Zoe founded CirqueScape after retiring from international performing. Her touring career spanned more than a decade and saw her ice skating, juggling, and aerial dancing across six continents. Her guest blog posts will give an insight into her experiences over the years. You can check out her performance background at www.zoebaldock.biz
Meeting the boss
On arrival at circus base camp, I was taken straight to meet the boss. I’d seen pictures of him but I was still slightly overwhelmed at what a formidable fellow he was – every inch what you’d expect to see from a circus ringmaster (complete, on occasion, with twirly moustache).
He was sat back in a chair in his living room. It looked much like any living room you might find in the Mediterranean – light and airy, ceiling fan, tiled floors. He was smoking a cigarette, and a young Samoan woman was strapped to a broom in front of him.
When he spotted me he welcomed me with a huge smile and a booming belly laugh the likes of which I’d never heard before, before motioning for me to take a seat as he continued his conversation with a man in the corner of the room.
Their conversation was only partly in English, so it took me a while to realise that they were discussing a levitation trick that they were having some teething problems with. The girl smiled at me shyly as straps were adjusted around her and she was tipped up over the broom.
Welcome to circus life
After dismissing the magician and his assistant with instructions on how to improve the prop, the boss asked how my journey had been. He offered me breakfast and gave me his phone. He told me I should call home and tell my family that I was safe… The chance I had taken on the promises of a man I’d never met on the other side of the world was not lost on him.
After breakfast I was taken into the big top, where I would spend every evening for the next few weeks rehearsing the show. I don’t remember ever having been taken to the circus as a child, so this was my very first experience of setting foot inside a circus tent.
The year I was there, the performer roster was made up of a mix of “local” Pacific Islander artistes from Samoa, Kiribati, and the Solomon Islands, as well as a contingent of South Americans who were all from long-established circus families. As I stepped into the big top and my eyes adjusted to the lighting inside the tent, I could just about make out the Islander performers sitting on the stage.
An island-style circus welcome
A beat started playing, and it took me a moment to realise the sound was coming from the stage. The performers were all sitting cross-legged and slapping the insides of their knees to create a rhythm.
They bounced their knees up and down in time with the beat and proceeded to perform an incredible medley. There was singing and chanting to the beat they were creating with their bodies, before it all came to a sudden halt and they jumped to their feet. But the show wasn’t over. They launched right into a traditional Samoan dance, or “Siva Samoa”.
The boss laughed at my wide-eyed amazement at the performance and told me this was an island-style welcome!
Settling into circus life
From the moment I arrived at the circus base, I was almost never alone. The philosophy was we were all one family. Someone was always knocking on my door inviting me to do something. We’d train in the big top together, or eat breakfast, or go for a walk or to watch a movie. My social life had never been so active!
We rehearsed every evening – a full run-through of the show at 7pm. Evenings after rehearsals were spent sitting around the kitchen tables drinking Koko Samoa or Argentinian mate. A guitar was never far away and the islanders serenaded us with harmonies that they had learnt from a lifetime of fireside singalongs.
Sometimes we’d all jump into the back of one of the trucks, and someone would drive us in the dark of the night down to one of the tiny local shops to buy sweets and treats. On one of those trips I was duped into trying raw fish for the first time. Which, incidentally, it turned out I loved… But I only tried it because I couldn’t see and was told it was melon!
Life felt pretty good. It was a time of forging friendships and adapting to circus life in the jungle! It became apparent pretty quickly that I had a lot to learn…
The photos you see in this post are Zoe’s personal photos from her travels! Feel free to ask her about circus life in Samoa by commenting below.
Want to find out how rehearsals went? You’ll have to read Zoe’s next blog post!