Worldwide creative leadership
I first met Jan Rok Achard in 2004 at the reunion of the FEDEC; Bernard Turin was the president then, succeeding Jan Rok, and presented him to me. He said: “Jan Rok – meet Orit; she is establishing contemporary circus in Israel. You two should have a lot to talk about.”
Thus started an 18-year-long conversation about circus arts, humanism, compassion, creative leadership, and politics at times when we were in the mood, mostly in neutral terrain, as in airports traveling around the globe.
Jan Rok was a kind of Rock, as his name implies. When I first met him, he had in his hands a brochure I still have at home today of the plans for what was to become the Tohu – Cite des arts du Cirque in Montreal. A man of vision as he was, his walking around with detailed plans for the then-future concept of what is a reality today was not something I should have been surprised by. But, not knowing him yet, I was amazed.
I now realize, with the death of Jan Rok, that I had the privilege of growing up in my profession in the presence of greatness. Yet, again and again, I am awe-struck by the grandeur of the vision of these people and the depth of my soul into which their inspiration infiltrated through the years.
Memories of Jan Rok
2009 – I invented the Contemporary Circus Initiative, and Jan Rok participated. When asked what constitutes a good or bad circus show, “The spectator is free; he will decide if a show is good or bad.”
When asked about the future of circus arts and any rules for contemporary circus, he said: “There is no rule, or maybe, if there is one, it is what’s the relation between the content and the form of the performance and today’s times? “
In 2010, sitting on the roof of our hotel in Buenos Aires, speaking about the starry night and the view, I remember his musings about how it all seemed so nice and neat from here, but when he walked in the streets that day, he could only see the gap between the poor and the rich in this city and how it bothered him.
In Israel in 2012 or so, at the Ben Gurion airport, when I came to pick him up on his way to consult the Ramala Circus School. We agreed on how strange it was that a circus school participates in a cultural boycott when a circus is all about defying limits, challenges, and borders, then compassionately together, agreeing that probably for our Palestinian friends, if they want to survive, they have no choice. It wasn’t clear, but we left it at that.
Jan Rok kept in touch through the years, responding to every update I sent about our work at the ON Creation Space. He was incredibly enthusiastic about our Contemporary Circus Festival in 2018, which he would have liked to attend but was already not up for the travel.
In 2020 when we were fundraising for the residency space, he sent his encouragement and updated about his deteriorating health conditions. I encouraged him back and said how important he was to me through the years.
So in a way, I said my goodbyes and thanked him for who he was.
He was an inspiration, a great advisor, and an encouragement to me through the hard years of “no funds for the circus” here in Israel.
He was that for many artists worldwide for over 40 years.
He will be missed.