Flying trapeze artists, daring motorcyclists and other stunning performers returned to the big top on Friday for the opening night of Circus Vargas at the Earl Warren Showgrounds.
From now through July 19, the historic Circus Vargus will present the show, “Mr. V’s Big Top Dream,” for audiences in Santa Barbara. The show tells the story of the circus’ founder, Clifford Vargas, through dance numbers, humorous dialogue and awe-inspiring performances.
The show features a variety of jaw-dropping feats, including performances from a talented contortionist, dazzling trapeze flyers and dancers. Friday’s performance prompted loud cheers from an audience that was eager to be back at an in-person event.
“This is the first activity we’ve done since everything (with the pandemic),” Danielle Naumann, a local resident attending Friday’s show, told the News-Press. She attended the event with her three-year old son, Kaeden, and her mother, Robin McKenna.
“I think (the circus) is really huge for the fact that we’re able to get together,” Ms. Naumann added. “Because before it was just me and my son, I’m a single mom. So we were just stuck in our home, and we couldn’t go to any parks, we couldn’t do anything. So now we are just able to finally get out there.”
Ms. McKenna, who also attended Friday’s show, added that being back out at in-person events feels like going from “clouds to sunshine.”
For Daniella Quiroga, the show’s talented contortionist, being back in front of an audience just feels right. The 18-year-old is the daughter of the show’s owners, Katya Arata-Quiroga and Nelson Quiroga, and she’s been a part of the show since she was a small girl.
On Friday night, she dazzled the audience with her graceful movements, which included shooting a bow and arrow with her feet.
“The audience is our main reason for working,” Daniella told the News-Press. “When it comes to the circus, that’s why we do what we do — it’s to entertain people, the people that come and watch.”
She continued, “So I just always hope that they enjoy what they see and that I’m giving it my best so that they’re getting the most out of what they come for.”
The circus is a family affair for the Quiroga family, who have owned the show for 15 years now. Over the course of those years, Circus Vargas has presented shows for thousands of audiences, keeping the legacy of Mr. Vargas alive every step of the way.
During a typical show season, the circus would travel throughout the western United States, presenting their show to audiences from the end of January through the start of December. But during the pandemic, the show’s performances were cancelled for nearly 15 months until crews started up performances last month in San Luis Obispo.
Taking a year and half off from performing prompted some nervous feelings from Mariella Quiroga, who is one of the trapeze flyers in the show. The 23-year-old has been performing in the circus for her entire life, living on the road and seldom staying in one place for more than two weeks at a time. While she was very happy to be back performing last month, she said it came with its fair share of nerves.
“I hadn’t been doing trapeze very often during the time off, so I was definitely nervous about getting back into it, wondering if I was gonna feel weird and tense again flying,” Ms. Quiroga told the News-Press. “There was kind of something in the back of my mind, wondering if everything was gonna work out.”
“But once the show actually starts and the lights come on, and you start working, it’s kind of like you get back into motion.”
In addition to the pandemic’s impact on performers, the circus itself ran into some financial hardship over the course of the last 15 months.
According to Ms. Arata-Quiroga, the show’s owner, the pandemic was “devastating” for the circus. For a few months during the COVID-19 crisis, she told the News-Press that was unsure if they would be able to open ever again.
But now that in-person shows are back, she’s hoping to give audiences the best show ever. “And thankfully, thanks to our loyal patrons, we were able to pull through, and now the only thing we can do is give them the best circus ever, the best show ever,” Ms. Arata-Quiroga said.
“And that’s what we’re aiming for.”
For more information on Circus Vargas, visit circusvargas.com. Tickets for the shows in Santa Barbara can be purchased on-site at the Earl Warren Showgrounds or purchased in advance on the circus’ website.