Add another chapter to the long history of the Circo Price. Founded by the Englishman Thomas Price in the late 19th century, Madrid's best-loved circus got a permanent home in 1880. Two times a day for the next ninety years except for a prolonged break during the Spanish Civil War the Circus Price delighted adults and children alike with its jugglers, trapeze artists, and magicians. But in 1970, declining ticket sales and rising property values forced it to close, its theater sold first to a bank, and then to the Spanish government, which used it as the headquarters of the Ministry of Culture.
Thirty seven years later, Madrid has rejoined the ranks of cities such as Paris and Munich, that boast a permanent circus among their entertainments. Seven years of renovation have turned an old cookie factory not far from the Atocha train station into the new Teatro Price, home not only to a 1,900-seater single-ring arena, but also to exhibition rooms, a shop, and an archive, all dedicated to the circus. "It's the beginning of what we hope will become a center for production and creativity that will return dignity to the circus," Circo Price director Tato Cabal told a press conference earlier in the week.
Some acts, of course, are more dignified than others. Suso, an "avant-garde" clown, had the audience roaring in their red velvet seats for an act that involved silly noises, vomit, and one suddenly freed bra. But the daredevil feats of Danger Castilla a Moroccan tight rope-walking troupe given to jumps and double-decker bike rides on the high wire reduced even the kids to awed silence, As did the Chinese acrobats, the Norwegian magician, and the Russian trapeze artist.
The Price is not Cirque du Soleil, the world renowned arty avante-garde troupe from Montreal. One of the Price's most popular performances is a straightforward juggling act: eight performers, a bunch of rings and plates, and one Manuel Alvarez, considered one of the best jugglers in the world. For Alvarez, it was the first time in 22 years that he has performed in his home country. That kind of nostalgia runs throughout the Price, with its nine-person orchestra, its old-fashioned costumes, and its pretty dancing girls, ready to greet each change of act with high-stepping choreography.
Can a traditional circus survive among the video-game-playing, iPod-listening kids of today's Madrid? Just in case the answer is no, the Price Theater will supplement its circus performances with plays and concerts. But Sandro Roque, the circus's comedian, isn't worried. The 31-year-old began performing in circuses in his native Portugal when he was four. "People are hungry for the circus," he says with conviction born of experience. "In the past few years, a lot of unpleasant things have happened in Madrid. We're here to help them forget."