Circus of My Sun
A Moroccan circus is offering some of the country's poorest children a brighter future.
Last Modified: 14 Feb 2012 08:05

Filmmaker: Rosa Rogers

Cirque Shems'y, the circus of my sun, sits on the edge of one of Morocco's poorest slums in Salé, on the northwest coast.

Each year, hundreds of children and teenagers come to the circus to try out as performers, desperate to find a new future for themselves.

Only a handful of the young hopefuls can be taken on: those who make the grade are pushed to their physical limits and constantly challenged to prove themselves.

Cirque Shems'y is the first circus of its kind in Morocco and its director, Alain, has a lot to prove: he is determined to make the circus a commercial success so that it might deliver a working future for its young performers.

Witness joins the circus on its first national tour, travelling by train and bus to Agadir to set up the tent and perform in front of a demanding audience.

For this first tour, Cirque Shems'y is opening with a classic Moroccan folk tale with a Romeo and Juliet theme.

For the young performers - 14-year-old Hajar, who specialises in aerial work, her co-lead Abd'Ali and the coach Imed - this first experience of performing for the public is nerve-wracking. And for the audience, many of whom have never been to the circus before, this authentic Moroccan spectacle is an eye-opener.

Filmmaker's view

In Salé, across the river from Morocco's capital, Rabat, jobs are scarce and many children do not go to school. For a lot of young people there, life offers few opportunities - and many see little point in getting an education. When the circus first began 10 years ago it was a social project for children on the streets and in the slums of Salé.

As it grew, the talents of many of the young people involved came to the fore and in an international circus competition 10 out of the 12 prizes were won by young Moroccans from Cirque Shems'y.

The organisers saw that the circus could actually become a professional career for some of the young people involved and set about transforming it from a social organisation to a professional circus school - offering an internationally recognised vocational diploma.

Now entrance to the school is through a rigorous audition process, and of the hundreds of young people who come to try out from across Morocco, only a handful will make the grade. Fewer still will complete the rigorous training. In 2009 it reopened, complete with a full size circus tent and a rotating team of circus professionals from around the world who come to teach specialised skills.

With the new accreditation comes a new pressure - Cirque Shems'y must reach international standards and create an audience for their work in Morocco and beyond. The young performers are training to professional level but if there are no work opportunities for them this training is wasted.

So the circus has to build a circus culture in Morocco as well as training the young people who are part of it. It is not an easy task: Morocco does not have a circus tradition. Street acrobats and performers are common but contemporary circus - as an artistic and spectacular piece of theatre - is a completely new concept.

Amidst endemic poverty, strict social codes and lack of opportunities, the circus tent symbolises freedom, creativity, excitement and possibility. Girls and boys mix freely, the body becomes an instrument for self-expression and distant shores are visible on the horizon.

For many of these young people, the circus is literally their only chance for a better future. They must succeed because otherwise they will have nothing. Can the circus enable them to become confident, expressive young people able to articulate their ideas and experiences through art? And, most importantly, can it deliver them a future?

Cirque Shems'y is linked to Amesip, a Moroccan NGO that works with disadvantaged children and young people. They are funded by donors from across Morocco and Europe. But as the circus grows increasingly self-sufficient, it aims to become commercially viable.

Click here for more on the music featured in the film. 

Stars of the Sun

Watch more Witness films for global issues brought into focus through courageous and inspiring human stories.


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