Lawyer? Accountant? No, acrobat

By Jessica Elgot, May 3, 2012
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Adam Cohen passes on his trapeze skills

Adam Cohen passes on his trapeze skills

Mum, dad, I'm joining a circus." These are perhaps not the words most Jewish parents want to hear when talking to their offspring about career choices. But they would be wrong to object.

So says trapeze artist Adam Cohen. He has been performing for more than a decade, studying the flying trapeze and teaching children acrobatics and circus stunts.

Are his parents keen on his career choice? "'My son the trapeze artist?" he says, "yes, they are very happy. They have never tried to push me into being a doctor or a lawyer." Cohen has performed as part of a double-act and with a troupe, and has appeared on the BBC comedy series Green Wing. But his first step was to do a degree in circus studies. To become a star of the big top these days is not a matter of simply packing a bag and hopping aboard a caravan. Serious study is required.

Israeli Yam Doyev said her parents were originally horrified at the idea of her joining the circus. "They thought I was crazy, that I had lost my mind. They offered to give me money to not go to circus school. But they got used to the idea."

Aerial artist Yam Doyev (top)

Aerial artist Yam Doyev (top)

Acrobat Doyev, originally from Tel Aviv, now works in London with her Swedish partner Leo. She uses silks, hoops and straps in her complex and dangerous aerial routines - for part of her act she hangs high above the ground upside down and wearing a blindfold.

"I was studying theatre originally. I was doing street performances and my teacher recommended that I joined a circus group during the summer holiday. I fell in love with the whole idea of being a circus performer," she says.

"I began by doing stilt-walking, fire-walking and juggling. After about three years I wanted to start learning aerial. So I came to study in Bristol around nine years ago and then an acrobatic course in Sheffield and joined the Greentop Circus. I met my aerial partner about four years later."

The challenge is what attracted her to the work. "Straps are very difficult, they are very tight and require a lot of upper body strength. Not many girls are doing it in the UK. I love that challenge, I love being strong. I hate it when people say: 'Women can't do this'. I've only got scared once or twice. You have to be confident in what you do. I know what I am doing."

Doyev now runs a small circus studio in London, in between performing all over Europe.

Many circus artists say their passion for the high wire, the trapeze or even clowning began at a very young age. "My mum would say I was doing acrobatics in the womb," says Cohen.

Doyev agrees: "I always like to be onstage and be physical, I much preferred that to talking. The circus allows me to express myself with my body."

For acrobat and firedancer Tim Lenkiewicz, interest in circus only appeared at university. "I was in Edinburgh studying geology and geography, and they have these big ceremonies re-enacting the old Scottish pagan festivals - big parades performances with fire and different explosions. I saw that and fell in love with the whole idea. I decided I wanted to get involved and I've never looked back.

The variety is what keeps him going. "It's not exactly day-to-day," he laughs. "My degree was very practical and hands-on. I got very excited about the magic of the circus. I did the Brazilian martial art capoeira, and juggling."

Hendon-born Lenkiewicz trained at Circus Space - the Oxbridge of circus schools - and then with the Kiev Circus. He now runs his own production company, Cirquit. "I began performing acrobatics, touring with Glyndbourne opera, at cabarets and events."

He recently performed at the Camden Roundhouse's Circusfest and has performances planned for the National Theatre Watch This Space festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival later in the year.

Many circus performers bring their skills to education work and teaching. The Jewish Community Centre's Liat Rosenthal studied circus arts at Circus Space and has a Masters in puppetry. "I came from a very theatrical background, but it was the physical that always influenced me. I prefer performance that is non-verbal - mime has always been an influence. I love that circus is so joyful - it thrills people."

Having previously been a puppeteer in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre, she now has her own Jewish puppet company, and works with all-female acrobatics trio Mimbre. "The acrobatics is about showing how to use your body as a woman, what strength you can achieve and looking at body image," she says. Rosenthal runs workshops for school pupils and free acrobatics workshops for disadvantaged children.

Not everything in the big top is rosy, however. Adam Cohen points out that: "It's hard to make a living as a circus performer". Partly to boost his income he moved into teaching 10 years ago and has recently set up the Airbourne Circus school in Finchley, for chidren and adults.

"I love sharing what I know," he says. "We do acrobatics, stilt-walking and juggling and unicycle. Kids have no fear, they give something a go and are willing to try anything. They never have a 'bad day'."

    Last updated: 12:17pm, June 13 2012