In 1992 at the height of political instability, two trapeze artists in love decided to start Zip Zap Circus. Brent van Rensburg and Laurence Estève wanted to be part of the solution – to be part of the rainbow nation and bring kids together. Their goal was to use the circus as a tool to bridge gaps and to inspire young people to 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 ‘dare to dream’ and teaches them that dreams can become reality!
Brent is the Artistic Director at Zip Zap. He was born and raised in Cape Town and brings 40 years of experience and passion for the circus. He specializes in daring aerial skills and one of his biggest accolades to date includes setting the world record for the highest flying trapeze in 1997. Laurence holds the position of CEO and was born in France. Before she started her career as a trapeze artist she was an internationally recognised athlete in Windsurfing and Artistic Snow Ski. The pair met whilst working at Club Med Holiday resorts and have performed a trapeze act together at Circus Arlette Gruss in France. In 1992 Brent brought Laurence back to South Africa for a holiday and they never left.
In an effort to bring the world of magic to severely underequipped schools and communities, Zip Zap was born. “We literally started with a trapeze behind a tree, a box of costumes, a rusty old car and a big dream,” says Brent.
D2D (Dare to Dream) is their full time vocational training programme. It provides youths with an alternative option to mainstream, often inaccessible, educational opportunities. The overall objective of the D2D programme is to aid in the alleviation of poverty and the reduction of unemployment in our country. By using Circus Arts as a practical medium, participants learn educational skills, social skills, technical skills, artistic development and circus techniques, and teaching skills. D2D students manage their own performances and work as a team to create shows in the corporate performance season during the run up to the end of the year. At the same time, the D2D programme prepares students to run Zip Zap’s youth and outreach programmes. A ‘professional insertion’ year post-learnership aids in bridging the gap between learning and working. This provides holistic development of students and guides them in becoming both work- AND life-ready. The academy is based in Salt River and a residential wing is available to kids who come from problematic families.
Circus is the perfect medium to break down barriers. “We have worked with kids from bad circumstances, many have come from the streets or have been subjected to some form of abuse – be it drug, physical or emotional. They had very little to look forward to in their lives and lacked confidence. We welcome kids from all walks of life to join free of charge, everyone is viewed as equals at Zip Zap. Once you walk through that door everyone is the same, everyone is family.” Says Brent.
“All the teachers grew up here, as soon as they are old enough, they start to teach the younger ones. The circle started and it must never stop. We want the Zip Zap family to grow and just be infinite.” Says Laurence.
“Watching the kids you teach grow and avoid taking the wrong path, is such an inspiration. A prime example is Trompie who does the hand-to-hand act with Jason. He has been with us for 9 years; he came off the streets and lived in our safe house, we put him through school. He got away from gangsterism and violence and has learnt how to work in a team.” Says Brent.
“Zip Zap filled the empty spaces and gave me a home. It really built my confidence and gave me an opportunity to express myself through circus magic.” Says Trompie.
Trompie’s hand-to-hand partner Jason has the circus in his genes. His grandfather was a trapeze artist and was Jason’s greatest influence. Jason joined Zip Zap at the age of 8 years old and was first drawn to trampoline. When he was 13 years old he had to give up the circus to move to London with his family. He fell in with the wrong crowd and in an effort to set him on the right path, his mother decided to send him back to his family in South Africa. During this time, he was reunited with his Zip Zap Circus family and decided not to return to London. He is now a teacher and feels it is his turn to give back.
“I love my Zip Zap family. Everyone understands everyone. Colour and gender are not an issue. As soon as you walk through the door at Zip Zap you leave any problems you had behind. Trompie and I can argue like brothers, but when we get on stage we know to avoid getting hurt we have to trust each other and we put those arguments aside.” Says Jason.
“Many acts are 80% technique and 20% strength. For instance, the hand-to-hand act is all about ‘lines’ and saving energy. In order to avoid injury and handle the other person’s weight the bones need to relax on each other at the right angle; then you activate certain muscles around the bone to support and secure the balance. Wrist above elbow, elbow above shoulder, shoulder above hips, chest in, spine straight.” Says Jason.
Circus is a mix of physical activities and art. It requires patience and dedication. With new tricks, you will often fall and hurt yourself. It’s hard work, it’s sore and sometimes you don’t see the progress you are making, but it’s your passion and self-discipline which help you to Keep Going.