When Circus Wants to Be a Poem: A Spotlight on Artist Juan-Carlos Panduro - StageLync

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When Circus Wants to Be a Poem: A Spotlight on Artist Juan-Carlos Panduro

More and more young circus artists are exploring the circus craft from new horizons, stepping into the ring with techniques borrowed from the full arts spectrum. Our latest Spotlight Award winner, Spanish hand balance artist and poet Juan Carlos Panduro, owns his voice as a creator—and, in this article, shares how melding our passions can widen the landscape of circus going forward.

It has been said that, as an art form, contemporary circus exists in an ongoing state of flux: it is an art that constantly reinvents itself, one that assumes ever-changing shapes and always offers spectators a glimpse at something new. The same thing goes for many of its rising stars. Every year, more young artists emerge from circus schools with a keen sense of who they are as creators and both the well-honed skills and earnest drive to share it with the world. Each one brings something new to the table. Each has their own take on what circus is, what it can do—and what they can do for it as they move through the next phase of their careers. Perhaps no artist exemplifies this idea better than Spanish poet and acrobat Juan Carlos Panduro.

Juan Carlos Panduro, a Spanish performer and hand balance artist, performs his hand balance act at the 2022 FIRCO festival
Juan Carlos, FIRCO 2022

A newly minted alum of Belgium’s Ecole Supérieure Des Arts Du Cirque (ESAC), 24-year-old Juan Carlos approaches the next stage of circus as a road with infinite paths, all of them well worth exploring. He kicked off his professional career early last month as a competitor at the Ibero-American  Festival, where he brought his hand balance act in front of audiences in Madrid… as well as jury panelist (and our CEO) Stacy Clark. Toying with the art of “balance,” he put a unique spin on his discipline with “el patio,” a display that landed him our CircusTalk Spotlight Award, given to an emerging artist whose work demonstrates courageous expression and whose performance is lauded for its social relevance, artistic and technical acumen, and audience engagement.

In talking with him, it becomes clear that Juan Carlos envisions his art in the way that somebody who wears bifocals reads a book: through dual lenses, through eyes that see as writer and performer at once. He brings the same thoughtful enthusiasm to the stage that he does to his poetry—and constantly sees new ways to bring seemingly disparate forms of art together and make both all the stronger for it.

We recently caught up with Juan Carlos to learn more about his act, his art, his future plans… as well as his predictions for the future of circus itself. Here’s what he had to share with us:

Carolyn Klein (CK): In just a few months, you’ve gone from studying at ESAC to winning a prize at a major circus festival. What has helped you to make the transition from school to stage so successfully?

Juan Carlos Panduro (JCP): It has been a very special transition indeed. To be able to go back to Madrid, where I started my circus training, and perform in a place as magical as the Teatro Circo Price having seen so many consecrated companies pass through that stage, and to be able to do it as the culmination of my academic journey… it all felt extremely cyclical, and a bit unreal, like closing an earring or signing a love letter. What’s more circus-y than a circle?

Acrobat Juan Carlos Panduro performs at FIRCO 2022
Juan Carlos at FIRCO

When I left school, I was chasing myself, wondering “now what? now what? now what?” in a sort of vertigo! But then I realised that what I really wanted to ask myself was “and now, why?” And for that question, there were plenty of answers in store. Then, of course, ending the festival by receiving the Circus Talk Spotlight Award was personally very meaningful and heartwarming.

CK: What performing opportunities have you had before FIRCO?

JCP: Since I was quite young, I have had the opportunity to be on stage thanks to Espacio La Rota, the amateur circus school where I started in Badajoz. And, of course, my years of training at both Carampa in Madrid and ESAC have brought me several performance opportunities—collective shows, personal projects, and/or festivals—that have helped me as a performer; however, none of these happened on a scale comparable to FIRCO, which undoubtedly marked a before and after point in my career as a circus artist.

CK: Tell us a little bit about “el patio,” your FIRCO act. How did you come up with the idea for it?

Circus show art print by Lydia Dimitriade
Print by Juan Carlos’ friend, artist Lydia Dimitriade

JCP: “el patio” was a piece that I created for my EXIT, or end-of-studies project at ESAC. The idea was to carry out a small creative project in which I could interconnect poetry and circus. In this way, the project experiments with the theme of intimacy, and more specifically, with the limits or non-places between the intimate and the public space. I was keen on the idea that every time we try to share something intimate, it loses its intimate quality and instead acquires a new dimension, a new place. Intimacy cannot be captured; it is like a fish that jumps between oily hands. And with those hands stained with oil and the smell of fish, I would build my patio.

I fell asleep once in my patio
And it was night and no moon had risen
And there, among the freshly cut rosemary
I decided to stay with my freshly cut hands
To give them away for love
Do you believe in that kind of stuff? -JCP

The “space” refers to the interior courtyards common in the houses of southern Spain, which are considered the heart of the home (i.e. the most intimate side) and yet are open to the outside (the most public side). On stage, “el patio” functions both as a shelter and a vitrine, and the spectator, from their side, accepts their role as receiver of the intimate from their own window. It also acts as a garden: in the space-patio, the flowers grow and live as a vertical and organic symbol, constructing a small universe that I link to my own circus technique, hand-balancing, to the manipulation and movement of the canes and to the corporeality that it presents.

CK: What are some things that inspire you as an artist?

JCP: family, friends, coffee, the sun, pretty boys, neo-popularismo, listening to copla and reggaeton, eating roasted peppers, holm oaks, horoscopes,
being told nice things, my mother telling me nice things, finding pleasure in the postmodern era, punk’s sweet side, inadequacy, love, detachment, care, vacuity, sex, solitude, linguistics, mythology, and pop divas
the fact that life is made up of two things: to wait and to desire
the fact that the intimate cannot be intimately told
when queer voices and bodies are listened to
flowers, Extremadura, my grandmother’s rice, good poetry, lists and, among other things,
circus in itself

CT: As a poet, how do you think poetry and the circus arts can complement one another?

JCP: What a good question! For me, there is a concrete meeting point between both disciplines. It is the way in which they use pure technique as a channel of creation and form as the final object.

Spanish hand balancer Juan Carlos Panduro performs at the 2022 FIRCO Festival
Juan Carlos

Circus language, like poetic language, functions and is structured as an end in itself; it can be sensitive, descriptive, emotional, physical, rational or irrational, confessional, critical, plastic… but it is always extremely powerful. I think, with circus, the point of a piece is not what it intends to say (i.e. a specific communicative or narrative goal), but rather, what it is, and what it says for itself.

There is a very poetic vision in all this. As Jaime Gil de Biedma said: “I thought I wanted to be a poet but in reality I wanted to be a poem.” I think that often circus also wants to be a poem.

CK: Who are a few of your favorite artists/poets, and what do you admire about them?

JCP: Oh, so many! The poets Anne Carson, Maggie Nelson, Ocean Vuong, Lorca, and Mariano Blatt, the singer-songwriter ROSALÍA, Director Pedro Almodóvar, DV8 Physical Theatre, or choreographer-director Dimitris Papaioannou come quickly to mind, for example.

Besides the uniqueness of their own personal aesthetics and the quality of their work, I think what I admire most about them is that they use their platforms to share their truth, each in their own way. They inspire me, without a doubt, to never forget the importance of identity, of one’s own history.

CK: What future projects are you most excited about?

JCP: I’m excited to be on stage! Right now, that is what I am most looking forward to: in addition to a writing project that is yet to be finished, I am dying to be on stage.

Having been shortlisted by the Spanish national committee for the 2022 Circusnext platform, I intend to start residencies with “el patio” and develop it into a medium to full-length piece, but I’m also excited to take on projects with other artists and companies as a performer. The goal is to perform as much as possible!

CK: As part of the next generation of circus artists, what do you this art form will look like 20 years from now?

“el patio”

JCP: My favorite aspect of circus is that it is still unbounded and constantly expanding, because this gives us creators an endless freedom and a certain responsibility both to and for the art form, as if making decisions about our own (circus) language does matter in the course and transformation of the medium.

The palette is getting wider and wider, and contemporary circus (I use the term here simply etymologically, to designate the circus being made at present) is increasingly taking on more unusual, peculiar, and yet wholly distinctive forms and content—these are exciting times to be a circus artist!

At the same time, I believe that we are heading towards a point of revalorization and dignification of circus within the wider performing arts world. Although it is true that this is already happening in some places, in others, like Spain (I give this example because everyone speaks from their own little window), we still have a long way to go… perhaps in 20 years, people will have circus on their lips again and, above all, the collective imaginary of our art form will have been recreated.

Lastly, I would like to mention all the active and critical voices being raised against the unjust and harmful situations and behaviours that exist in the academic spaces within our medium, because, by changing the system for the better, we also reshape the art in the same way. Thank you.


Want to see “el patio” for yourself? You’re in luck! In this video, those of us who missed FIRCO 2022 can watch Juan Carlos perform his version of the piece from ESAC. 

Poetry and official FIRCO images shared by Juan Carlos.
Carolyn Klein
Content Writer -United States
Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.

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Carolyn Klein

Carolyn Klein is a writer, poet, and circus fan from the Washington, D.C, area. Writing stories about the circus has been a dream of hers since getting introduced to circus fiction around 2014. She recently completed her B.A. in English and Creative Writing, magna cum laude, at George Mason University. As a new member of the Circus Talk journalism team, Carolyn looks forward to learning as much as she can about the industry and people behind circus.