Performers fearlessly finish their Santa Barbara show
Circus Vargas defied gravity, inspired laughter and thoroughly entertained families on a great night under the big top.
The circus’ final night in Santa Barbara brought a large audience Monday. While it wasn’t a full house, it was an enthusiastic one during a show that topped the impressive opening night with even more comedy and thrills. The audience rewarded the troupe of acrobats, trapeze artists, dancers, motorcycle stunt drivers, a clown and others with a well-deserved standing ovation.
The circus had its first show July 9 at the Earl Warren Showgrounds, where it was originally scheduled to run until July 19. But it proved to be so popular that it extended its run until Monday night.
The San Bernardino County-based circus has long been free of animals, but paid homage to them with a puppet and cut out representing a tiger and a lion, as well as a snake prop. The tongue-in-cheek approach worked well throughout the night, as the circus never took itself too seriously, even though it proved repeatedly it could break the laws of physics.
The power of human achievement was shown in moments like a contortionist shooting a bow and arrow with her feet or a trapeze artist doing several somersaults mid-air.
The acrobats outdid themselves as they added stunts not seen on opening night. They leaped into the air, did somersaults and landed on places like, well, the top of a column of acrobats, each supporting those above them. Incredible.
An actor playing circus founder Clifford E. Vargas served as ringleader, interacting with the audience and playing the straight man to the clown, who wore just enough makeup to be a clown. The look was effective. He left the rest of his face unmade to allow for all sorts of facial expressions.
The clown’s best moment no doubt came when he lip-synched, in a very obvious way, to a song and found the spotlight running away from him. He ran furiously from one side of the tent to the other, often going into the audience areas, to stay in the spotlight. The poor guy, who kept singing, even jumped up and down to get into that uncooperative spotlight.
In the end, the clown had the last laugh over the spotlight, in a way that won’t be spoiled in case you see Circus Vargas elsewhere.
Throughout the night, the crowd laughed and was amazed, and children were on the edge of the seats, their attention fixed on that magical center ring where anything seemed possible.
It was a nearly flawless night. When one trapeze artist fell short of being caught and dropped safely on the net below her, she bounced a bit, then stood up with a smile. She raised her arm in triumph, as if to say, “Don’t worry about me; the show must go on!”
And it did. She climbed the rope ladder, and she and the other trapeze artists didn’t miss any other steps, catching each other, moving from one short bar to another and turning somersaults in the air. Talk about defying gravity!
Later two motorcycle stunt drivers did their own defiance of physics as they rode wildly inside a spherical cage, driving circles around each other. They safely exited, and the audience cheered.
This year’s circus featured an homage to the late Clifford E. Vargas, with the telling of his story and the passing of his baton to future generations. That story and the night as a whole showed that circuses are families, both figuratively and literally.
The contortionist was none other than Daniella Quiroga, an eighth-generation circus performer whose parents, Katya Arata-Quiroga and Nelson Quiroga, own the circus.
“I was 10 when my parents joined Circus Vargas. My husband was 19 when he joined Circus Vargas. We met at the circus,” Ms. Arata-Quiroga, a seventh-generation circus professional since she was 16, told the News-Press when Circus Vargas came to Santa Barbara.
The circus now heads for its Aug. 5-23 run in Temecula, where it will continue to inspire smiles in kids of all ages.