Moscow State Circus
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 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, acrobatics, contortion, 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. 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
he 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, 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 Ballets 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.