Circus Performer Juggles Met Opera Gig With Entertaining Park Crowds
UNION SQUARE — Martin Kalwill has got a lot of balls in the air.
The street performer, known for doing circus stunts in Union Square and Washington Square Park, also juggles a budding acting career doing commercials, voice-overs and theater gigs, including his current role as a royal guard for the American Ballet Theater’s "La Bayadere" at the Metropolitan Opera.
“I have multiple sides," said Kalwill, an Argentina native who lives in Prospect Park South. "The other day I was at Washington Square Park for hours hula-hooping while standing on my friend’s shoulders. Then I had to be at the theater from 1:30 to 10:30 p.m. I was really exhausted, but it’s worth it.”
The professionally trained circus performer was working so hard earlier this year that he hurt his wrist and was forced to take a two-month hiatus from juggling — but now, to the delight of his fans, he's back on the job.
Fresh off his recuperation break, Kalwill is drawing crowds in local parks as he juggles and hula-hoops while perched on a "rola bola," a wooden board precariously balanced on top of a cylinder.
“I’ve learned that you have to be smart about it,” Kalwill said. “You have to push yourself, but learn how far you can push yourself.”
Kalwill’s circus career began when he was 15 and he started learning acrobatics, trapeze and juggling in Argentina.
“When I was a kid, I was really small — I wasn’t strong at all,” said Kalwill. “When everyone was doing sports, I hated doing sports, but I noticed that if I ever dropped something I could touch it before it hit the ground."
After high school, Kalwill joined a small circus troupe in Argentina and then moved to Miami in 2000, when he was in his mid-20s. He did odd jobs there like making balloon animals for customers at a local restaurant while trying to build his acting career, he said.
When he moved to Brooklyn in 2007, he began performing in local parks, including Washington Square Park, Union Square and Prospect Park to make a little money on the side.
He usually squeezes in a few hours a couple times a week, but one day last March he juggled for nearly nine hours straight because money was particularly tight — and he wound up getting tendinitis in his right wrist.
“My girlfriend had just moved in with me and I wasn’t getting much work,” Kalwill said. “I needed to pay some bills, so I thought, 'I will go to the park and stay there until I have enough money.'"
Kalwill made $80 that day — just enough to pay some of his utility bills — but when he went to the doctor with wrist pain, his doctor told him to quit juggling for a while to give his limbs a rest.
Over the past two months, Kalwill stayed in shape by practicing juggling with his left hand, and this week he was thrilled to return to Washington Square Park to do his act in public again.
"I'm just trying to get back into shape little by little," Kalwill said.
The crowds that gathered around Kalwill appreciated his stunts.
“It’s pretty cool,” said 50-year old Staten Island resident Paul Mendoza, who had stopped with his 8-year-old son to watch Kalwill perform. “My son really enjoys this kind of stuff. He really likes the circus.”