Under the Tent With the Cuban National Circus

André Chung/FTWP

In 2017, I was teaching photojournalism at a photography workshop in Cuba. While exploring the small town of Matanzas, I stumbled into an old theater under renovation that was being used by circus performers as a practice space. I photographed them as they demonstrated feats of strength, balance and daring, glimpsing a culture that I wanted to know more about.

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

The performers at the theater were all graduates of Cuba’s circus school, which produces talent for Circuba, the national circus established in 1968, nine years after the Cuban Revolution. On another trip earlier this year, I went to the big tent in the Playa section of Havana that Circuba calls home. I photographed several shows and spoke with Marco Antonio Aguilera, who was overseeing the troupe that weekend. Aguilera, 29, described the performances as a mix of dancing and circus acts: “It’s not like Cirque du Soleil. It’s more like Cuban Soleil!”

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

Aguilera is also executive director of another troupe called All In Cuba, which performs in the same tent and is affiliated with Circuba, but is independent and unique. All In Cuba combines classically trained pros with devoted amateurs who don’t have access to the circus school but are still passionate about learning circus arts. Many of the performers in Circuba that I photographed that weekend are also part of All In Cuba and help train the amateurs.

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

André Chung/FTWP

“We are mixing the people that came from streets but have the talent to dance and also to do some circus acts ... with professional talents,” Aguilera explains. “We are showing to everyone that in the streets there is a talent that cannot be denied.”