It all started 25 years ago, when co-founders of Zip Zap Circus School, Brent van Rensburg and Laurence Estève, hung a trapeze bar in a tree at Zimasa Primary School in Langa. Their goal at the time was simple and noble: to inspire and empower ordinary kids and to create a sense of team. Little did they know, they were just at the beginning of an incredible journey of helping kids ‘dare to dream’ and learn to make those dreams a reality.
Over the years, as their humble project in Langa expanded to a reputable school with nine programmes reaching over 1,400 kids, the heart of their mission has remained unchanged. As a pioneer of the growing social circus movement, Zip Zap has earned wide recognition for wielding circus arts pedagogy as a powerful tool for social transformation and for its contributions to building a new culture of peaceful coexistence in South Africa.
The Zip Zap children have performed for presidents and world leaders, most recently a show at the White House for President Obama in 2016. They have done 27 international tours and numerous international media showcases. Kids, who began as six-year-olds swinging from a trapeze tied to a tree, are now professional performing artists working in Europe and North America. Young people who grew up on the streets are now skilled and valued artists and technicians in the entertainment and film industries. Best of all, these kids have become teachers themselves. They are ambassadors and role models for others, demonstrating dramatically to young people and the wider public the possibility of a new way of treating each other.
Lizo James is one such member of the Zip Zap family who has grown up with the circus since its inception. Born in Khayelitsha, Lizo joined Zip Zap at the age of eleven and been an integral part of the school ever since. Since 2011 James has focused on Zip Zap’s two outreach programmes in Khayelitsha, using the circus arts to uplift and empower children living with HIV. As for his performing career, he has also had the opportunity to travel all over the world and recently arrived back from France where he collaborated with contemporary companies from Reunion Island and Madagascar.
“Whenever he returns from performing abroad,” Van Rensburg says, “he has a home and work to come back to with Zip Zap.” That speaks to the sense of family that Zip Zap has created over the years; the kids and emerging instructors feel like their training space and the programmes they dedicate themselves to are truly theirs.
Portia Kewana was only ten years old when she first set foot in the Zip Zap ring in 1997. At the time, the school was set up in a rickety warehouse next to the railway lines with holes in the roof and with a lot of heart. The school has come a long way since then, now operating a majority of its programmes out of the circus dome in Founders Garden in Cape Town, a massive structure which students helped to construct in 2008. Zip Zap looks forward to expanding to a permanent structure, the Zip Zap Academy in Salt River. When Kewana first arrived at Zip Zap, she progressed extraordinarily and discovered a passion for circus arts, which eventually took her to perform in Holland, Germany and throughout the USA.
Upon returning, she decided to challenge herself by learning a new skill and enrolled in a fashion design course. “Sewing did not come to me as naturally as performing in front of a large audience,” admits Kewana. “I was however determined to make a success of it.” Today she juggles two roles at the school, as the official costume designer and instructor of circus techniques where she passes on her knowledge to the younger ones.
These are just two of the many individuals who have compelling success stories of how Zip Zap not only encouraged them to dream big but to also help them reach their dreams. “It is fulfilling to witness our family thrive on the international stage. I am incredibly grateful that these individuals remember their roots and remain actively involved at Zip Zap to share their stories and encourage youngsters who are just starting out,” says Estève.
Through the year, Zip Zap will be celebrating its quarter-century anniversary with exciting projects ranging from the grand opening of the Zip Zap Academy, a collaborative production with the Parlotones and, like every year, the school show season!
Released by Reputation Matters
Media contact: Chris Bischoff
Mobile Number: 081 435 2917