. It was about entering into the cavernous Dome – which had been closed since March 26 when South Africa went into national lockdown. These are circus artists. Their work requires intense concentration. They cannot stumble or fall. Good and his team have nailed down the moment of this circus troupe in lockdown – tumbling, flying, jugging, clowning, dancing – giving us a stunner of a show.

Once Upon a Circus is book ended with the figure of a young man, Trompie (aka Jacobus Claassen). At the start, we see him climbing over the fence to get into the dome, which is closed up as it is lockdown. He crawls through the flap of the dome tent and then he is in the big top, captivated by the circus and get pulled into the action as he becomes part of show. He features in the last number of the show – as a clown acrobat – being flung by the company as the backtracks play out to the song U.S.A by Dubioza Kolektiv (Bosnian avant-garde dub rock group). The lyrics sound out in the dome: “I am from Bosnia, take me to America…Take me to Golden Gate, I will assimilate…The grass is always greener in neighbour’s court-yard. I wish to leave this nightmare go to a promised land. Please, take me to your leader, I want my green card.” The despair ends with a the hope of return home: “One day when you reach the end. One day you will understand. One day back to roots my friend. No place like a motherland.” This song is emblematic of the hopelessness of the global condition. Many yearn to get a ticket to somewhere else- to get away. Anywhere. I think that it is pure circus magic and genius that Zip Zap has used this song to conjure up the angst and jitteriness that is in the air, with the circus performers dancing and acrobat ting and enthralling us and then we are left with a smile that everything will be okay.

At the end of the show, we see Trompie again. He has left the tent. He is in everyday gear and he walks back under the deserted highway. Suddenly, a bowler hat appears and he smiles. He has retrieved his inner clown although, the cirrus is closed – for now. The show is over. It is the end of the beginning and then as I mentioned above, don’t navigate away because there is footage about the journey of the circus – with its founders Brent van Rensburg and Laurence Estève talking and some of the performers sharing their stories.

By the way, Trompie is the resident clown of Zip Zap. The 27 years old artist connected with Zip Zap in 2009. He was inspired by dance, acting and circus” as a medium of expression. In addition to his clown and comedy skills, he is adept at unicycle, juggling and tumbling. He brings a deep sense of wonder to this show – as he stumbles on the circus – and takes us into the circus wonderland.  The entire show is mesmerising- impeccably edited with scenes seguing seamlessly into each other. It is like a dream that we are caught up in. See Phelelani Ndakrokra with the Cyr Wheel –  a giant hoop – no it’s not a hula hoop. Gasp at Isobel Rossouw’s dangling on a silken rope in the aerial act at the beginning. Russouw is 19 and started with Zip Zap when she was nine. Phelelani (Ree) Ndakrokra (25) – known as ‘Remember dazzles us with acrobatic skills, Cyr Wheel and straps. Remember was born on the streets of Cape Town and joined Zip Zap in 2010. In 2012, he embarked on his first international tour to the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain. The other remarkable performers in the show:  Aviwe Mfundisi is 24. He joined Zip Zap’s outreach programme in 2011. His specialties are ring juggling, Chinese pole, and comedy acrobats. Jade Palmer (19) has been a Zip Zap student for over 11 years. She is an aerial artist and her skill sets include scarf, single and triple trapeze. Jemma-Rose Nelson (20) began at Zip Zap Circus when she was 10 and specializes in triple trapeze, lyra and single trapeze. Yeah, wow. Wow to all the circus artists. Wow to Zip Zap for creating this beautiful, stirring and highly entertaining film. Once Upon a Circus goes beyond showcase and which conveys a story about transcending lockdown through circus magic.

Image credit: Supplied.

Zip Zap Circus:


About Zip Zap Circus School- info supplied by Zip Zap

Zip Zap Circus is a social circus that was founded in Cape Town in 1992, to inspire young people and help build a new culture of peaceful coexistence in South Africa. Working with a diverse community of children from all backgrounds, Zip Zap helps kids to ‘dare to dream’ and learn to make those dreams a reality. Zip Zap’s programmes are all free to participants, with financial and material support coming from individuals, organisation, corporations, and foundations. In South Africa and the world, Zip Zap is recognized across Governments, Ministries of Education, Tourism, Arts & Culture and private societies, as a major contributor to the development within the iconic ‘Mother City’ and providing sustainability of the circus arts in South Africa.

YouTube promo Once Upon A Circus: