Disabled artist ‘in shock’ over treatment by London 2012


A disabled artist who has spent five years training young disabled people to perform in the Paralympics opening ceremony has spoken of the “disgraceful” way he has been treated by organisers of the London 2012 games.

Jean-Marie Akkerman founded Cirque Nova five years ago, with the aim of teaching young disabled people circus skills so they could take part in the London 2012 opening ceremonies.

He works unpaid for his charity despite its constant struggle for funding, and has kept Cultural Olympiad bosses – who he says were supportive of his plans – updated on its progress.

Cirque Nova’s performances have become a highlight of London’s annual Liberty disability arts festival, drawing large crowds to their stunning displays of aerial and other circus skills.

But organisers of the Paralympics opening ceremony have now signed up six of the eight current Cirque Nova pupils who are over 18, as well as two of the company’s six teachers.

London 2012 has made it clear that there will be no recognition of the role Cirque Nova has played in training the performers, and has refused to work with Akkerman himself.

Because it has lost so many of its pupils and teachers to London 2012, Cirque Nova has already had to cancel two performances this summer, and is having to put many other activities on hold until after the Paralympics finishes in September.

Akkerman told Disability News Service he was “in shock” at the way he and his company had been treated by London 2012.

He said: “It is disgraceful. I have given up my heart and soul and not earned a penny over the last five years.

“I put in all my energy and a lot of hard work and I get nothing. I am very upset about the whole situation. It is a very unfair way of dealing with people.

“I was hoping that London 2012 would raise the profile of the company and allow us to get more funding in the future.”

He made it clear that he was not seeking money from London 2012, but simply recognition of the role Cirque Nova had played in training disabled performers.

The London 2012 organising committee LOCOG announced last week that circus skills – such as static trapeze, rope and pole work – would play a vital part in the Paralympics opening ceremony, with performers set to demonstrate their aerial skills on a 35-metre high rig.

The charity Circus Space also described how it was hosting an eight-week “boot camp” in circus skills for 50 disabled performers, before they joined rehearsals for the opening ceremony.

But six of those performers are already seasoned performers with Cirque Nova.

A LOCOG spokeswoman said: “Potential specialist performers were invited to audition for the London 2012 Paralympic opening ceremony through many different ways, including Team GB, Amputees in Action and various disability circus companies.

“One individual performer chose to audition through Cirque Nova and was successfully selected to learn new skills and be part of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

LOCOG declined to comment further.

It is believed that the other five Cirque Nova performers auditioned for London 2012 as individuals, rather than as members of the company.

And Akkerman made it clear that LOCOG had asked for the contact details of all of his over-18 pupils as part of its recruitment process.

He said he believed Cirque Nova was the UK’s only “disability circus company”.

In a further blow, Akkerman has also now learned that he is about to be evicted from his east London flat in order to allow his landlord to make thousands of pounds by renting it out to rich foreign tourists during the Olympics and Paralympics.

10 May 2012

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