Fragile, Delicate, Free: Glimpses of Circus Life, at Sea

They come from the port in colorful clothes and old musical instruments, parade through the village and perform in different squares. The islanders looked at them with a mixture of astonishment and astonishment.

At times they look like superheroes, moving to the beat of the music, conjuring tricks like magicians.

I first heard of Sea Clown Sailing Circus when I was following the story of refugees crossing Greece. Members of the circus are performing at a camp in Athens, trying to win smiles from children who have been through so much pain.

Then I joined the performers in the summer of 2020 on the island of Ithaca, in the Ionian Sea. In the hope of sailing with the nomads, I happened to arrive the day their engines failed. Apparently it was a regular occurrence. A technician from the island taunted them: “The engine rusted from not being used,” he said.

It is true that Fred Normal and Alvaro Ramirez, the captains, never wanted to use the engines, instead aiming to steer with the wind as much as possible – even when docking and departing from port.

Twenty years ago, in the United States, Fred, an Alaska-born circus performer, decided it was pointless to try to change the world when traveling in gas-guzzling trucks and caravans. Instead, he decided to make his utopian form available to people across the United States and Europe by bicycle. He was circling with his crew from town to town, staging pop-ups and sleeping next to campfires.

Finally, on the southern coast of Italy, he met Nikoleta Giakumeli, a Greek acrobat, and Alvaro, a Uruguayan clown who had traveled around Europe. Together, the trio dreamed up the idea of ​​a circus at sea, although none of them have officially sailed yet.

So they learned. For 13 years, Fred and Nikoleta lived on their boat, Surloulou, through the summer and winter. After giving birth to their daughter, Sirena, aged 4, climbing ropes and trying her first tricks as an acrobat, their lives changed dramatically. Now they spend less time in the circus, and despite their absence, they continue to reinvent themselves with new performers and new ideas.

Dozens of artists from around the world are connected to the Sea Clown Circus. Some joined the delegation for only a few days; others join in the whole summer. But a core group of about seven or eight people are trying to make the circus more popular – not only by roaming freely from one Greek island to another, but also by producing produce programs that make more sense and are more philosophically appealing.

In the summer of 2021, when I rejoin Sea Clown for a month, they are producing a new show based on Plato’s work. the parable of the cave. I have seen firsthand how dedicated the performers are to their craft. Although their performances are often improvised, in reality, Sea Clown is very disciplined in their preparation. Every action – from acrobatics and fire juggling to aerial jump rope and relaxation tricks – requires a lot of skill and practice. And they simply love to learn.

Being a member of the crew requires being good at sailing, music or circus performance, and ideally all three. But what matters most is the ability to show enough humor, kindness, and respect to live close to a group of curious artists every day without creating tension.

Of course, it’s also a challenge to adapt to life on a tight budget. Fred would say at the end of each show: “We live or we die by the hat, inviting the public to contribute to the existence of the Sea Clown.

The life of a street (or water) artist is fragile, fragile – like the act of tying a rope, or juggling with a knife, or sailing through a storm. However, for most of the crew, nothing seemed to give them a greater sense of freedom. The sea clowns rode with sails high, confronting both their dreams and their unpredictable future.

“Our work aims to show that nothing is impossible,” says Alvaro, “unless your mind convinces you to believe otherwise.”


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