Esta Pasando: Journeying to the Hearts of South American Circus with Miguel Manzano
From his first venture into the world of social circus, performer and creator Miguel Manzano has made it a mission to explore circus with as many people from as many cultures as possible. In this interview, he fills us in on the details of the Esta Pasando project, his undertaking with Craig Quat’s functional juggling movement to explore Latin American circus cultures from the ground up.
Born into a supportive, close-knit family, Miguel Manzano enjoyed a happy childhood in Alicante, a small city on the Spanish Mediterranean coast. Involved in artistic gymnastics from the early age of six, he later went on to earn a sports scholarship from the University of Alicante, where he combined his studies at the school’s Faculty of Architecture with work as an gymnastics coach and performing as an acrobat in different circus companies… and where he soon would come to discover the social circus movement.
“Being an acrobat opened the doors to a wonderful, immense world,” Miguel says, “and being able to share this way of life with others was my motivation during those years. At first, I did that through gymnastics, but I soon realized that competition has a very perverse side: it makes everything move without anything changing. At that moment, the idea that is now so clear to me was born: ‘Arts are the future sports.’”
Since taking the plunge head-first into the social circus world, Miguel has let that idea guide him in every facet of his work, from designing community circus schools to launching companies and teaching circus skills to those who might not otherwise get to learn them. He is continuallyfascinated by the different circus cultures he encounters onhis travels, from country to country, hemisphere to hemisphere. Along the way, he has become a strong ally and close collaborator of the functional juggling movement and formed a friendship with Quat Props founder Craig Quat. Their creative partnership, in fact, is part of what propels Miguel into his next adventure: Esta Pasando, a project that will document some of the vibrant living circus cultures across the South American continent.
We recently corresponded with Miguel to learn about his social circus background, his past projects, working with Craig, and the exciting future of Esta Pasando.
CircusTalk (CT): We’d love to hear more about your journey into social circus. Where did it begin, and where has it taken you since?
Miguel Manzano (MM): I discovered the social circus when finishing my architecture studies. At that time, I was quite active politically, and fascinated with participatory urbanism and the emerging community design in Spain. Some friends of mine were starting a social circus project and convinced me to join their school as a teacher— and, by the way, to design their circus school as my final project for university.
During the design process, I had the opportunity to study and apply circus pedagogy;, I was able to unite it with my background as a gymnastics trainer and unify it through architecture and social urbanism. That made me understand the possibilities of circus on a much higher level than I was used to. But above all, I found a community.
From that moment on, things moved very fast.
First, I started to share my project in different social circus forums throughoutin Europe, to collaborate with other circus schools. To train as a social circus pedagogue. To support the development of existing networks and to learn how the circus world works. I even created my own small dance/circus show company, LIBRADOS. Then, through an ad in CircusTalk, a Mexican company called Circo Dragon contacted me about runningELCIRCA, their professional circus school. It was a fascinating task: designing the curriculum, coordinating, researching, sustaining and creating a whole community ecosystem in the city of Guadalajara for a group of young artists to achieve their dreams.
Then the pandemic struck. That caused me a lot of mental and emotional stress, and made me return home to Spain. ELCIRCA had to close, too, and so I resigned myself for a year to being an “architect.”
However, during those months of isolation, I had the opportunity to talk with Craig Quat of the Quat Props Project about the needs and potential of the circus community, sharing ideas and building a vision for the future. The basic idea was this: to collaborate with the Quat Props Latin American Tour and propose a parallel project that seeks to raise awareness of the circus in this area of the world, showing the potential of the circus as a social transformer and generating new networks—new ways of understanding the circus worldwide. This process took me out of my comfort zone and gave me the strength to pull myself together.
I didn’t know how long the pandemic would last, but I knew I wanted to prepare myself with as many new tools and partnerships as I could before starting the journey. So, other jobs appeared: designer of circus scenographies, consultant for emerging circus schools, social circus teacher, some performances, and my last job, where I worked for the Spanish Federation of Socio-educational Circus Schools (FEECSE); the Spanish Federation of Professional Training in the Art of Circus (FEFPAC); and CircoRED, the federation of circus professionals in Spain, to design a legal itinerary for regulating circus training in my country as well as regulating professional profiles, in the face of the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Culture.
Now, I am writing this from Montevideo, on my way to the circus convention in Uruguay. I am beginning a two-year journey, where we will explore the circus in Latin America: Esta Pasando.
CT: What were the most inspiring circus projects in your life so far?
MM: There have been three projects that have marked my life so far. The first one was Donyet Ardit, the circus association of my home city, Alicante. My first circus community. With them, I was able to discover the potential of circus as a tool for transformation by being a circus teacher in one of the city’s slums, working with gypsy children, immigrants, and those at risk of exclusion.
That was my inspiration to carry out my final project as an architect: the Integral Circus Laboratory. It was a year of research and unifying two concepts: participatory urbanism and circus pedagogy. The project consisted of rehabilitating an abandoned site in the center of the slum where we gave circus workshops. But in order to do so, we would do it in the long term, generating community links through the circus. We would start with community circus classes, making props from recycled materials, and that would evolve into a project of constant transformation, where the participants themselves would build the apparatuses and, the spaces and organize the events. The last phase of the project would consist of a large laboratory for the research and development of new circus languages, offering professional training to young people in the neighborhood not only as artists, but also as carpenters, welders, designers and cultural managers.
Another important project, in my life and to this day, has been ELCIRCA: The Latin American School of Circus and Arts in Jalisco. Here I was able to really apply everything I imagined to my final project. The school had three pillars: a professional school, a recreational school, and a social project. The professional school consisted of a three-year university program where students would prepare themselves to become circus professionals. There were classes in technique, but also in creation, nutrition, anatomy, business management, the anthropology of art, etc. We made six creations a year and the students had to be responsible for the whole process, from designing the lights, costumes and makeup, to the commercial and economic portion. It was a self-managed project where each student learned to take responsibility for their work, not only as an artist, but also as a manager. (some videos: 1, 2, 3, 4)
The recreational school was a community circus project. Many students of the professional school were the teachers at this school. This was the fundamental economic pillar, because in a few months, we managed to have a large community of students, especially families, who discovered in the circus as an activity that they loved. We had ELCIRCA KIDS and ELCIRCA SKILLS, and each arm focused on a different audience, depending on their age.
Finally, the social project allowed us to network with other groups, mainly with the indigenous population and associations that work with functional diversity. We applied the techniques of functional juggling in various clinical spaces and achieved a lot of impact in the state of Jalisco. (video: 1; more pictures: 1,2, 3)
CT: Describe the Esta Pasando project in one paragraph. What is the main goal and purpose of the Esta Pasando project? In other words, what were the needs in your community that made this project idea evolve?
MM:Está Pasando is a project that collaborates with the Quat Props Latin American Teacher Training Tour to immerse itself in circus communities. Thanks to this opportunity, we want to make known the different forms of expression, organization, and transformation that circus represents in Latin America. The ultimate goal is to weave a network of artistic, pedagogical, and community projects throughout the continent and generate links with other parts of the world. We will map circus in Latin America through inclusion.
CT: What was the inspiration for the Esta Pasando project?
MM: Much of my professional journey has been thanks to the circus networks that have been forming in Europe over the last 30 years. These networks, which started as informal circus gatherings, training spaces and small local associations, ended up shaping the contemporary circus sector. Projects such as FEDEC, EYCO, Caravan, and even CircusTalk are the answer to a very clear demand: in the absence of institutional support, the circus sector has generated networks for the exchange of information, talent and opportunities. All this in a self-managed way. It is collective intelligence.
My inspiration is to expand that network and include a large part of the sector that is not being made visible. From my time in Mexico, I was able to see firsthand the great talent that exists in the Latin American circus. Its roots are different, but its ability to transform and adapt has made it a unique form of expression in the world. We all know great Latin American artists:; students who pass the selection processes of the most important schools; collaborators and project managers all over the world—, but where do they come from, where have they learned, what is their vision?
Giving voice, recognition and visibility to this part of the circus sector will be fundamental for the new challenges of contemporary circus.
CT: Tell us about your partnership with Craig and how the two projects (QuatProPs and Esta Pasando) complement each other.
MM: I met Craig at a meeting organized by the association ACIRKAOS in Menorca in 2017. We quickly became close friends. The truth is that meeting him changed my life; I was very inspired by his way of understanding circus and all the possibilities that emanated from that vision. Since then, we have shared long reflections on the future of circus.
In 2019, when I was in Mexico directing ELCIRCA, I tricked Craig into leaving Europe and continuing the Quat Props project on this side of the world. Thus began the Quat Props Latin American Tour, which was interrupted in 2020 by the pandemic. During the pandemic months, we found a way to make their Tour much more impactful: Está Pasando.
Basically, we took advantage of the way Craig manages the seminars, always adapting to the economic possibilities of each community. In return, we ask for lodging and per diems, usually in the homes of the community itself. This allows us to get into the heart of each place, to get to know the artists, the managers, festivals, etc., and thus be able to understand their models, pedagogies, and ways of training and organizing.
Quat Props opens the doors, and Está Pasando tells the story.
CT: Tell us in more detail about the tours, the locations, and the communities that you will visit.
MM: In order to deliver the tour, I will be partnering with Iskándara Chat (@josefaiskandara). She is a great street artist, has been a traveler for years. She is the person who knows the whole community. Throughout her career she has worked in different shows and organized several circus conventions in South America, and she also performs as a traffic light juggler. She took over the Quat Props Project in Latin America during the pandemic, and we will be traveling together to deliver seminars and document the cultures. None of this would be possible without her.
We will divide the project into two phases. The first phase will consist of driving with a van, “La Cosmica,”, from Argentina to Colombia, passing through Chile, Peru and Ecuador. You can see the whole route in this link. When we finish that first phase, which will last about a year and a half, we plan to take a short break to evaluate the experience. Then, we will continue the journey downwards into: Colombia, Bolivia, Paraguay, and the center-south of Brazil, and then return to Argentina. This second phase is still open;, anything can happen from now until then.
During this trip, we will visit more than 46 cities, each of them with a myriad of circus communities: artists, schools, social projects, and festivals. We don’t yet know for sure the scope of the project, but we are very excited to discover and share it!
CT: Who are your partners in this project?
MM: So far, we have a long list of partners, which is growing every day. One of them is CircusTalk, which is sponsoring the production of a four-part documentary series, featuring the circus cultures of Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia.
We have established relationships with other actors such as the Circus Federations in Spain, and many local projects, especially circus schools. We have also proposed projects to do with the social circus network Caravan, Performers Without Borders, CIPAC, and FIRCO.
One of the projects with which we feel most deeply entwined is the “Cartografías de Circo” or Circus Cartography project, which is creating a map of circus projects in Latin America, with the aim to generate a network of collaboration between the various schools, companies, festivals and other agents within Spanish-speaking countries.
CT: How will the wider community be able to stay in touch and learn about the project as it unfolds?
MM: To learn all about the project, you can follow us on our different platforms. On YouTube, we will be generating (mainly Spanish-language) content, such as interviews, visits to circus projects, roundtables, and other audiovisual documentation.
On our Instagram (@estapasand0), we will be making a more immersive experience of the trip itself through videos, photos, details, reflections, and some Instagram lives.
In Cartografías de Circo, we will publish a Spanish-language article each month with our reflections, findings, and all project updates.
Finally, you will be able to follow all of our events and read a monthly article on our CircusTalk Esta Pasando page. In addition, we will be making a 30-minute video documentary summary for each country that will be published on CircusTalk.
We are still working to confirm new collaborations with other media, magazines and institutions. If you are interested in collaborating with us, contact us.
Also, you can make a donation through Buy Me a Coffee to support the project directly.
Esta Pasando: it’s happening. Now.