Winning Entry
Chinese Circus By Essie Opie, Year 10, The Netherhall School

“A fresh take on the classic dream story, we loved the way this piece blurred the boundaries between the real and the imagined. The vivid descriptions just sing out; and are beautifully undercut at the end when the writing seems to fade from glorious technicolour into black and white.”

I had found myself in the most surprising place. A shock to the senses, the ongoing sound of drums and music, the smell of sawdust and sweat from the performers. The circus had been running for decades in the back streets of Shanghai. ‘Unbelievable feats that will fill you with wonder and awe’, the poster had advertised. A large dark hall where the walls were not visible because of the dim light, and wooden benches nestled in the sawdust, which covered the floor and stage.

I had seated myself in the front row, waiting for it to begin; and as the room filled, the noise and excited chatter grew, and the place had the sort of stuffy air you find in a bus while it’s raining. The stage was packed with acrobats in bright outfits leaping across vast distances. They were people who had trained their entire life to be lion dancers, or so I was told by the woman next to me. She was smartly dressed and did not fit into the run-down surroundings in that part of the city, and her trip to the circus seemed almost like a chance to reminisce about her past.

Acrobats dressed as a lion sprung amazing distances through the air, moving from pole to pole three to four metres apart, almost as though they were actually one animal. Then came the actors, who fought in elaborate outfits with realistic swords creating an edge of danger. At one point I was dragged into the arena to demonstrate a stunt where an acrobat soared over my head — they had insisted I take my shoes off, which I was a little sceptical of at the time. But I eventually agreed to leave my tatty trainers by the stage, and it was only after I had left the circus and returned out onto the street that I remembered my shoes. Looking down, I realised I still had on the ones they had given me.

Cambridge was cold, and the sky was dirty grey that morning. I debated whether I should go for a run or get another half hour in bed. I decided I should run. It was good for me. I prepared to go, and as I went to put on my socks, I saw my tatty trainers and felt surprised, but I couldn’t remember why.