PARENTLESS since the age of 15, Winston Ruddle began his young adult life as a busking breakdancer on the streets of Bulawayo in his African homeland, Zimbabwe. But breakdancing soon went out of fashion, so he had to find another source of revenue.
His inspiration for a new job came when he went to see a team of acrobats from nearby Zambia performing with a band. He was amazed at how much like breakdancing their movements were and asked if he could train with them, then taught his friends the movements and they put acrobatics into their street acts.
A couple of years later, Ruddle joined a circus as an attendant and was soon performing as an acrobat with a renowned South African circus. That was the beginning of an extraordinary career that led him to establish an acrobatic training school in Tanzania’s Dar Es Salaam in 2004 and subsequently a circus, Cirque Africa, with performers from six African countries, that is now renowned around the world. Ruddle has appropriately been nicknamed Papa Africa for his work in fostering the skills of African performers.
In 2014, Australians had the chance to see some of his acrobats performing in a circus musical he put together called Cirque Mother Africa, with the venues including Newcastle’s Civic Theatre and the Cessnock Performing Arts Centre. Those theatres are about to host a more traditional, but nonetheless amazing, circus show, Cirque Africa. It has been touring Australia since mid-2015, with extended seasons in capital cities in a large circus tent and one-and-two night stands in conventional theatres.
It will play at Cessnock on Thursday, August 17, at 7.30pm, and in Newcastle on Monday, September 11, at 7.30pm.
Cirque Africa very much reflects African cultures. The 25 performers are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Tanzania and Ghana; the music by an accompanying band has African rhythms.
Cirque Africa is decidedly a family show, with acrobats, dancers, percussionists, contortionists and the musicians in breathtaking feats, such as building awe-inspiring pyramids with their bodies, showing amazing strength and doing incredible things with bowls and balls.
The troupe includes the inspiring Hakuna Matata acrobats, a group of 10 strong and nimble men, drawn from the 100 acrobats training daily in Dar Es Salaam. (And while the troupe’s name is the same as that of a song from the musical The Lion King, it is drawn from a Swahili phrase that means “no worries”.)
Cessnock ticket prices range from $49 to $79 (bookings 4993 4266) and Civic tickets are $56.65 to $88.15 (4929 1977).