Big Top for youngsters is no minor act

The Robinson Children's Circus is far more sophisticated than one might imagine. Robinson Children's Circus

Some performers are warming up for their juggling, trapeze or cycling numbers while others are helping to set up another show. The "troupers" here can be just 15-years-old and have as many as nine years' experience behind them.

This content was published on August 3, 2000 minutes

If there are still young people who dream of running away to join the circus, they could worse than join the Robinson Children's Circus. But while this is a children's circus, there's nothing childish about its organisation.

The sophistication of some of the acts goes well beyond child's play. The training, the concentration and the devotion to the idea that "show must go on" is every bit as professional as in an organisation run by experienced adults.

It all started in 1960 in Zurich when Robert Egger, who was then director of a leisure time installation, thought it would be a good idea to get neighbourhood kids involved in a programme of activities with the help of parents and volunteers.

One of the highlights was an old player organ, which Egger had restored and which has become the centrepiece of the circus, welcoming audiences with its distinctive music.

There are 41 children between the ages of five and 15 taking part in this year's tour.

Conny Walder, a former circus kid herself and now Robinson's artistic director and trainer, admits that five-year-olds might be somewhat young to join the circus. But she says that only children who have an older sibling working in the circus have been allowed to take part.

The children are also not normally part of circus families, but are "just normal school kids who want to do a permanent hobby", says Walder.

It is certainly a demanding hobby. Performers must train twice a week before the season opens and there are regular performances in July, August and October, sometimes twice a day.

"We do everything a big circus does except we don't have animals," said Walder. "We do acrobatics, juggling, unicycling, trick cycling. I think the acrobatic group this year is the best we've had in years."

The Robinson Children's Circus is no stranger to foreign audiences either. Earlier this year, the circus appeared in Mannheim, Germany and previously it has performed in Austria, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan.

But if the spotlight is on the kids as they go through their routines on the stage, there are always adults in the wings. They are an essential part of the organisation, says Walder.

"It's not possible to go on tour or perform without the parents. We need about 15 adults for every performance."

Asked about the kind of problems that crop up with the kids, Walder replied quickly. "Getting them to sleep at night."

by Paul Sufrin

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