The world’s oldest continually touring circus called curtains on itself — for good — in rather anticlimactic fashion Sunday in Mexico City.
The Atayde Hermanos circus, founded in 1888 and playing to audiences all over Mexico ever since, shut down abruptly with a final performance that was only announced that very morning. The closure happened one month sooner than planned, in response to dwindling revenues and shrinking audiences after a citywide ban on the use of animals in circus acts was approved in June.
Opinions were divided over the law, with circus performers protesting in the streets, while animal rights groups welcomed the measure as a progressive step toward eliminating animal cruelty in Mexico — although other espectáculos públicos, such as bullfighting, are still legal.
The final Atayde Hermanos show took place Sunday at 8pm under a big top off a major thoroughfare in Colonia Portales, a lower middle-class district of Mexico City, 126 years after the first performances in Mexico.
According to Guinness World Records, the Atayde Brothers is the world’s oldest touring circus — although VICE News couldn’t confirm how long that listing will remain valid after this week. Originally, the Atayde circus planned to run its performances in Colonia Portales through October, but circus leaders said government propaganda about the new law was affecting ticket sales.
“There is a tendency in the world to oppose the mistreatment of animals — of course, no one’s in favor of that,” Federico Serrano, a spokesman for Atayde Hermanos, told VICE News after the circus’s last act. “In Mexico, it’s good politically to attack the most vulnerable sector that works with animals — the circus — and ignore the others where the real mistreatment is,” referring to Mexico’s protection of cock fighting and bull fighting held as important cultural events where animals are killed to declare a winner.
The show took off with performer after performer displaying their talents. Acrobats did flips on a giant swing. A clown impersonated Michael Jackson — which would be the less impressive of two Michael Jackson impersonations that evening, the other being that of a tiger.
The first animal trainer who appeared came dressed in a cliché-ridden “Arabic” costume, wearing a turban and leading camels and llamas by whip as they performed formations for the crowd.
“We came because it’s the last day,” said a man calling himself Carlos, 39, sitting before the show with his daughter Ximena. “I love the circus. I used to come when I was a kid. It’s a great tradition, and soon the animals will be gone.”