I have always been intrigued by what motivates people to do what they do for a living. Since I was a kid, I would always ask people “What are you passionate about? What do you think is your purpose in life? What is your raison d’être?”.
When I had the chance to do an interview, I thought of my friend Eleonora.
Eleonora hails from Parma, Italy. I have known her for years, and I’m a big fan of her art especially because of the positive impact she’s having in creating community and culture in Panama through circus and self-expression.
I couldn’t wait to talk to Eleonora about her origins, finding her purpose, and falling in love with Panama.
Julz: Eleonora, can you tell us about yourself? What do you do, where are you from… What brought you to Panama, and how long have you been a resident here? Please tell us the whole shebang!
Eleonora: Hi Julz. I’m originally from Italy, and when I was 14 my mom had to manage our small family business in Venezuela, so we moved from Italy to Caracas. I attended high school at the Italian school in Caracas, and then I met my boyfriend, Edwin.
He had family living in Panama, so we took a trip and fell in love with the country. We moved here a year later, and I’ve been a resident since 1999.
I’m a contemporary circus artist—I perform my own pieces and work as the artistic director of a collective called La Tribu Performance.
Our collective has a circus and dance studio called El Cuarto Rojo where we teach classes and workshops for adults and young people.
Julz: When we first met, you were a Communications major. What inspired you to transition to what you’re doing today? What made you think, “This is really what I want to do?”
Eleonora: While I was in Panama studying Communications at the university, I saw some Brazilian artists doing a circus show at the Panama Hotel and Casino. I fell in love with circus and started to practice aerial disciplines. I’ve always been a sports girl, but after trying aerial arts for the first time, I couldn’t stop and I didn’t want to do anything else. I auditioned for the National Circus School in London, and I got in.
In 2021, I got my Master’s Degree in Contemporary Circus and Choreography from the University of the Arts in Stockholm.
Julz: You’re really a pioneer in what you do in Panama. What do you think is the future of aerial suspension art in Panama?
Eleonora: La Tribu Performance is the first contemporary circus collective in Panama, and the first to introduce circus as a form of entertainment in the country.
Through our studio El Cuarto Rojo, we’ve taught many people through the years and some of them have become professional teachers, artists, and even part of the company.
I’ve directed the first lab for aerial arts—Panamá Aérea—for 5 years, and each year we’ve had at least 10 people from Panama in the lab and another 7 or 8 from other countries in Latin America and around the world.
We plan to host more events, festivals, studios, creation labs, and meetings so that more people benefit from our initiative.
The future is bright because there’s always something happening… but it would be even brighter with increased government support of the cultural sector.
Julz: I’ve seen La Tribu Performance’s evolution over the years. Can you tell us about your experience as an entrepreneur in Panama?
Eleonora: Truthfully, we started from zero… we were just playing at being artists.
We were several people living together and sharing a passion for circus, as a tribe.
At the time, Edwin and the guys did presentations for restaurants and discotheques for little money. Over the years people started to see that we were entertaining and clients asked for us. They started to see the necessity of entertainment inside their businesses, especially in a country where there’s nightlife from Monday to Monday.
We also did lots of site-specific events, adapting our art to the culture of the place where we performed. We always said “yes…” We never turned down a request.
My studies in Europe made the company more professional because I replicated the European model here.
The most difficult part was making the company legal. Artists don’t want to think about lawyers, documents, etc., we just want to be artists.
The hard work paid off, and today we work in many sectors of the Panamanian economy, including entertainment, commercial, corporate, tourism, education, and cultural.
Julz: Has your art profession helped you find community in Panama? In what way? What is the expat community like?
Eleonora: My job brought me close to lots of other expats. We have a lot of Panamanian students at El Cuarto Rojo, but we have the same number of expat students. Usually, people who practice artistic sports like to travel and have new and interesting experiences. I now have a large community of expat friends and students.
Julz: How did you come up with the idea of El Cuarto Rojo?
Eleonora: After completing my BA Hons degree in Contemporary Circus in London, I came back to Panama and realized that nobody was teaching aerial techniques. If nobody was teaching, nobody was learning.
We didn’t have a space for El Cuarto Rojo yet, so I started teaching classes from a gym where we could train. As time went by, more people wanted to join the classes, and we needed a place for La Tribu to train. In 2012, we founded El Cuarto Rojo as the first circus studio in Panama.
Julz: I’m curious if there’s a special visa program for Italians? If you have it, what was the process like? Are you a permanent resident?
Eleonora: Yes, there’s a special visa program thanks to an agreement between Italy and Panama. If I remember correctly, I got it because I was a student. It was very easy to get… I did the process myself and I was quite young at the time.
I’m a permanent resident with my ID card and all other legal documents.
Julz: What’s something you’re proud of accomplishing through your art career, or anything you’re proud of accomplishing while living in Panama? What has been your favorite project so far?
Eleonora: My best achievement here is being recognized for my artwork, and being able to earn a living doing what I like most. It’s hard, but I’ve been doing so for more than 15 years.
Every time I perform outside Panama and they ask which country I represent, I always say Panama, because my artwork was born and developed in this country that I love. And I’m very proud of that.
Julz: What do you hope to transmit through your art? What’s your message to a person seeing your performance for the first time?
Eleonora: I work with suspension, trash, and space. I think people who see my work think of transformation. Transforming materials, meaning, spaces, and reality, and looking at the world from another point of view.
My performance is very abstract and concrete at the same time, and I think it gives people the time to come up with their own interpretation of it.
I love that people come to me after performances to tell me what they saw… Their stories also become mine.
Julz: What’s your favorite thing about living in Panama? Can you share with us your favorite places and activities?
Eleonora: My favorite thing is that it’s always summer… I love hot weather. I live almost in front of the Panama Canal next to Miraflores Locks. I could go there 40 times a year and never get bored.
I love Panamanian people… They’re always happy. I love that there are parties from Monday to Monday, and that in the same country there are hundreds of natural spaces, mountains, lakes, beaches, and the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea so close to each other.
My favorite spot is Clayton, where I live. I like that it’s part of the Áreas Revertidas, the former Canal Zone. It’s a green area, full of parks and nice cafés. I love walking in the parks with my dogs or going for a run or walk.
I feel so close to the jungle. Sometimes from my balcony I see groups of 10 or 15 parrots flying together in the sky, and that’s so beautiful. I feel very connected to nature and sometimes I can’t believe I live here. I’m very lucky.
Julz: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to relocate to Panama and start a business or project?
Eleonora: Panama is a great country. It has so many beautiful things, but it’s also hard sometimes because the public health care system has many shortcomings.
There’s opportunity to start new businesses because everything is modern, Panama is in the center of the Americas, and multitudes of people visit every year.
If you love year-round summer, hot weather, and great natural spaces, Panama could be your paradise. It’s very affordable compared to many other places in the world.
Another plus is that there’s now a circus school.
To everyone interested in relocating here, come and have a look for yourself!
Julz: Eleonora, thank you so much for sharing your experience of living full-time in Panama with us. In closing, where can people connect with you and find out more about La Tribu Performance and El Cuarto Rojo?