The title “Moscow State Circus” is used for a variety of circuses. Most commonly, it refers to one of the two circus buildings in Moscow, the “Circus Nikulin
” (the old circus, featuring animal acts) and the “Bolshoi Circus” (the new circus, featuring trapeze and acrobatics), or to traveling shows which may or may not be directly related to Russia.
The Russian Circus rose to world acclaim during the Soviet
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....
period, when acts from many Russian circuses united to tour the United States under the title, “The Moscow Circus.” During this time, the circus, which was already important became an even more prominent piece of culture, and a point of pride. Russian Circus traditions include clowning, juggling
Juggling is a skill involving moving objects for entertainment or sport. The most recognizable form of juggling is toss juggling, in which the juggler throws objects up to catch and toss up again. This may be one object or many objects, at the same time with one or many hands. Jugglers often refer...
Acrobatics is the performance of extraordinary feats of balance, agility and motor coordination. It can be found in many of the performing arts, as well as many sports...
thumb|upright|Contortionist performingContortion is an unusual form of physical display which involves the dramatic bending and flexing of the human body. Contortion is often part of acrobatics and circus acts...
, and animal acts (especially bear acts, such as bears who juggle with their feet).
Stylistically, the Soviet circuses were different from their Western counterparts. Their acts were more focused on Eastern European culture, and tended to hold more narrative and be more dance oriented than their bespangled, action-packed contemporaries. This narrative style has recently become more popular with shows worldwide, with shows by companies including Cirque Dreams and Cirque Du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil , is a Canadian entertainment company, self-described as a "dramatic mix of circus arts and street entertainment." Based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and located in the inner-city area of Saint-Michel, it was founded in Baie-Saint-Paul in 1984 by two former street performers, Guy...
The Moscow Circuses, like many other institutions, were nationalized in 1919, and then, in 1957, run by the Soyuzgoscirk, the Centralized Circus Administration. In 1929 with the creation of the Moscow Circus School, the USSR became the first country in the world to operate a state-run circus training facility. At the Soviet Circus’s peak of popularity in the late 1980s, students at the Moscow Circus School trained for 20 hours every week in various disciplines, and upon completion of training, the young men were required to enlist (though they worked in an entertainment division of the army); women were welcomed, but not required to serve. Despite the work, approximately a thousand individuals auditioned for the 70 spaces in the school; life as a performer with the Circus was almost as good as being a government official. Artists performed nine shows each week, delighting over 70 million citizens per year, and were guaranteed retirement benefits, childcare for children over one year old, maternity leave, the ability to travel, and in special cases were awarded luxuries, like nicer housing, normally restricted to the political elite. One such performer was the famous clown Oleg Popov
Oleg Konstantinovich Popov is a famous Soviet and Russian clown and circus artist. Popov is also called the "Sunshine clown".He was born on 31 July 1930 in Moscow, the son of a clock-maker. He studied elements of acrobatics, juggling, and other circus skills in his youth...
, who was awarded the title of “People’s Artist of the USSR”.
Like their American contemporaries, the Communist government saw the circus as the people’s entertainment. Officials considered the circus to be culturally on par with the Ballet Russes or Tchaikovsky, but was much more affordable, and therefor more proletarian, at only about five dollars per ticket. The Soyuzgoscirk established seventy circus buildings across the USSR, and entire towns would turn out to see the shows.
Style and Politics
Since these well attended shows often ran for four hours and were run by the government, they became outlets for Soviet propaganda. Instead of several rings, the Moscow Circus had only one (as was traditional) and the acts told stories, proverbs, or folk legends.
One such act was the “Cranes
,” a flying trapeze troupe. The “Cranes” were named after and themed by a song
depicting fallen Soviet World War II soldiers who fly up into the sky as cranes, instead of being buried in the ground. The show, set to classical music, focused on the story being told, rather than on the incredible display of skill. One of the performers threw a “quad” (4 backwards rotations before being caught by the catcher), an impressive and incredibly rare trick, which would have been the focus of the act in any other kind of show; nevertheless, the performer said that the most important part of the act was the way the it was an aesthetic experience. He said it was not the individual skills, “but the simultaneity of our aerial gymnastics and the psychological effectiveness of our acting, all of it working together to move an audience...other circuses have first-rate performers, but we do something special — each act creates a small vignette. These are playlets that give spectators not only the flavor of our life, but also reveal the soul of Soviet man..” Aesthetics were very important to the Soviet circus, and every acrobat received formal ballet schooling.
In many respects, the shows resembled American shows of the day: they had parades and a spec, their clowns wore red noses and silly hats, their shows were full of big cats and Liberty Horses
. This commonality fostered a sense of international community. One man credited the “peace caravan of circuses,” which traveled through the streets of many cities, including Paris, Warsaw, Prague, and Berlin, with “contributing to the [Berlin] Wall’s removal.” He continued, “For a brief period in 1989, the clowns became the leaders, crossing cultural and national borders, celebrating the end of the Cold War before it was declared over by official parties.”
The Great Moscow State Circus
is an auditorium in Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...
located at the Vernadsky Prospekt. It was opened 30 April 1971. It can seat up to 3,400 people and the height of the amphitheatre
An amphitheatre is an open-air venue used for entertainment and performances.There are two similar, but distinct, types of structure for which the word "amphitheatre" is used: Ancient Roman amphitheatres were large central performance spaces surrounded by ascending seating, and were commonly used...
is 36 metres. Performances are held each day in the afternoon and evening.
The circus building has 5 arenas (equestrian, water, illusionist, ice rink, and light-effect), located 18 metres below the floor, which can be swapped during the performance.
Initially the circus building was merely a performance venue. In early 1990s its own company was formed. It is headed by Leonid Kostyuk, a former circus artist and equilibrist. The former organiser of circus
A circus is commonly a travelling company of performers that may include clowns, acrobats, trained animals, trapeze acts, musicians, hoopers, tightrope walkers, jugglers, unicyclists and other stunt-oriented artists...
es in Soviet Russia was Soyuz Gost-Cirk (loosely translated as Russian People's Circus). Under the Soviet regime, there were over 70 circus buildings in the Soviet states, as well as a specialist training-school system. Thousands of performers worked for the circus organisation. They were all State employees; salaries were not high in comparison to the West, but employment was secure, and equipment, costumes, travel and accommodation were all provided, as well as a pension upon retirement.
The present company employs several hundred performers and tours as the "Great Moscow State Circus".
The Moscow State Circus is a state-owned enterprise. The circus organisation was threatened by the dismantling of the Soviet Union, and by some performers' inclination to seek better-paid foreign contracts. In June 2007, an attempt to privatise the building was initiated, strongly opposed by company director Leonid Kostyuk, among many others. Eventually President Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin served as the second President of the Russian Federation and is the current Prime Minister of Russia, as well as chairman of United Russia and Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Union of Russia and Belarus. He became acting President on 31 December 1999, when...
eliminated the building from the list of state properties to be privatised. A large number of artistes now belong once again to the State system.
The same name has been used for tours by circus companies selected from Russian resources to appear in the West. The first such tour was in 1956, when the Moscow State Circus amazed audiences in Paris and in London. The title is now owned and used in the UK by a touring circus owned and run by the Entertainment Corporation. This promotion of the Moscow State Circus started in 1995, taking advantage for the first time of the newly post-Soviet freedom of individual artistes to agree to terms and travel abroad. The current circus production consists of a cast of twenty-five performers, including clown
Clowns are comic performers stereotypically characterized by the grotesque image of the circus clown's colored wigs, stylistic makeup, outlandish costumes, unusually large footwear, and red nose, which evolved to project their actions to large audiences. Other less grotesque styles have also...
A trapeze is a short horizontal bar hung by ropes or metal straps from a support. It is an aerial apparatus commonly found in circus performances...
artists, aerial acrobats
An aerialist is an acrobat who performs in the air, on a suspended apparatus such as a trapeze, rope, cloud swing, aerial cradle, aerial silk or aerial hoop....
, jugglers and contortionists. The next tour entitled 'Babushkin Sekret' starts in April 2011 which is based on the Russian legend of The Twelve Chairs
The Twelve Chairs is a classic satirical novel by the Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, released in 1928. Its main character Ostap Bender reappears in the book's sequel The Little Golden Calf.-Plot:...
- Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard
Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoi Boulevard was the only circus in Moscow between 1926 and 1971 and still remains the most popular one. The circus building was opened on 20 October 1880 as the Solomonsky Circus. Known by a variety of names during the Soviet period, the troupe was awarded the Order of Lenin...
- Continental Circus Berlin
The Continental Circus Berlin is a touring circus featured in the UK and presented by the European Entertainment Corporation during the summertime.The Continental Circus Berlin also goes under the shortened name of Circus Berlin....
- Also presented by the Entertainment Corporation