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The circus school with no big top

The starry big top where circus skills were taught  and artists performed.
The starry big top where circus skills were taught and artists performed. / SUR
  • The Pizarra circus school has set up a crowdfunding campaign to buy a new tent as the existing one is torn and no longer useable

Anthony Jones is at home when he answers the phone, wearing a corset and surgical collar due to the back injury he suffered a few days ago. He now has no choice but to rest for two months.

Anthony is a circus artist and teaches acrobatics, but he didn't damage his spine during the course of his work. He wasn't rehearsing an amazing balancing act when he fell five metres from the highest point of the Carpa de las Estrellas, the tent that is the headquarters of his educational and cultural project in Pizarra. In fact, he was unsuccessfully attempting to repair the large tear in the canvas which has brought all activity at his circus school, the Malaga Escuela de Circo (MEC), to a halt.

The association, which is non-profit-making, urgently needs a new big top if it is to continue bringing the art of the circus to the rural area of the Guadalhorce Valley. And the only way to get one is through crowdfunding.

The school has opened a campaign on goteo.org, hoping to raise at least 13,000 euros, which is what it would cost to buy a second-hand tent. "It would enable us to carry on as we have been for a while," say sources at the association.

However, the biggest challenge is to raise the 31,000 euros that a completely new big top would cost, as this would give them greater security in the long term and the possibility of growing further.

The canvas is beyond repair.

The canvas is beyond repair. / SUR

The tent they have had until now was third-hand, having been used previously by the Portuguese circus Safari and by Lauropark, says Anthony, and it has barely lasted four seasons. The sun, frequent use and its more than ten years of life have all had an effect.

This school put the big top up for the first time in 2017, on a site ceded by the local council. Pizarra has been associated with the world of circus since 2004, when it became the home of La Carpa de Pizarra, the first permanent circus tent in Andalucía to be funded by artists from the region. That is where Anthony Jones came to work, after completing his training in Barcelona.

"We wouldn't be here now if it were not for that project 16 years ago," he says.

The feeling of union and collaboration that project generated among the circus performers and companies that worked and lived there is still alive today. When Alfonso de la Pola, who runs Rolabola and the National Circus Prize, heard about the tent being ruined, he offered them a small one so they could carry on until they were able to acquire a new one.

Thanks to this and the use of the municipal sports centre, where they have installed the equipment needed for aerial exercises, Malaga Escuela de Circo has been able to begin the season with circus classes for children, juggling, acrobatics and poise, aerial acrobatics and 'batucada' drumming.

They are currently training 50 pupils of different ages, including some with special needs and groups of young people at risk of social exclusion.

Since they started, they have also put on more than 100 shows featuring local and international artists and organised conferences and even concerts. When the lockdown ended in the summer, they began a programme of Circus Evenings Under the Stars, with dinner and a show outdoors, which gave different artists and companies the chance to perform at a very difficult time for the sector.

There is less than a month to go before the crowdfunding campaign ends and so far they have raised around 5,500 euros. Everybody who contributes receives some type of reward, ranging from a three-month membership in return for a 10-euro donation, free tickets for shows, entries for draws with prizes which include circus equipment, right up to a private cabaret-style circus show in exchange for a contribution of 5,000 euros.

Malaga Escuela de Circo says that circus art is important, because it transmits "positive values". It teaches the importance of "effort, constancy, achievement, working as part of a team and accepting oneself and others". It is an optimum vehicle for personal and social development at a physical and mental level.

As the crowdfunding campaign says: "We are creating young stars. Please help us to fill our big top with them."