The Federle Family at the Peruvian Circus

While the family was in town, Ivo was proactive enough to grab tickets for “La Tarumba: El Caricato”. Translation? Evidently, it was circus season in Peru!

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When I was younger, I remember going to Barnum & Bailey: Massive red tent, enormous crowd, the thick smell of about ten show elephants, and an overwhelming sea of children surrounding us waving $45 light sabers, etc. Yes, I adored every minute.

However, La Tarumba has a more intimate atmosphere. It has been around since 1984, and has slightly more artistic roots– it was formed by and for young theatre actors looking to do something new. Essentially, La Tarumba likes to play with emotion and memory; every act tries to manifest both into one of several compact presentations.

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After about three bags of popcorn worth of waiting, the show began! Although technically it was all in Spanish, the acts had minimal speaking- we probably only missed one punch line the whole night. This was mostly achieved thanks to two factors:

Number one, the orchestra was led by one of the most hardcore conductors on the planet. This guy, at maybe 60+ years old, for a solid two hours, directed and danced his way non-stop through every performance and set change. This man will live at least another fifty years doing aerobics like that on a regular basis.

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Number two, the performance was guided by two spectacular sets of “caricatos”, or jokesters: The flashy harlequins stayed prim, proper, and polished throughout; most of their acts involved balancing and mist. The traditional clowns disrupted the harlequins  (and several other characters) every chance they got, and generally three-stooged their way into everyone’s hearts.

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The coolest thing for me was the fact that the acts– while beautiful and fascinating– were not totally polished. For example, in the opening “skit”, the arena was flooded with mist, the lights were dimmed, and two harlequins stepped out. One knelt on a table that raised him above the mist, and his partner stood below, with a bucket of balls. It boiled down to a simple juggling act, but the acting and effects made you hold your breath. His concentration was tangible. And sure enough… the guy dropped a ball.

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I’m still dying to know if the ball drop was intentional. The thing is, the juggling was tense, but there weren’t any real consequences to the ball dropping. However, once you realize that mistakes are possible, when you start to see a bunch of acrobats trying to bike across a tight rope with no net, or a harlequin trying to ride a 15 foot unicycle with nothing below but his buddies to catch him… There were several slips too! At least three times someone fell or almost fell, and I’ve got to tell you, it looked pretty darn authentic.

At one point, a girl performing on a long metal pole (all acrobatics, I swear, but yeah, the image you have in your head is about accurate) suddenly slid down about five feet– the squeal of her bare thighs against the metal definitely still haunts my dreams: suffice it say… OUCH. Suspiciously, her act ended quite suddenly, with the band striking up a few seconds after the slip.

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Each act had a sort of theme. We saw a barbarian troupe, a group of Russian acrobats, cowboys and indians, and several ballerina-esque acrobats performing gorgeous, twisting acts on ropes and rings hanging from the ceiling. For the most part, the acts did their thing with minimal to no safety gear.

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The dedication of everybody involved was clear. These guys must live for circus season. I really appreciated the creativity and the contrast. After a few especially vigorous acts, towards the end of the show, there was a simple act that really pulled the audience back in. A single harlequin walked out into a foggy, blue-lit tent holding a huge handful of balloons. After looking around in silence for a few moments, he looked up and released them. The balloons untangled quickly and soared straight up and out through the hole at the top of the tent, forcing everyone to look up at the night sky and reminding us unequivocally that this was the circus.

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