So, I had just graduated from The Circus Space and had been working for a few months but for a long time I had wanted to go to the circus school in Kiev. Finally I had got it all sorted but now I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go because I had built up consistent work in London. I kept changing my mind until one thought prevailed; screw it this is a one in a lifetime chance to go and train a little more and learn the secret of handstands. From day one I have always heard that Kiev is the best school, from all the videos and circus festivals like Cirque Du Demain all my favourite acts (that I consider the best) come from Kiev. I wanted to know why they were so good what they were doing differently to me, what was their secret. So at the start of October I went to Kiev and trained handstands for 8 weeks.
I’ve had many people ask me about it, so this blog is about my journey, my experiences and my time in Kiev and I truly hope it will answer your questions and help you.
Kiev – The circus school and its surroundings
Circus Artist Hotel
I stayed in the Circus artist hotel, which was about £15 a night for me; in my room I had 3 beds and 1 wardrobe. The decor was absolutely sublime; blue painted walls that if you ran you fingers down, the paint went onto your finger tips; along with bed covers that had dolphins on (which kept you safe during the night). The kitchen had an oven which didn’t work and 3 hobs, a sink and a fridge. So we had to make a cup of coffee the old school way. The bathroom had a normal toilet and then a TUB, it was a bout 2ft by 2ft, it was tiny and not comfy or in the slightest practical to have a bath in.
Again with showing how well they have moved with technology there was no washing machine and there were no laundrettes so it was hand washing (you get very sore hands) but at least the heating was good. It was also cockroach infested, which really hindered my sleep because I have never seen cockroaches and I’m not that brave (being in a different country, not speak the language was bad enough).
The walk to the circus school
The school was a 20 minute walk from the Circus Artist hotel where I was staying; it is situated in the middle of a military training base and looked like an old derelict Olympic area. It had a football pitch surrounded by concrete seats, a sand pit for long jump, high jump and pole vault, around the edge it had the running track and also had rugby goal posts. It is very old now and has Kiev graffiti all over it and is reddened with a lot of very cute stray dogs, but it was still being used everyday either by young students running and jumping or by older lads playing football tournaments.
Then you come up to the military base, where you’ll see the police marching around, they were any age from 16 to 40 and they rule – you don’t mess with them and you get out of their way – which I learnt quickly. They have to keep the whole place tidy, digging holes for trees or digging up trees. The main chore they had to do was sweep up the leaves, it really showed how traditional Kiev still is because they swept the leaves up with a bunch of twigs bundled together. It took me a while to get used to these traditional things still in their culture, to me they seemed really contrasting to the Ferrari garage that was down the road, and the ‘super cool’ sushi restaurants that all played dance music to having no washing machine and everyone sweeping up leafs with twigs and branches.
Then there is a swimming baths, I never went in them which was odd (I had a lot of spare time) but it’s this big blue building which was always being used. Then you come up to where I was, first of all it just looks like a average sports hall, you have 5 a side football courts and male and female changing rooms and communal showers, the Ukrainians there were very homophobic but they are a lot more comfortable with getting changed, showering and talking in front of each other than people are in the UK which was very interesting (I began to realise they are all much more mature for their age). I saw that they also had fencing classes there and there was an outdoor cinema but I never saw that being used.
So you then get to the circus training space which starts at 9am. Every morning all the students will be waiting outside for the doors to be opened, we tried to go in early and warm up but we would get shouted at by the cleaners who every morning vacuumed the room and washed the floor, they would also sow up the crash mats (every morning!) they were like patch works (not very reassuring!)
So the space we trained in was one massive room, it looked like an old male gymnastic room, it had a Olympic size sprung floor for FX and sports acro routines and another sprung floor half the size which wasn’t very sprung more soft floor. It had 3 sets of rings (low ones, high competition ones and a pair in the pit) which we used for muscle up competitions, conditioning and a laugh. Nearly everyone in the school could muscle up – it was a basic strength move. The gym had 3 pommel horses ranging from on the floor to competition height, one mushroom into the floor which most people could do 1 double leg circle and bail, 4 parallel bars: 2 about 4 foot high and then one at competition height and one beside the pit, which ended up getting kicked and punch by the handbalancers, then 3 high bars: 2 in the pit and 1 low one on the floor which was used so all students learnt Split leg rotation/mill circle and up start and finally a tumble track running into the pit that really wasn’t that sprung just soft.
At times it was warmer outside than it was inside the training space, me and the other handbancers sometimes wore gloves to train in and lots of layers but you always got the odd guy still walking round topless, generally the straps boys they were known as the crazy ones. The windows were not double glazing and they had been broken, usually from the jugglers throwing their juggling balls in anger. We commonly had little birds flying around and trying to find out how to get back out, the lights and heating only came on when it was really cold and dark because of cost but also the lights got broken a few times – again from jugglers getting angry. There are ceiling rafters which all the circus equipment was hung onto which would never happen in the UK due to health and safety but also the jugglers would climb up the walls and walk along it about 30 ft high and place a ball up there just so they could try knocking it off with another juggling ball from the floor, again something that wouldn’t be allowed here in the UK, safety safety safety.
From what I gathered circus was in 9-1 which was students and professionals, after us was professional time and then sports acro but they sometimes trained with us, Shcherbak and Popov were sometimes there when we were but mainly after or before. On a Saturday younger boys about 8-12 would come and train from 12 doing gymnastics, they would always come early so they could throw them self into the pit before their coach came.
One last thing about the space, the toilets are just a hole in the floor, you didn’t really go for many number twos there.