When the internationally-renowned Cirque du Soleil blows into town, there's a group of local circus performers they're keen to see.

Based in an unassuming historic building on the edge of central Auckland's Victoria Park, the performers from Circability Central are in constant demand - and with spring and summer approaching, they're about to get busier.

From October onwards, Circability Central, in the former Campbell Free Kindergarten building, will run free circus workshops for families on the third Sunday of the month and everyone - irrespective of age or ability - is welcome.

About half of those who participate in its classes have a physical or intellectual impairment, but that doesn't stop them from juggling, hula-hooping, spinning plates, clowning, walking a tightrope, balancing on stilts, riding a unicycle and appearing in a range of live shows.


This month, the organisation collected an Arts Access Creative Space Award from Arts Access Aotearoa. Judges described Circability Central as an open and welcoming arts hub creating opportunities and removing barriers by providing a "creative space" for all ages and abilities.

It's the latest in a line of awards and recognition for the organisation that include being invited to perform for Cirque du Soleil. Circability's 15-minute show left the acrobats spellbound and was "like a dream" for some of those involved.

They included Nathan Child, 31, who also plays bass for the rock band The Mutes from Mars and says circus allows him to combine many of his interests, music and acting among them. He's spent about four years with Circability Central and now helps to teach others.

"I always wanted to do acrobatics and juggling and all that sort of stuff and now I can," says Child.

"Apparently, I am a natural circus performer because I can spin plates; I dream of being able to juggle knives then axes and the ultimate thing would be chainsaws.

He's certain his life would not be as good without weekly circus classes and the chance to perform at festival shows, family and community events.

"I would be incomplete without the circus; I live for this type of stuff and I love giving a crowd a good show."

Thomas Hinz and Frances Kelliher, co-directors of the Circability Trust, established their first NZ circus, Circus Kumarani, in Dargaville, in 2003. One of Circability's tutors, David Andrew, 21, started with the Northland classes when he was 9 and now helps out at the Auckland base.


"I always wanted to juggle, then I saw a unicycle and got one for Christmas; Mum and Dad figured that if I had the unicycle, I'd had better go to classes and learn how to ride it. I've never stopped."

Circus Kumarani went from strength to strength and Hinz and Kelliher quickly realised how circus skills could be used to help people with disabilities gain new physical and social skills, build confidence and break down barriers.

"There's a bit of magic about the circus," says Kelliher, "You know, all the things that are said about running away with the circus. Those who haven't seen one of our shows can come along thinking it will be a 'nice' show and they'll have to clap politely, but then they see what the performers can do they are genuinely impressed."

When word spread about what she and Hinz were achieving in Dargaville, requests for workshops also grew. They moved to Auckland in 2012, setting up Circability Trust and working on a project which brought together members of the deaf community, hearing people, those with physical or intellectual impairments and survivors of mental illnesses.

There are also plans to develop a programme for those with spinal cord injuries and Kelliher sees scope for anti-bullying projects using circus skills.