A few metres from Havana’s western beaches and busy Fifth Avenue, stands the Trompoloco big top, bearing the name of a popular Cuban clown from the 1960s and 70s, and the entrance and complement to the Isla del Coco (Coconut Island) Amusement Park.
The big top, long a desire of Cuba’s National Circus, opened in 2005 with the show Ritmo, Color y Fantasía (Rhythm, Color and Fantasy) and since then has become the place for a large audience to experience that most popular and ancient of performing arts.
The circus in Cuba, as elsewhere, is an art that is inherited and passed on. So much so that several generations: parents, sons and siblings, unite in a single act. All of them needing no convincing of the famous sentence of Ernest Hemingway: “The circus is the only show that, while you are watching, gives the impression of living in a dream.”
A bit of history
The first references of the circus in the island were in the late eighteenth century. The official records of 1783 mentioned the existence of jugglers, acrobats, mimes and prestidigitators in parks, squares and empty lots during the Corpus Christi festivities.
With the passing of time this cultural expression became rooted in several Cuban families. In the early 20th Century in Managüises, Matanzas, some 100 kilometres east of the capital, the Montalvo Brothers Circus made itself a name built on tradition.
The turning point for Cuban circus came in 1962 with the formation of the INIT Circus, when a blue four-mast tent was setup in the very center of Havana with space for all kinds of apparatus to dazzle the public and answer their questions. The circus toured all around the country with artists of proven excellence and style, and a flavour of family composition.
In their travels through cities and the countryside, the artists provoked sighs and ovations, awakening a longing for their return. Then in 1968 the cradle of Circuba was created with the opening of the National Circus.
The most significant event for the Cuban circus took place ten years later with the creation of an academy to multiply talent. The academy still exists to give Cuban youngsters access to vocational training by teachers, many of whom were trained by the artists of the former Soviet Union, at the time considered the best in the world.
Further strengthening of the circus art came in 1981 with the International Circuba Festival; a meeting event with highly competitive participants that won important awards in international arenas. After a hiatus that lasted several years, the festival reappeared in all its splendour in this century at the Havana Karl Marx Theatre, the largest in the country with capacity for 5,000 spectators.
What is that intense feeling that causes someone to set his or her will over reason and attempt to defy the law of gravity? On a trapeze, man seems to emulate the flight of a bird and we watch breathlessly as the trapeze artist repeats the aerial acts over and over again, controlling breathing, jumping and grasping at the precise moment.
With the The Flight of the Bird trapeze act, the Montalvo Brothers won the Gold Medal at the Young Arena in Paris, France, in 1989 and wrote the name of Cuba at one of the most famous festivals on the planet. Other venues and festivals of the world, including Moscow, Pyongyang (Democratic Korea) and Karlovy Vary (Czechoslovakia), also granted medals and awards to representatives of the largest Caribbean archipelago.
Collaterally with those awards, the Cuban circus has been rediscovered in Europe and other regions. More than a hundred artists have contracts in six European countries (Spain, France, Switzerland, Holland, Russia and Bulgaria). The Compañía Havana has an acrobatics act in the US Ringling Brothers Circus and nations like Japan,Venezuela, Mexico and Grand Cayman also request Cuban circus artists.
This year, the Silver Orange of the World Circus Festival of Valencia, Spain, was delivered to the Compañía Havana for the Flying Trapeze (Korean Style). In 2009 the young twin brothers, Los Fernández, won the Silver Acrobat Award at the Second International Circus Festival of Albacete, Spain.
The previous year, Los Ovalerys, the most recognized group of the season, won two precious awards: the Silver Lion at the 12th International Circus Festival of Wuqiao, China, and the Bronze Acrobat in Albacete, Spain. The Trío Andelille, with their unicycles, won third place in the Women’s Circus Princess Festival 2009 held in Stockholm, Sweden.
Cuban circus artists travel the world with their legendary passion and traditions reaping applause as they challenge danger in every show, reinforcing their well-earned reputation.