Working from dizzying heights without a safety net, María del Pino Papadopoulos Vaquero, who worked under the stage name of Miss Mara, was one of the best-known trapeze artists of the 1960s. Last week, after a lengthy illness, the star, who earned international acclaim for her high-wire artistry, passed away.
Of Greek and Romanian parentage, she was literally born into the circus while her family was on tour in southern Spain. Several of her brothers and sisters continue to work in the ring. She debuted at age five in Cartagena, by which time her natural abilities were already apparent. Possessed of great physical and psychological strength, Miss Mara developed a remarkable trapeze act in which she did most of her work swinging — not a very common presentation at the time. Her act included heel-catches, neck-hangs, and a heel-catch in full swing. In 1948, already one of Spain’s best-known circus artistes, she struck out on her own, working initially with one of the country’s most prestigious circuses, the Circo Segura. During her two-year stint with Segura, she fell, sustaining injuries that prevented her from performing for a month. In 1950, the US-based Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey contacted her, and she made her first appearance in the United States at Madison Square Garden, in New York.
Her performances were breathtakingly audacious, and held audiences captive wherever she traveled. She would finish her solo act with her famous heel-catch, which never failed to surprise audiences. But in September 1953, she suffered a serious fall. Doctors told her that she would probably never walk again. Six months later, after several major operations, she was once again on the trapeze, marking her return with a performance at Madison Square Garden.
She returned to Spain in 1957, and remained in Europe, working throughout the continent until her retirement in 1980.
Few circus artistes have matched her career, over the course of which she won the International Circus Oscar, Spain’s National Circus Prize, twice. In 2006, she was awarded Spain’s Golf Medal for the Fine Arts.
José A. Gallego García is secretary of the Clowns’ Club.