Series exploring the everyday lives of children who go to work. Zachariah Fletcher finds out about the lives of children working in Russian circuses.
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Every day of the week, 200 million children around the world
go out to work.
Kids who work in circuses in Russia.
Kids who work on chocolate plantations in Africa.
Kids who work in Bollywood.
And kids who want to be Africa's next big football star.
Welcome to the world of Children At Work.
I'm Zach, I'm 21 and I'm from London
and for the next week I'm going to investigate
the world of children who work in circuses.
I'm in this crazy world where bears are driving cars.
I'm going to live and work with one of Russia's busiest performing families.
I'll find out how growing up in a circus
affects kids who start training as toddlers
I'll discover how they juggle life on tour with the demands of school
and friendships at home.
And I'll make by big top debut in front of almost 1,000 people.
I've travelled almost 2,000 miles from home to Kharkov,
the second largest city in Ukraine.
I can't really identify what anything is.
Everything looks really industrial
and I can't see any signs that I recognise.
They use a different alphabet here, the Cyrillic alphabet.
It's like I've stepped into a different world.
I'm here to live inside one of the most iconic communities in the world -
My mum used to be a clown in British touring circuses.
Even though she stopped performing when I was a year old,
the circus was a big part of my life when I was growing up.
I'm more excited than nervous.
(DRIVER SPEAKS RUSSIAN)
This is Kharkov's purpose-built circus
and I'm sure those signs really do say circus.
It's an unbelievable minus 22 degrees outside,
so traditional tented circuses just wouldn't work in this weather.
But that's not the only reason that Kharkov has a permanent circus.
Ukraine used to be part of the Soviet Union,
a communist republic of 15 countries,
ruled from Moscow, the capital of Russia.
Its leader, Lenin, pronounced circus the people's art form
because it appealed to every member of society.
He was determined to give it the same cultural importance
as opera, ballet and theatre.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991
and Ukraine is now an independent country
but buildings like this are still used across the old Soviet region.
-Nice to meet you.
-It's nice to meet you.
-This place is huge.
-Yeah, it is.
This is Artem. He's 15 and been performing in the circus since he was 2 years old.
His family is in the middle of a three-month run here in Kharkov,
almost 500 miles from their home in Moscow.
Some British circuses still use performing animals
but popular opinion is against them in the UK.
There's no such issue over here
and this circus has performing horses, poodles,
ferrets and even bears.
-It smells here.
-Yeah, it does smell.
Is the only place or do they have places to run around?
I've just seen where their horses are kept
and the cages are so small and some of the animals are pacing
and it's just... It's...
They're obviously well treated, well groomed,
and it's just... It's very different, it's very different.
'Kharkov's circus is small by Russian standards.'
There are around 15 acts and 20 stage crew
and they put on four shows a week to almost 1,000 people.
I've been told by the crew that I'm going to be helping you in your act.
Can you tell me what I'm going to be doing?
Do you trust me? I wouldn't trust me to throw cups.
I'm worried about breaking you. Your head.
I guess we'll see how it goes later on in rehearsals.
It sounds quite dangerous.
But at least I'm not being asked to do that.
Artem's dad Andrei is a clown and his mum Olga used to be an acrobat
but now she trains and performs with the family's ferrets.
When the poodles have finished rehearsing, it's our turn in the ring.
And we're in rehearsals now.
We're just waiting for...
They've got a little sausage dog that kind of rounds up the ferrets
like a sheepdog.
It actually bites it. But just like on the back of the neck.
I'd love to be in an act with the ferrets.
I think I look a bit like a ferret right now, so...
(TALKS IN RUSSIAN)
But before I'm shown the act, I'm rushed into the dressing room
for a circus makeover.
A little bit the same.
Check out my jacket.
I've got hat hair.
I like the yellow one but...
I'm going to be a clown.
I can't help but wonder why I'm the only one in costume.
Still, it's my first day and I'm too polite to ask.
MAN SPEAKING RUSSIAN
Artem and his dad take me through the act
that they normally perform together.
I'll be taking his dad's place,
throwing cups and saucers up to Artem on the top of his enormous unicycle.
Bad throw. Sorry.
'All he has to do is catch them and then flip them onto his head...'
That's very good. That was good.
'..with his foot.
'Oh, and that's not all.
'After he's built a tower of cups and saucers
'he adds sugar and a teaspoon.
'He told me it took him a year to perfect this act.'
I'm having enough trouble throwing the plates to you
and you're on a three-high unicycle, balancing them on your head.
-It's pretty amazing, man.
-For first day, it's very good.
-Good. That's good to hear.
I won't cry myself to sleep tonight.
I think that I was going to be, you know, like this.
-I think you were, a little bit.
How do you find it, moving around all the time?
Are you ever on shows where there are other younger people?
When they're on tour, Artem and his family stay in a special circus hotel
and I'll be staying here, too.
When we get back from rehearsals,
we joined by Artem's older brother, Andrei.
This is my mum as a clown. Her name was Matilda Clutterbuck.
SHE SPEAKS RUSSIAN
Circus children have special permission to perform with their families
as it's against Russian law to employ under-14s.
So Artem and his brother started much younger.
So strong for a six-year-old.
It might look extreme but it's considered essential
for children to start training early if they're to succeed.
They look really young. How young do you start training them?
There is a price to pay
but Russian circus artists are considered some of the most highly skilled in the world.
-Six year, two year.
How do you get a child to be that disciplined?
When I was that age, I was just picking my nose
and running round eating worms.
This makes the wonder about the pressure
that Artem and Andrei were under to train.
After the first rehearsal, I have a bit of time to reflect.
Seeing Artem today, it's made me wonder a little bit
about the kind of reality of life,
the life that he lives, in a hotel.
It must be hard to not have anyone his own age around
and just working constantly, 24-7, with his mum and dad.
The idea of travelling around from city to city sounds really glamorous
but in actuality, this room's pretty bare and depressing.
It could feel quite lonely, I guess.
Children who grow up in the circus have to study on their own
when they're on tour
and return to their schools for exams.
Artem's school is almost 500 miles away in Moscow,
so the family has to take an overnight train
every time Artem has an exam.
After 14 hours on the train and not the best night's sleep,
we're just about to arrive in Moscow.
Artem's trips to school are a rare chance
for the family to spend time at home in Moscow.
It's a massive city, with a population of over 10 million people,
almost twice as many people as Scotland
crammed into area 72 times smaller.
Like the vast majority of Muscovites,
the family live in one of these identikit tower blocks.
They're part of the legacy of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin,
whose communist government provided housing for every family.
Even modern housing developments in Moscow
don't look too different to this.
Artem's school is just a few minutes walk from his front door.
The majority of schools in Russia, like Artem's,
take students from the age of five right through to 18
but in some cases, they can leave at 15.
At the end of general education,
successful students are awarded a diploma.
It's the most important qualification of their lives.
Without it, they can't get into university
and often can't even get a job.
If Artem ever leaves the circus, he will need his diploma
but his dad told me the family will be happy
with whatever grades he gets.
All of these decisions that in Britain a 15-year-old would be starting to think about,
what their career might be in the future, they've been made
and you're doing it.
Do you feel limited by that?
11-year-old Dacha is also from a circus family.
Her parents perform in the same show as Artem
but Dacha doesn't have to balance performing and studying
because her parents won't let her on stage
until she's finished school.
When they're at home in Moscow, Dacha goes to a regular school
but when they're on tour, she studies with her parents.
Do you feel different from other children your age?
Is it your dream to be in the circus?
Have you ever thought about doing anything else?
How would your parents feel, do you think, if you decided
to be a sports journalist? Would they be happy?
Are you working on an act?
-Maybe we could do an act together.
Dacha's family decided that she shouldn't work in the circus
until she's finished school
but when Artem and Andrei were her age, they were experienced performers.
They were also earning a wage.
-Do you give some money to your parents?
-You're helping the family by working.
Yeah. I help the family, you know.
They probably can't work without me, you know?
BUMPING AND RATTLING
-It's like a roller coaster.
How do you think I did in rehearsal yesterday?
I think it's not bad. We have good progress, you know?
-I don't want your dad to be disappointed in me.
-No, I don't think so.
Back at the circus, it's time for the first matinee of the week
and the crowds are gathering.
I've still got a lot of work to do before I'm allowed in the ring,
so I join the audience to see the family do their thing
for the very first time.
BAND PLAYS FANFARE AND MARCH
Artem and his family work really hard.
Their acts make up about half of the show.
His dad in on stage more than anyone else
and the audience seem to really love his clown act.
It's amazing. We're watching the show. We've seen three acts.
I've seen Artem performing. He's amazing. He's a good little mover.
Andrei is just about to perform now with his wife.
It's crazy seeing them all on stage because I've seen them rehearsing
but they didn't perform.
Now they've got style and it's brilliant.
They're all amazing. They're all amazing.
Even the ferrets performed.
I don't have to wait long until Artem's big act.
ANNOUNCER: Artem Averyushkin!
And his dad is making my job look like child's play.
I should be taking notes. That's what I'm going to be doing.
-Artem got a scream!
APPLAUSE AND CHEERS
-That was amazing. You were great.
-It was really good.
-I feel the same.
I was watching your dad with his dance moves. Should I try that?
-You can try the moves you can feel.
-He dancing how he feel.
-You have to dance how you feel.
I'm in this crazy world where people are juggling on wires
and doing handstands on bikes and bears are driving cars
but I'm loving it.
It's crazy listening to Artem
but it's quite moving that he has this outlook on life
that is just so beyond his years.
I just wonder if children in the circus might miss out
on a certain exploration and excitement of choosing their own path
because it's kind of been chosen already for them.
But at the same time they're talented people
and all of these doors are open to them
just because this path's been chosen for them already, so...
The mind boggles.
My big top debut is fast approaching
and we've been rehearsing hard to get me ready for the show.
It's mad. I'm being directed by someone I can't understand at all
but at the same time, he's such an amazing teacher
that I can understand his body and...
It's crazy but I'm really excited.
I'm doing things that I never get an opportunity to do otherwise.
This was the best time. That's very good. OK?
'But Artem spoke too soon.'
So far, I've seen circus life from the point of view
of people who choose to be there.
But not everyone has had the same experience.
I'm on my way to meet Albina,
who was born into the circus and decided to leave when she was 20
to start a family and become a photographer.
What was it like, growing up in the circus as a young child?
Why did you decide to leave the circus?
Do you think there's pressure on young people
to help their parents out with the family business?
Do you miss the circus?
Albina chose a family over the circus.
But Artem's parents don't think you need to choose.
You can have both.
Back in their dressing room,
I ask them how they manage to juggle circus life
and family life.
Would it have been difficult
if your children had just decided not to be part of the circus?
They seem to all be really well in tune as a family
and know exactly what's going on with one another.
They work and they live and they play and it's all together
and it works really beautifully.
The moment I've been waiting for is almost here.
In less than one hour I'll be on stage in front of 1,000 people.
I'm feeling scared.
It's weird, the circus has a kind of quiet lull to it -
it feels like the quiet before the storm.
Now I've got the look right,
I'm sent out to test my clowning techniques on the audience.
My first job is not to make the children cry.
I just realised today that I've never practised
with the music and my costume together,
so I'm a bit nervous.
But I've got no time for nerves.
Artem's dad has given me the huge honour of opening the show,
so I've got to leg it onto stage.
BAND PLAYS MARCH
That was amazing! It was brilliant to hear the kids laugh at you
and they recognise you from when you were out with the balloons
and it was really, really good. I feel really pumped.
After the ferrets, after the horses and after poodles,
it's time for my big moment.
And it all goes really well until I drop one of the cups.
The audience doesn't seem to mind, though,
so we all move on and everything else goes brilliantly.
OK, this was very good, very good.
-He got the spoon first time as well.
-It was really good.
-Just one dropped.
-Yeah, the first one dropped.
But it's OK, it's OK.
It's been really great to see this strong family working together
and I feel really privileged to have been included in that
and they have such an amazing bond
and I've seen how important the family is when you're in the circus
and how important the circus is to this family.
The circus isn't right for everyone.
After all, that's why Albina chose to leave.
Artem and other circus kids have to make so many sacrifices -
not seeing their friends, not studying at school
and being away from home for months at a time.
But the circus is intoxicating
and I can see how the best parts of life here
make up for those sacrifices.
I've had the most fantastic time in Kharkov.
I've been welcomed into a great family
and I've learnt so much.
But there's no question that circus life has a big impact on young performers.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Two hundred million children around the world go to work every day. This series explores their lives.
Zachariah Fletcher learns about the lives of children working in Russian circuses, and travels to Kharkov in Ukraine, where he joins Russian circus family the Averyushkins on tour.
Fifteen-year-old Artem Averyushkin has been performing in the circus since he was two years old, and now works with his parents Andrei and Olga - a clown and a ferret trainer - and older brother, also called Andrei - a juggler and musical performer.
To find out more about life growing up in the circus, Zach stays with the family in their circus hotel while training with them, to join them on stage. He also makes the 500-mile journey back to their home in Moscow, where Artem attends school for an assessment, and Zach explores how growing up as a professional circus performer has affected Artem's childhood.
Throughout the film Zach asks whether circus life and family life really are compatible with each other. Alongside the Averyushkins, who believe it is compatible, Zach also meets 11-year-old Dacha, whose acrobat parents won't let her join the circus until after she has finished school, and 29-year-old Albina, who broke four generations of tradition and left the circus to start her own family.
Finally, Zach is transformed into a clown to join Artem on stage in his unicycle act.