Arts and CraftsCultureFeature

Inside the Death Ball


19-year old Roberto Pérez revs up his bike, sending up a prayer to the Virgin of Guadalupe with each throttle. He asks her to watch over him during the Death Ball. His father, 37-year old Roberto Pérez, prays just as fiercely, but has a more practical request: he hopes that the turnout is good enough for the show to start.

They were both born under the tent of Latino Evolution, a circus that has been in the business of wowing people for the past 40 years. Latino Evolution was created by their ancestors, Olga Leticia Chinchilla and Rolando Pérez, who were also born under a circus tent. “During the 70s and the 80s, business was really good,” explains Ms. Olga. “There was no television or cable, let alone cellphones. People would come to the circus and enjoy all of the animal shows and the Death Ball.”

The circus “Circo Latino Evolution” has remained in zone 18 of Guatemala City for the past three months. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Rolando Pérez, 65, aside from being a professional clown and a talented juggler, boasts the title of being the precursor of the Death Ball. He says that he learned the act in Honduras and then installed it at his own circus. When his son, Roberto, turned 19, he taught him the number. “Courage and valor is what’s needed to get into the steel cage,” relates the circus family. That courage and show wisdom has been passed down through a couple of generations to the family’s grandson, Roberto.

Roberto Pérez paints his face to become “Guapayaso”, a name a fan gave him. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Nowadays, it’s young Roberto Pérez who risks his life on the motorcycle. He’s being doing it since he was only 10 years old. According to him, he fell in love with the Death Ball when he was just 9, and it only took him a year to pick up the courage and skill to make the number his own. “There’s a whole different world inside the Ball,” says the grandson. “You’re alone within the machine and you need to focus as much as possible to not wipe yourself out. It’s only four meters in diameter, and it’s made of solid steel. So, the smallest of details count. You need to have a small motorbike that’s capable of accelerating to its full capacity, and then just let gravity do its thing. The public admires me.”

In the Death Ball, there’s usually two bikes during the show, but one bike suffered a meltdown in Morales, Izabal. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Grandma Olga comments that, in the Circus business, you constantly have to renew yourself, and confesses that the Death Ball is their most popular act. In 2015, Guatemala City’s mayor, Álvaro Arzú, banned all circus shows involving animals. So, Latino Evolution stopped including “beasts” in their acts, and began looking for ways to keep themselves fresh. “It’s difficult to have a full house with each show,” admits Ms. Olga. “Between all of the sons, nieces and nephews, grandsons, grandparents, and workers, there’s about 40 people living under this tent. And we all depend on the Circus to make a living. So, the show must go on.”

Roberto Pérez ties his clown shoes before starting his show. Roberto has been a clown, musician, and juggler since he was 6 years old. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

There are 40 circuses in Guatemala, all of which travel throughout the country. Every day, they compete against cellphones, bootleg DVDs, rain, and each other to give their audiences the best show possible. “The circus is a spark that has to be kept alive so that it keeps working,” concludes Grandma Olga. “That way we can bring joy and wonder to the public.”

Roberto Pérez walks towards the tent to start the equilibrium show as Guapayaso. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

The show begins with acrobats on fabrics. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Tramoyeros hold the aerial show. In the circus, 15 workers build the tent and help with various tasks during the show. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

The crowd watches the show. Circo Latino Evolution gives a single performance from monday to friday, and six performances during the weekend. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Roberto Pérez Sr. plays the trumpet, channeling a character of his known as “El Payaso Titío”. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Roberto Pérez Jr. revs up his engine and warms his motorbike moments before beginning his show. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Roberto Pérez Jr. waves at the crowd before starting the show inside the Death Ball. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Roberto claims to be the only one in Guatemala that accelerates his bike to full throttle inside the ball. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

An assistant joins Roberto inside the Death Ball. Photo: Luis Soto/Comvite

Roberto thanks the crowd. The Death Ball is the last show of the evening for Circo Latino Evolution. Photo: Luis Soto.

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