Zip Zap celebrates a milestone

Excited children from Zip Zap organisation in their routine circus training.

The Zip Zap Circus School is this year celebrating 25 years of high flying flips and acrobatic skills and while they now operate out of a massive tent in the Cape Town CBD, their journey began at Zimasa Primary School in Langa.

It was when Brent van Rensburg and his wife Laurence Esteve hung a trapeze bar from a tree at the school in 1992 that the lives of numerous children changed for the better.

The mission of the founders was to train young people in circus arts and performance with one vision in mind: to create social transformation and youth empowerment.

Their noble cause was to inspire and encourage young people to dream big and create the spirit of social cohesion.

Among other things, the organisation made it a point that they wanted to use the circus arts as a way of demonstrating the possibility of true co-existence.

Ms Esteve said working with a diverse community of children from all backgrounds, Zip Zap helps kids to “dare to dream” and learn to make those dreams a reality.

Ms Esteve said the organisation mainly operates in the province but it frequently tours nationally and internationally.

The organisation made it a point that they use their platform to provide rare opportunities for youth who come from impoverish communities, she said. Recalling some of the challenges at the beginning, she said there was a space constraint at the school as they did not have a hall and they had to use classrooms to conduct their sessions.

She said they had to transport all their equipment in their beaten old car and it took them two months to finally get the permission to use the community hall to perform their first show. The training at first was not consistent because they had different children attending lessons all the time but this has changed over the years.

She said the project grew and expanded to a reputable school with nine programmes reaching over
1 400 children but the heart of their mission has remained unchanged.

The programmes they offer are free, with financial and material support coming from individual sponsors, organisations, corporations and foundations.

The Zip Zap children have performed for presidents and world leaders.

They have done 27 international tours and numerous international media showcases. Ms Esteve said children who began as six-year-olds swinging from a trapeze tied to a tree, are now professional performing artists working in Europe and North America. “Our participants have performed at the White House for President Obama in 2016. Through the year, Zip Zap will be celebrating its quarter-century anniversary with exciting projects ranging from the grand opening of the Zip Zap Academy, a collaborative production with the Parlotones (music group) and, like every year, the school show season,” she said.

Ms Esteve said they plan to hand over Zip Zap to the new generation and ensure that it becomes a permanent institution to welcome thousands more children. The organisation said their plans this year is to open an academy at a brand-new building in Salt River, where more teachers will be trained and more talent will be scouted. The organisation has four outreach programmes and wants to expand nationally. She said young people who grew up on the streets are now skilled and valued artists and technicians in the entertainment and film industries. Best of all, these kids have become teachers themselves, she said.

Portia Kewana was only 10 years-old when she first set foot in the Zip Zap ring in 1997. She discovered a passion for circus arts, which eventually took her to perform in Holland, Germany and throughout America. She later enrolled in a fashion design course and today she juggles two roles at the school, as the official costume designer and instructor of circus techniques where she passes on her knowledge to the younger ones.