Jumbo & Gemini Traditional Indian Circuses

In July of 2014, the Vertical Circus team was hosted by owner Ashok Shankar of Jumbo Circus, to expose his artists to our unique Vertical Circus style of teaching, directing, ensemble building, empowerment, fusion performance and development of production elements.

Sangita breathing fire. Photo: John Nyagah

Sangita breathing fire. Photo: John Nyagah

In October and November 2014 we returned to his brother’s, Ajay Shankar’s, Gemini Circus to engage in the same process with his artists.


Brothers Ashok and Ajay are both very passionate about ensuring the survival of Indian circus, which has to compete with the world’s largest movie industry: Bollywood, the internet and other forms of growing entertainment. The Vertical Circus team was honoured to contribute to preserving the artform of traditional Indian circus.


The talent of both circuses is very high, producing a very entertaining show.


The Vertical Circus team of Catherine Daniel, John Nyagah, Penny Campbell, Bunty Bhaat and Edu Martinez Perez set to work to lift the show to another level.

As the son of one of the trainers, who has completed university and now works in I.T., said:


“I didn’t know the circus could look like that”


What he saw was the result of all our hard work.


Daily practice from 6.30am till 10.30am. Yes that’s early, but spare a thought for the artists who then go on to do three shows a day every day.

Early morning warm up to prepare for daily training at backstage of the big top, home tents in the background. Photo: John Nyagah

Early morning warm up to prepare for daily training at backstage of the big top, home tents in the background. Photo: John Nyagah


During the practice we would work on presentation and connection to the audience and one another. We would look at specific acts, and choreograph them anew; as well as work on brand new acts and ideas. The local trainers continued to ensure that technique and skill execution were flawless.


We would watch the shows, suggest and implement changes in close collaboration with the local trainers and program directors. Lakshman at Jumbo Circus who has been in circus for over 50 years and Ravindra from Gemini Circus, who has been working in circus for 65 years. At age 74 he wakes up at 4am to do his own training before starting to train the artists at 6am. Both program directors’ openness and willingness to take on our suggested changes was inspiring, as was their heartfelt laughter.

We, or better said Bunty with some of the artists would go to the market for new accessories and costumes to improve the shows presentation. Just the sight of foreigners would surely double the price of what we needed to purchase, so we left it up to the locals.

We would also visit the tailor master with new costume ideas. He was set up in a tent specifically for sewing. Most of the costumes were made by him and his assistant with peddle powered sewing machines, no electricity needed!


We also visited the artists in their homes, tents set up around the big top, in which they had their domestic lives, small cookers, costumes, clothing, beds, televisions and electricity supplied by the owner. Water for washing would be delivered daily which had to be collected from large drums of water. Drinking water came in 20 litre containers, also supplied by the owner.

Many of the artists whom we worked with have not been to school or only to lower primary levels. Fortunately this is changing. A circus artist with children can afford to send their child to school. The child lives with family who are not travelling with the circus or in a hostel to ensure that they can attend school, enjoying a better education and more diverse opportunities for their future.


How did we end up at the circus?


Ashok Shankar saw our “Circus with Spice” show and approached me to come and do similar work at Jumbo and Gemini circuses. I was very happy to be able to take our team into the heart of Indian Circus.

Penny rehauled the lighting system, training personnel and hosting workshops with the artist to consider the difference between light and dark.

John focused on the social work, group interaction and personal development side of things. At Gemini Circus he built on the foundations Penny had laid down 2 months earlier and completely rehauled the lighting system and trained new personnel.

Bunty was one of our artists in the “Circus with Spice” project where he had displayed good leadership and teaching skills. We were very happy to be able to offer him 6 weeks of full time work at the circuses choreographing and teaching dance. He was also invaluable as a translator and cultural advisor.

Edu connected to us through our website and was a very passionate volunteer, who passed on new Cyr wheel tricks, found modern music and lead some very nice warm ups and acro balance workshops.


It was wonderful experience to be immersed in the culture of the travelling Indian circus. We all enjoyed getting to know one another, working hard, creating new acts, visiting each other and even being dressing up in traditional Indian clothing from different regions. The circus itself has artists from all over India, Nepal and visiting international artist currently from Mexico and Tanzania.


Feeling inspired contact the red nose foundation for volunteering opportunities overseas. www.rednosefoundation.org/job-volunteer-opportunities/


Want to perform in an Indian circus Jumbo and Gemini are always looking for exciting new acts, drop us a line at verticalcircus@gmail.com