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Circus makes temporary home in Roswell

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Juno Ogle Photo Aldo Portugal, center, reaches for the trapeze bar held by Wili Portugal, right, Friday morning under the big top of Do Portugal Circus at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair grounds. The circus and its 12 families of performers and crew have been at the fairgrounds since March 9, when they arrived in Roswell to perform.

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The big purple and white tent at the Eastern New Mexico State Fair grounds wasn’t supposed to still be in Roswell.

By now, the Do Portugal Circus expected to have been in Albuquerque, then in Colorado and moving east throughout the summer.

Instead, the coronavirus pandemic shut them down, before they could perform even one show in Roswell.

The family-owned circus arrived in town on March 9 and began setting up for shows that weekend.

“The fire marshall came, the city inspectors came. In the morning they said ‘You’re good to go,’ but in the evening they told us they were not going to be able to give us the permit because of the statement of the governor,” Damian Portugal, manager of the circus, said.

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That was the March 11 executive order from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declaring a health emergency that shut down non-essential businesses.

Portugal said the fair board and staff was quick to respond, allowing the circus to stay on the grounds as long as needed, using electricity and water for their tent and the recreational vehicles housing the 40 to 45 members of the circus.

The community has responded as well, Portugal said. Harvest Ministries, 601 N. Main, reached out to the circus.

“They are hooking us up with help when they can,” Portugal said.

In return, some of the women of Do Portugal helped the ministry by sewing face masks from material the ministry provided.

Roswell Community Disaster Relief Services has also provided assistance, including bringing 20 pizzas from Domino’s this week as part of a company initiative to provide food for people during the pandemic.

Those efforts have been greatly appreciated since the circus is not able to bring in money through performances now, Portugal said. The circus does have some money in savings since they were performing for a couple of months before the pandemic, he said.

They usually take a break from traveling in December wherever they happen to be and start up again at Christmas. Otherwise, they travel year round in the U.S. and Central America.

During the unexpected break in Roswell, the performers, crew and their families have been staying at the fairgrounds except for an occasional trip to buy food or other supplies in town, observing recommended safety practices like only one family member going to a store, Portugal said.

That doesn’t mean it’s been a vacation for them. The performers practice their acts daily, usually starting around 10 a.m. while it is still cool. As the temperatures heat up, however, they might start earlier in the morning or wait until evening, he said.

Portugal, who at 25 is the fourth generation of his family to lead the circus, also is the catcher on the trapeze, performs in a motorcycle act and “does a little bit of everything,” he said. Friday morning, though, he watched as several of his cousins practiced.

“We want to stay fit, so as soon as the government lets us work, we’re going to work,” he said.

Although they appreciate the help from the community, they will be ready to perform, Aldo Portugal, 20, a trapeze performer and clown, said.

“We say a thing in Spanish: It feels like a ring, because we are really comfortable here. We have water, the church has been bringing the food and we are really comfortable. We are just anxious to perform again,” he said.

“I’m having a lot of free time, like five hours of free time” a day, Aldo Portugal said. “I’m not liking that part.”

Damian Portugal said once they are allowed, they will perform their planned shows for Roswell.

In addition to the trapeze, the circus features juggling, balancing and motorcycle acts, and, of course, clowns.

“We don’t mainly focus on just one act. We try to make all our acts as good as the last one,” he said.

They haven’t had animals for about five years, as many of the countries they perform in have banned animal acts from circuses.

City/RISD reporter Juno

Ogle can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or reporter04@rdrnews.com.

 

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