Report of Priya Menon to The Times of India Oct 9, 2017

Chennai: The red dirt road winds through the landscape, dotted with foliage and a few scattered buildings. Further along, it narrows into a lane, which leads to Miracle, one of the many communities in Auroville — a universal township in the making — about 130km from Chennai.

As you enter the gates, a small signboard points to the Eluciole Circus. Under a white metal dome topped with blue-tinted glass, young girls hang from trapezes and long swathes of brightly coloured silk, which drop down from the scaffolding attached to the roof, practising their moves.Lean and wiry Kalou Pascale Guez keeps a hawk’s eye on her students. As elsewhere in India too the few circus schools have closed their doors, but this 51-year-old French national is doing her best to keep the art alive. For her, the performances in the ring don’t just tone the body, it is part of a spiritual quest. “The distance between your dreams and reality is called action. By practising this, you feel more centred in your body and learn to love it,” says Kalou.Born in Paris to a Romanian mother and Tunisian father, Kalou went to theatre school when she was 20. At 25, she began learning the skills required in a circus, and soon specialised in fire dance. In 1993, she journeyed to India, looking for a more spiritual way of living. “In Paris, I felt I didn’t fit in,” says Kalou, who came to Auroville in 1998.

She spent the next few years shuttling between India and France. In Auroville, she taught fire dance; in Europe, she performed as part of Elixir professional circus. For years, she requested Auroville for permission to build a circus school and finally, in 2011, she built it in her garden, throwing the doors open to students the next year.

Today, she has about 50 students, and conducts classes for children and adults. On a Friday afternoon, eight girls, including Kalou’s daughter, Asia, all aged between 9 and 12, are busy perfecting their moves. They work in twos, perfecting headstands, before climbing up the silk and manoeuvring around the trapeze. Most of them love the aerial acts, though it demands a lot of strength and flexibility. “You have to hang by your feet and it can really hurt,” says Asia, who also loves the hula hoop and unicycle.

Claire, who has been attending the class for the past three years, says it has improved her flexibility. “I am now learning the lyra — aerial hoop — but that’s more difficult,” says the 12-year-old.

Kalou’s school attracts students from as far as Chennai, Bengaluru, Mumbai. What is it that attracts them? Probably the mind-body connect that Kalou teaches. “Transformation, art, creativity, concentration, joy, balance, harmony, love, magic, happiness and divine light — you get all this, and that’s why I teach people circus,” says Kalou, who does it for the sheer passion.