A Kenyan acrobat is on a mission to transform the acrobatic scene in the country by blending Chinese and African elements in his performances.
Mathias Kavita says he has trained over 1,000 acrobats putting them on the international stage after learning acrobatics in Guangzhou City in China in the 1980s.
He believes that acrobatics is not only a form of entertainment, but also a way of life and a bridge of friendship.
He was among 24 young gymnasts from Kenya who were selected to travel to Guangzhou City to learn acrobatics.
The team was supposed to return to Kenya after two years and work with the government to promote acrobatics among Kenyans. However, Kavita’s experience in China changed his life and the future of acrobatics.
He spent two years in Guangzhou, where he acquired various acrobatic skills, such as jumping through hoops, performing handstands on stacked furniture, skating and lion dancing. He says the training was crucial as it turned him into a global performer and an expert acrobatics instructor.
He returned to Kenya in 1985, together with his fellow students, and established a national acrobatic group.
They showcased their talents at governmental functions presided over by the then President Daniel arap Moi.
They also introduced Chinese-inspired acrobatic moves to the local scene, blending them with African elements.
However, Kavita’s career took a new turn in 1989, when he became a trainer with a troupe in Mombasa. He said he felt the need to pass on his knowledge and skills to the younger generation.
He later moved to Nairobi and joined the Sarakasi Trust, a non-governmental organisation that supports the development of acrobatics and other performing arts in Kenya.
Since then, Kavita has trained over 1,000 acrobats, many of whom have performed in Europe and across Africa.
He says he is proud of his students, who have embraced both Chinese and African acrobatic styles and created their own unique expressions.
Kavita also sees acrobatics as a way of giving back to the society and solving some of the social problems that affect many young people in Kenya, such as unemployment, crime and drug abuse.
He says acrobatics can provide a positive outlet for their energy and creativity, as well as a source of income and recognition.
On weekdays, his students start arriving at the Sarakasi Dome arena as early as 7 am.
When Kavita joins them, they rehearse their moves, which include balancing on unicycles while juggling balls, forming intricate human pyramids, and practising head-spinning summersaults and flips.
“Witnessing young Chinese performers execute unfamiliar moves ignited my determination to journey to China and delve deeper into this art," he had told the China Daily in a previous interview.
One of the group members, Moses Otieno, 27, has just returned to Kenya from Hebei Province in China, where he undertook a four-month performance tour with six other Kenyan acrobats.
Otieno says the tour made him appreciate the Chinese dedication to resources for acrobats and the amount of time spent on the profession.
Bryson Wangilwa, who started training with the children’s program at Sarakasi Dome, says he decided to take acrobatics seriously after being encouraged by Kavita.
At age 19, he says that he appreciates the chance to learn acrobatics at a professional level, because of the discipline and strong work ethic it has instilled in him.
“I was taught lion dancing by Kavita, who has encouraged me to include moves to create choreography that brings African and Chinese cultures together,” Wangilwa says.
For dreams such as Wangilwa’s to come true, Kavita says, it is vital that the links forged between Kenya and China in acrobatics are carried forward to give young enthusiasts opportunities similar to those he had during his younger days.