Performers Without Borders—different ways of storytelling

I remember wanting to join the circus as a young girl. It seemed like such a fantastical world. One where everything was possible.

While I didn’t join the circus after all, I have had the opportunity to see the performance of a group of international artists who teach circus. Twice now! Performers Without Borders is a group of artists trained in a variety of techniques including clowning, juggling, unicycle, mime and so on. They teach performance to children from underprivileged and/ or vulnerable backgrounds and have been doing so in India for nine years now.

Back in 2015, they did a performance for the girls at the Child Care home, Salt Lake. This year, on 29 March, the performance was for the children at the Amherst Street Police station centre of the Nabadisha project. Both Child Care Home and Amherst Street Nabadisha are a part of the Share Stories Open Minds project at PeaceWorks.

The children from the centre had prepared a lovely little skit based on The Tortoise and The Hare for the guests, which they performed, beginning with a chorus of ‘Welcome to India!’ Avi, the tour facilitator then said a few words about how the performers use a variety of techniques to convey emotions—be it through mime or clowning—and to tell stories. He briefly explained the techniques.

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The group then played a few games with the 40 odd children. One game involved all the children following a leader through some very exaggerated and hilarious actions. The other involved ‘sculpting’ in pairs. Another game involved using a prop in as many ways and as innovative a manner as possible.

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After the games, the children sat down and the group began their show—a short story, with funny characters, a magical mixer, which threw out interesting props and some dance, juggling, unicycling and hoola hoops as well. By this time, the crowd had swelled to almost a hundred. Students from the college across the road, children from the pavements outside the police station, people from the apartment buildings nearby and happily, half a dozen policemen who appeared absolutely enthralled.

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Claps and intermittent oooohs and aaaahs. Whispers of ‘dekh dekh’. The children were mesmerised. The adults equally so.

When the performance had ended and goodbyes had been said, some of the children stayed back, dragging their feet back to class. Going home didn’t matter to them. The artists sat with them, singing, clowning. Till it really was time to leave.

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Stories can be told in so many ways. Through dance, through song, through cinema and through art. And also, as we saw that afternoon, through mime, clowning and some acrobatics. What fun when there are no limits!

-Paroma Sengupta

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