The soldier in the center ring
“Sagiv’s from Israel!” a woman whispered to her seat partner as Aloysia Gavre, director of the West Hollywood Cirque School, introduced Sagiv Ben-Binyamin, a Hadera-born aerial artist and instructor, at a public showcase for the circus school.
As far as he has traveled, literally, from Israel to this Southern Californian loft-like gym space, Ben-Binyamin has come an even greater distance in recent years in his transition from the Israeli army to the circus sphere, a change he refers to as “extreme.”
Ben-Binyamin, 30, served for three years before moving to the United States at 22, and his move raises an interesting question: Is life in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), one of the strictest armies in the world, really so different from performing the high-wire act he’s now doing? Could it be that a three-ring circus and a three-prong attack have more in common than we think? After all, the demands of the circus and the army overlap threefold: physical endurance, group support and all that drama (just watch any episode of “Army Wives” to see the incredible amount of theatrics that surface at least once a week).
Regardless of such surface similarities, Ben-Binyamin says these days he feels pretty far from his Israeli army experience.
“It’s been a while since I’ve thought about it,” he said. “It was physically hard, I think, mainly because of no sleep … especially at the age when you need 10 hours of sleep.”
But it was important to him to serve. He notes that service is emblematic of the Israeli culture, an institution in which all participate: “I’m happy that I did it.”
“I think it’s pretty similar,” he added. “In the army they teach you how to support each other, and in the circus, naturally you want to support and help your fellow performers.”
But the army wasn’t enough to keep Ben-Binyamin away from his long fascination with gymnastics, which led him to the circus.
“When I moved here, I discovered the circus … I was sucked into it so fast, and I found a local job here, you know, grooming pets and animals. I didn’t have the right visa necessarily, but I wanted to stay here.”
Already, he’s moved from Seattle to Florida to San Diego and now Los Angeles. He’s also working for Cher in her Las Vegas show at Caesars Palace and getting ready for Broadway with the original production of “Birdhouse Factory.”
As far as long-lasting benefits, the army and the circus both come into play. In doing stunts for the “Spider-Man” movie as a side gig, Ben-Binyamin said his circus training was helpful, but he also needed to be tough, “I guess that’s the Israeli part.”