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April 17, 2021 09:06 am

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Spectators at the circus during the performance of the clown O. Popov. Photo by A. Makarov. 1965 year. Main Archive of Moscow

For more than a century of history in the capital’s circuses, the forms of devices, artists and methods of work have changed, but not a round arena with a diameter of about 13 meters.

Since 2010, International Circus Day has been celebrated on the third Saturday in April. For the holiday, Glavarkhiv talks about the development of circus art in Moscow since the second half of the 19th century. The department stores documents, memoirs of masters, drawings and photographs, posters and programs.

So, the petition of the Moscow guild Petr Petrov for admitting him to the auction for rent or purchase of land for the establishment of a menagerie and places for gymnastic and equestrian exercises has been preserved. There are documents about the circus of Gaetano Ciniselli and Charles (Karl) Guinne on Vozdvizhenka. It was the first institution to have its own permanent building. A little later, almost simultaneously appeared circus of Albert Salamonsky on Tsvetnoy Boulevard and the Nikitin brothers’ case on Bolshaya Sadovaya Street. Interestingly, it was Salamonsky who had the idea to hold children’s Christmas performances with gifts.

The highlight of the circus programs of Albert Salamonsky and the Nikitin brothers were horse races with riders in costumes from different eras, accompanied by music. The performances of gymnasts, equilibrists, tamers and clowns also had success with the audience. Popular were also displays of “foggy pictures” with the help of a projection apparatus, as it was then called – a “magic lantern”.

The circus of Albert Salamonsky, which opened in 1880, was nationalized in 1919 and renamed the First State Circus. The same happened with the Nikitin brothers’ circus, which became the Second State Circus. The peculiarities of modern times are well traced in archival materials about the work of the clown Vitaly Lazarenko, the poems for which were created by Vladimir Mayakovsky.

The Glavarkhiv also contains materials about the trainer Vladimir Durov, who was engaged in scientific research in the field of the nature of animals and methods of their humane “upbringing”. He placed the animals in the rooms of his mansion, and left only a corner for himself. “I have never hit an artist,” Durov said about animals.

When the Great Patriotic War began, many Soviet circus performers joined the ranks of the Red Army. Those who did not leave their business performed as part of concert front-line brigades, raising the spirits of the soldiers in a difficult military situation.

Circus artists also took part in one of the most important cultural events of the 1950s – the VI World Festival of Youth and Students in Moscow. There are photographs that show students of the State School of Circus Art performing in front of the participants and guests of the festival in 1957. Now this educational institution is called the State School of Circus and Variety Arts named after Mikhail Rumyantsev (Karandash).

The second half of the 20th century in the history of circuses was remembered for charismatic artists, including Yuri Nikulin, Oleg Popov, Leonid Yengibarov, Irina Bugrimova, the Zapashny brothers and many others.

According to the documents of the Glavarkhiv, one can trace how the circus numbers were improved, new elements were introduced, tricks and performance programs were invented, the artists’ materials at hand were changed. For example, equilibrists now use hemp rope instead of metal rope. Only the round arena with a diameter of about 13 meters, which was invented by Philip Astley, a rider and owner of the English circus, remains unchanged.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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