Coming to America — with dance

Friday May 10 2013

Acrobatic group Cirque Zuma Zuma sign off at the end of a recent performance in New York. Photo/Kevin J Kelley

Acrobatic group Cirque Zuma Zuma sign off at the end of a recent performance in New York. Photo/Kevin J Kelley Nation Media Group


Audiences around the United States are responding enthusiastically to a group of African performers who mostly trained at the Bomas of Kenya.

Known as Cirque Zuma Zuma, the 25-member company is touring the US with a two-hour show of acrobatics, drumming and dance.

The high-energy spectacle features juggling, hoop-jumping, contortions, human pyramids and balancing acts on poles 30 feet above the stage.

The troupe traces its origins to the launch of the African Acrobats International Academy in Kenya in the mid-1990s. It was founded to train performers to stage shows in tourist hotels in East Africa.

Cirque Zuma Zuma was established as a touring company in 2005. It won considerable attention through an appearance in 2011 on the US television show, America’s Got Talent.

The company adopted the Zuma Zuma name “because it sounds more African,” says Konde Kalama, a performer from Mombasa who now lives in Las Vegas, which is also Cirque’s base in the US.

Kalama’s brother, John Jacob, is the company’s director.

After learning some basic acrobatic skills by tumbling on the Indian Ocean beach with friends, Kalama, 28, says he moved to Nairobi, where he trained intensively for five years at the Bomas of Kenya.

In addition to serving as Cirque Zuma Zuma’s artistic director, Kalama takes part in many of the dance and balancing acts that are part of the company’s repertoire.

While several of the performers are from East Africa, others come from countries in West and Southern Africa too.

Jacob periodically travels around Africa to audition aspiring young men and women, some of whom are chosen for training at the schools that African Acrobats International now operates in Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia.

Some of the trainees become cast members of shows that international producers stage in tourist venues such as the City of Dreams in Macau, a former Portuguese colony now administered by China.

After their US tour ends in December, Cirque Zuma Zuma say they will travel to Europe for shows in France and England.
Kalama says the company plans to perform in Kenya and other African countries.

Due to the physical demands put on Cirque’s performers, their on-stage careers may not extend much beyond their 30th birthdays.

Kalama is preparing for the day when he will no longer be dangling from poles and leaping through hoops.

When he is not on the road with the company, he studies at a university in California, aiming to earn a degree in waste water systems management.