Circus performers live, raise children in a caravan roaming Turkey
Ulaş and Melike Cankurt have raised their children in a caravan. They travel all across Turkey to perform shows in their circus, which strictly refuses to use animals in a bid to advocate animal rights.
The couple, which performs shows with magicians, acrobats and jugglers, travels all around Turkey with their caravan.
The couple say they don’t like living a settled life, stressing they are happy to be able to make their dreams come true by traveling with their circus.
Ulaş Cankurt said he worked as a lighting technician in a foreign circus in Turkey in his early teenage years before finally deciding to set up his own circus.
Stating that there was no local circus in Turkey at the time, he said: “I thought to myself: Why shouldn’t I? First, I organized shows in towns. We made our first show in the village of Kuyucak in the Akhisar district of the western province of Manisa. The 300 Turkish Liras we collected from the children was the first money we made and was very valuable. In time, our works expanded and grew very fast, and we had the opportunity to meet many foreign artists. This job has turned into a passion for us. My wife and I became both the bosses and the employees of the circus. It was a pleasure for us to clean up, climb on iron poles, burn stoves, sell corn and tickets and set up tents. It is not just a job where we make money.”
Cankurt said they were still the only ones running a circus in Turkey, adding: “I wish many different circuses were set up. We have set examples for each other. I am sure that if there are many different circuses that do this work well, official organizations will support us. We Turks have a different energy. Our costumes, choreographies and music are different to foreigners. So they love our circus, they want to work with us.”
Large cities suffocating
Melike Cankurt said they got used to living a mobile life. She said they had problems adapting to a settled life in large cities like İzmir, Bursa and Ankara. They eventually kept returning to their caravan.
“We want to be close to the circus; not only us, but other artists in the circus, too. Put them in five-star hotels, I am sure they will want to come back to the caravan. Even when we go on vacation, we can’t stay in a hotel for more than three-four days. The walls suffocate us,” she said.
Stating that their job was risky, she said: “It is very normal for us to see someone fall from the trapeze and break his arm, his leg, and fall on his head. Anything can happen to us at any moment. Unfortunately, there is no law protecting us. There is not even a movie about our lives. There is only the ‘Trapeze’ movie. It is a dramatic movie, but it doesn’t tell exactly what we go through. Sometimes we stay hungry for days, no water in our caravans, no electricity, because there is no circus culture in the country.”
Our children grew up backstage
Melike Cankurt said that she took stage 11 days after giving birth to her child, adding, “We, the circus artists, do not think that pregnancy is an obstacle to performing our art. When my labor began, a circus tent was being pitched. There was no empty car. I went to the hospital with a motorbike. I kept thinking I should give birth to the baby as soon as possible and get on stage. I was already on stage when I was pregnant; I was going into the magic boxes like that. Because I made sports, my baby was born very healthy and I gave birth very easily.
She said most artists raised their children backstage. “They all have two-three children. There were the days when we made beds for our children by putting music boxes on top of each other. Sometimes the people who loved us took our children to their homes when we were on stage,” she said.
Circus worker Anna Kozhynov and her husband Igor Kozhynov are raising their one-and-a-half-year-old child, Milan, in a van. Traveling different parts of Turkey with the team, the couple said they were very happy about it.
“We would like to thank the Turkish audience for their support and love. My work is on the stage and the satisfaction we get is the applause we receive. This motivates me. I am happy in Turkey,” she said.