Djeferson Mendes da Silva
Djeferson spent his childhood washing cars and selling candy in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. He never attended academic school because he was consistently too busy trying to take care of the eating and sleeping needs of himself, his mother and his thirty siblings. One morning he arrived in his regular parking lot to wash cars and was astonished to find that a circus tent had suddenly appeared over night. He walked in and was told he would be welcome there and asked which act in circus interested him most. He looked up and chose the trapeze.
Growing up with three older brothers, Bárbara learned young to be quick and tough. She lived close to the Praça Onze parking lot and spent her afternoons making trouble in the streets and picking fights with the other local kids. She was know for her quick wit and hot temper, but when her oldest brother was incarcerated for a drug conviction, she decided she would rather take her chances with the circus project than on the streets. She joined and became an acrobat.
Rayana Dias da Motta
Rayana was born with abnormal flexibility. At age six, her elementary school teacher became concerned that her arms must be broken to explain the way she rotated them, with fingers interlaced, back and forth over her head and down her back. Her mother took her to be examined by a doctor who told them that the extreme flexibility could make her more susceptible to injuries. Her mother enrolled her in rhythmic gymnastics classes for several years until she lost her job and could no longer afford them. Then Rayana learned about the circus social project and discovered a passion for contortion.
Platini grew up in Praça Onze and had a brother, Carlos, who was older by ten years. Platini idolized Carlos and loved when Carlos took him on the back of his motorcycle, driving fast through the streets, or out onto the rooftops to show him how to coat a kite string with glass shards and then fly the kite, making it dart through the sky, attacking other kites and cutting their strings. But Carlos was a known drug trafficker, and one morning, a rival gang stormed into their home and shot Carlos in the head. Reeling from the loss, Platini decided to focus on circus acrobatics with his favorite coach, Allan.
Junior grew up on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro. His first job was slaughtering chickens at a local butcher where he was struck by the social and economic inequalities he saw all around him. He became involved with community action campaigns and this interest in social change evolved into the concept of founding a “social circus”, where disadvantaged kids and teenagers could learn circus skills for free. In 2004, he and his Assistant Director, Vinicius Daumas, purchased a circus tent, hired some staff, and managed to erect their tent in an abandoned parking lot all under the cover of one night. In the morning, when the police came to evict them, it was too late: the tent was standing, the stakes were bolted, and excited children were swarming everywhere.
As a young teenager, Allan practiced Capoeira (Brazilian martial arts) in the streets and plazas of Rio de Janeiro. Agile and talented, he frequently drew an audience of passers-by. Junior watched him in the plaza one day and then invited him to come check out the new circus project. Allan began practicing acrobatics in the tent, joined the project, and soon became a coach for the younger students as well.
Ziquinho had a tumultuous upbringing. He fell prey to the drug trade at age twelve, then rose in the ranks to become a feared drug lord in Rio de Janeiro for several years before being caught and sent to spend the rest of his young adult life in prison. When he was finally released, he struggled to find legitimate work. Junior offered him a janitorial job at the circus project and, deeply grateful, he embraced the opportunity.