When Mathias Kavita set off for a journey to Guangzhou City in China in 1983, he had no idea that the voyage would make a difference in his homeland four decades later.
Meet Mathias Kavita, China-trained acrobatics coach behind successful acts at Sarakasi Dome
Back then, the shy 13-year-old boy from Mombasa, knew nothing about acrobatics until he and 23 other budding gymnasts were selected to travel to China to learn a few moves about acrobatics.
The agreement was that the selected youngsters would subsequently return to Kenya to work with the government in taking part in shows nationwide to make acrobatics popular among Kenyans.
Kavita's journey to China became a turning point, sparking his enduring journey into acrobatics. Now the 53-year-old has revolutionised the acrobatic scene in Kenya by introducing the dynamic moves he mastered in China into local routines.
“Before traveling to China, we underwent orientation, which included watching films of acrobats recorded in China,” Kavita said at his office in Nairobi, which is strewn with equipment for acrobats, some of it imported from China.
When China Daily caught up with him, it was evident that acrobatics defines this man's life, both day and night. His walls are adorned with photographs capturing his past performances, while his office proudly displays newspaper clippings and posters showcasing his previous and upcoming shows.
The office is located in the Sarakasi Dome arena, which was built a decade before Kenya attained independence in 1963.
The acrobat recounted how the orientation before their China expedition, featuring acrobatic films from China, fueled his curiosity.
Kavita, who now works with the Sarakasi Trust to tap young acrobatic talent, said: “As a gymnast back then, the films of acrobatics we watched at the Chinese Embassy was the first time I had seen such performances. I was particularly impressed by Chinese children performing moves I had never seen before.”
He vividly recollected the impact of those initial Chinese acrobatic showcases saying the films showcasing Chinese acrobatics were eye-openers.
“Witnessing young Chinese performers execute unfamiliar moves ignited my determination to journey to China and delve deeper into this art," he noted.
Kavita has since become a top trainer in Kenya guiding over 1,000 acrobats to international stages.
“My training in China was crucial as it transformed me into a global performer and an adept acrobatics instructor,” he affirmed.
During the interview, Kavita said after returning to Kenya in 1985 together with his fellow students, they introduced Chinese-inspired acrobatic moves like jumping through hoops and performing handstands on stacked furniture, along with skating and lion dancing to the local scene.
They established a national acrobatic group, showcasing their talents at governmental functions presided over by the then-President Moi.
From performing acrobat to gymnastics trainer
However, Kavita's trajectory shifted in 1989 as he transitioned from performer to trainer with a troupe in Mombasa, steering him toward a new phase in his career.
Despite his achievements, Kavita's aspiration to establish an acrobatics school akin to the one in Guangzhou remains unfulfilled due to a dearth of facilities and a lack of proper support.
He still yearns to revisit Guangzhou in the hope of witnessing its progress and further enhancing his acrobatic expertise.
Through his amalgamation of Chinese and African acrobatic styles, Kavita's performances have garnered international acclaim. His performers have been invited to appear in Europe and across Africa.
His students, trained meticulously at the Sarakasi Dome, aspire to blend these diverse cultural elements into their acts, echoing his passion for harmonising both traditions.
On weekdays, his students start arriving at the Sarakasi Dome arena as early as 7:00 a.m. 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.
Prodigies representing Kenya globally
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 said the tour made him appreciate the Chinese dedication to resources for acrobats and the amount of time spent on the profession.
Bryson Wandabwa Wangilwa, who started training with the children’s program at Sarakasi Dome, said he decided to take acrobatics seriously after being encouraged by Kavita.
At 19, 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 said.
For dreams such as Wangilwa’s to come true, Kavita said, 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.
“I believe that acrobatics is a career like any other, and that being professionally taught by Kenyan and Chinese acrobats can help many young people who are facing unemployment today,” Kavita said.
He adds: “I plan to return to China to learn how to run a school like the one in Guangzhou. I hope to get a sponsor — government or private — to help me establish the school, as many young people admire what we do, but lack facilities for the proper training to make acrobatics a professional career.”
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