Circus of the Alley
Sao Paulo, Brazil
By Nacho Doce
A few days ago I ran into Brazilian muralist Kobra in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Vila Madalena. He told me that in that same city square where we were standing in front of his graffiti, jugglers gather every Monday night.
So the following Monday I headed to the square at around sunset, and found them exactly as Kobra had told me – a group of jugglers in the middle of the square surrounded by and covered with graffiti. Before I even took out my camera I asked one of them if he expected more to arrive. “Uyy,” he answered. “In about an hour this place will be packed.”
I was about to experience what’s known as the Circo do Beco, or Circus of the Alley.
They began to play music, which to my delight was the same music I listen to by choice. Just the sounds of Manu Chao, one of the founders of the now defunct Mano Negra band, and Brazilian singer Criolo, made me feel at home. Meanwhile, more people kept arriving for the art of magic, and I took out my camera and discreetly began taking pictures. I didn’t want to interfere with their juggling.
I noticed children with their mothers learning to juggle, and I couldn’t help smiling behind my camera.
Something beautiful was happening – nobody asked me my name or what I was doing there for at least the first hour. Usually I’m questioned about what the pictures are for, where I work, if they’ll appear on the Internet, etc. Here it was all laughter and lively chatter accompanying their juggling.
Suddenly I discovered that there were several people around speaking my own native tongue, Spanish, and I realized that a number of the jugglers were Argentines and Colombians. I stopped to take photos of a group of them and they commented that they had been working in a plaza in Barcelona, but that the crisis there forced them to leave. The immigrants said that due to the crisis, Spain’s youth are pessimistic and stuck in time. I answered that life is made up of cycles, and that it’s now time for the Spanish to emigrate towards Latin America.
These artists who had been illegal immigrants in my country, had found in Sao Paulo’s alternative Circus of the Alley a way to meet new friends and, through conversations and learning experiences based on juggling, new paths for their lives.
At one point I wanted to take some shots from high up, but the only tall thing around was a basketball hoop. I asked for help to be boosted up, and I sat precariously on the hoop, trying not to fall.
I could see so many people around, with none of them even noticing me, and I felt like a ghost observing the joy of that weekly encounter of street jugglers and circus artists.
It struck me that I didn’t want to ask for their individual names. It seemed wrong to personalize the picture captions because what I wanted to produce was a story in tribute to them as a group.
One of those I spoke to works for a salary in a real circus, and explained that he comes to the Circo do Beco because it was here that he first learned to juggle seven years ago. He learned here and parted from here to a professional circus, but makes it his ritual to return every Monday.
He said, “Here, there is no difference between the best and the worst of jugglers. This is an encounter where we share our tricks, meet new people, and spend a few hours laughing together, in other words enjoying our street art.”
I can’t stop thinking of the look on one kid’s face as a juggler taught him tricks. That picture says it all about the future of many kids at this encounter.
The final moment arrived, when my last picture was of a juggler and his hula hoop in the perfect farewell image. That was my magical photograph.
With great sorrow I watched them say goodbye with embraces and head off toward their separate homes. I was also grateful for having experienced those moments, and when I reached the bus stop I came across two of them talking to the driver, saying very politely that they didn’t have the fare to ride. The driver shook his head no, and I touched one of their shoulders and invited them to ride with me. I paid and handed them their tickets. I could only think that if the jugglers had been more aggressive, the driver probably would have let them ride simply out of fear.
A newspaper columnist recently wrote that while Rio has its symbol in Christ the Redeemer, Sao Paulo’s symbol is it street art, making it one great open-air museum.