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Run away with Africa Soul Train Circus

Performers connect Whistler with dreams of training Ghana's street kids in acrobatic techniques



Rejoice! The circus is coming to town.

But this one is a little unique.  Africa Soul Train Circus is a collaboration between two seasoned circus professionals — one from Ghana and the other from B.C.

"We're animal free and acrobat friendly," laughs B.C. organizer and performer Marley Skye.

The circus' show uses aerial rope and hoops, African bowl spinning and human pyramids to keep people on the edge of their seats.

Five performers are bringing their show to Whistler wtih Africa Soul Train Circus performing at the Garibaldi Lift Company on Friday, Jan. 30 at 9 p.m.

Music by Spanish reggae artist Newlyon Nayen and Mr. Fantastik, performing roots and dancehall reggae, will open the show before the acrobatics gets underway. DJing will continue until late.

"We're promising a great night out," Skye says.

Skye founded his own Pheonix Farm Circus School on Salt Spring Island, just one of his projects since becoming a circus acrobat in Vancouver in 2008.

The show is more than performance, however. There is a very serious mission to change lives behind it.

Skye has teamed up with Ghanaian circus performer Mr. Fantastik to co-found African Soul Train Circus in order to raise money to build an international circus school to work with impoverished children on Ghana's Cape Coast. Plans for Africa Soul Train Circus School can be seen on its website www.astcsghana.org.

The organizers are also partnering with the NGO Hoops Care International, which was set up in 2008 in Ghana to "empower youth through sports."

Skye explains: "Our tour is about raising awareness for that, finding sponsorships, finding interested people who want to help with this project and promoting it. We've been stopping in a lot of different communities on the tour and teach a circus camp, give kids and family a chance to hang out with circus folk."

He adds that the Ghana project is new, in its pilot phase, and this is their first tour. They are visiting 10 communities in January and February.

"About two months ago we started talking and decided that we should do this project because it was really important," Marley says.

He added that his partner in the project was a homeless orphan himself.

"Mr. Fantastik grew up on the streets of Ghana as an acrobat. There is a ton of acrobat talent in Africa, in Cape Coast and that area and that is where he's from. He came from busking on the streets as a five-year-old street performer, to performing on international stages all over the world. He's now living in Canada," Marley says.

But what will the Ghanaian youngsters get out of it? Marley says he wants them to pick up the acrobatic skills in an organized way, but also learn the aerial performance style he uses himself, as there is nothing like that in the country at the moment.

Marley notes there is no international circus school in Ghana and adds that they want to eventually establish such schools across Africa.

"We want to encourage them, to give them the means and support to become international artists. Cavalia, the big horse and circus production, just brought a number of talent from Ghana and created a big acrobatic troupe and it's now a huge part of their show," he says.

"It shows so much power and gives so much strength and hope. There is so much dance there and musical traditions that draw on acrobatics, too."

Land in Ghana has already been donated to the project.

Marley believes it will only take $20,000 to get the entire project up and running, teaching 30 to 50 students.

He and his collaborators plan to fly out to Cape Coast at the beginning of March to get things underway. They will make a documentary of their efforts to establish the school.

Then the team will establish local contacts to sponsors and other stakeholders.

"We're going to check the land out and start laying the foundation stones for the school. We will be there for six weeks in our first go to get it off the ground," Marley says. "We are already recording as we go, but we'd like to pull it all together."

Marley agrees that this is a grassroots project of international proportions.

"It is. We're supporting our project with our own personal finances and booking the tour. Communities have been helping and we've been teaching kids, and then there is the show in the evening," he says.

"I wish we could raise the whole $20,000 this way, but we are going to have to talk to sponsors and people who are interested in the project to see what they can commit and just keep talking about it. And I will be applying for grants and funding."