Child-trafficking survivors tell their story of resilience against all odds in a raw and heart-warming contemporary circus performance heading for the Brighton Fringe as the very first winner of the South East Dance Brighton Fringe Bursary.
As a Tiger in the Jungle by Cirkus Xanti/Ali Williams Productions will be in Brighton Open Air Theatre from May 22-25 (tickets from www.brightonopenairtheatre.co.uk). Through spoken word, movement, circus and ceremony, As a Tiger in the Jungle tells the story of how three Nepalese children – now young adults performing in the show – survived their childhood and created their own destiny.
The show’s creative producer Ali Williams first met the young performers in 2013 while working with Circus Kathmandu, a contemporary circus company made up of 13 child-trafficking survivors, many of whom had been freed in dangerous rescue operations by the charity ChoraChori, a partner on the show.
“I went to Kathmandu,” Ali says. “Some friends had been out there and discovered that there were a lot of a children living in a refuge that had been rescued from Indian circuses. About 350 children had been living in poverty on the Nepal/Indian border and were sold by their parents and were trafficked into Indian circuses in the late 90s, early 2000s.”
As Ali says, the children were lured with the promise of stardom and opportunity, but instead were held against their will in slavery, exploitation and abuse in circuses that became their prisons. They weren’t paid. The promised money wasn’t sent back to their parents, and when the par-ents lost contact with them, often they would bring in the charity who would try to rescue them. It’s not a question of condemning the parents: “There was a lack of education. Somebody was saying ‘You will earn a lot of money and have a great life.’ But it was slavery.
“I worked for a year with young people that had been rescued from Indian circuses and had missed out on all their education. They were looking for careers, and my project was to say to them there is this thing called contemporary circus that you can do. The difference is that they are not slaves and they are being paid.
“These 13 that I worked with in Kathmandu heard there was a circus workshop going on down the road, and the refuge where they were being looked after was not going to tell them about it because they were worried about them being traumatised again, but they found out it was happening and they went to the circus workshop because they had all the circus skills and wanted to show them off.”
By using those skills in a contemporary circus context, they are now able to tell their story.
“Working with these young people, I was humbled by their remarkable resilience. Their drive to turn their lives around by using their hard-won performing skills astonished me.”
As a Tiger in the Jungle, with the tiger being a metaphor for the traffickers, tells the story of two of the group Ali met in Kathmandu, Renu Ghalan and Aman Tamang, who are joined by Norwegian Vietnamese artist Loan Tp Hoang in recounting their tales of lost childhoods.
The result is a powerful show with hope at its core, asking questions about life, love, poverty and greed, and raising awareness of child trafficking in Nepal: “I am so delighted to be able to employ Renu and Aman in a professional capacity and utilise the skills they learnt in captivity in a positive and empowering way. This gives the performance an authenticity rarely seen on stage today.”
The show is a fusio of Asian and European performance, circus and music set to an original score by Italian/Norwegian Jazz musician Per Zanussi.