Inside the ruins of a beautiful, if decaying theatre from 1919, built in the beating heart of the historic district of Habana Vieja, more than two dozen children, girls and boys between the ages of 6 and 18, pursue their training in the circus art with perseverance and genuine enthusiasm, under the skilful and determined guidance of maestro Carlos. The only equipment available on the school premises, apart from the indispensable tools – few and jealously guarded – to perform the aerial, acrobatic and balancing acts is a piece of carpet… threadbare, frayed, of a faded green colour, but which is used by all as the precious carpet to perform the exercises on the ground.
Although the natural light of the hot Cuban sun only filters through the many holes in the roof, located four storeys higher, Carlos tells me that they are now all pleased to finally have an environment where they can practice every afternoon after nine years practising in parks and temporary spaces.
Behind a doorway in Havana
I had the privilege of discovering this magical and evocative place in November 2019 when I visited Havana on the 500th anniversary of its founding.
Inside those four dilapidated walls, I had a unique and enthralling experience. As soon as I crossed the threshold of the Escuela de Cirabana Circus the first time – because I came back there on two other occasions during my stay in Havana – I was pervaded by a sense of simple but overwhelming amazement, such that I immediately realised that the experience I was about to live was one of those stories that deserved to be told and shared. It was a small treasure, discovered thanks to a friend whom I will never cease to thank, that a tourist visiting Havana is unlikely to find out on his own.
Behind a decaying and anonymous doorway, as most of Havana’s doors are, between four peeling and crumbling walls, a unique spectacle was about to unfold before my eyes. The young circus performers slowly begin to warm up their muscles, each in their corner, some even with an instrument’s aid, concentrating only on themselves. After only a few minutes, however, they begin one after the other – I still don’t know whether by chance, by direction or by magic – to perform their numbers, followed and cheered on by Carlos and his assistants, some older and more experienced youngsters who patiently help as tutors the younger children. Then, slowly, the show begins with many unique and surprising scenes that, seen as a whole, complete and perfect the mother scene. I confess that on each of the three visits, there was always a sudden and disruptive explosion of passion, determination and dedication transmitted by those young circus wannabes as they tirelessly engaged in continuous contortions, acrobatics, evolutions and fluctuations.
L’Escuela de Cirabana Circus
Their passion, commitment and mastery in the execution of the exercises, as well as the collaboration between them, were real stage clothes worn by the young Cubans throughout the lessons, clothes that contributed in a certain way to making this experience even more spectacular and magnetic for me.
The Escuela de Cirabana Circus aims to offer all children and young people who love circus arts the opportunity to learn a discipline that allows them to express their skills and become circus professionals tomorrow, witnesses in the world of the fascinating art of the Cuban circus.