Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Greatest Show on Communist Earth

Zapashny Brothers' circus show 'Camelot'

A friend bought a house that had apparently been owned for many decades by the same person or persons. Among other things, this house contained old books and publications. One of these is entitled “World’s Most Exciting Spectacle! Russia’s Great Moscow Circus.”

The souvenir program cost 50 cents. The Circus was presented in the US as a result of a formal cultural exchange program between the two governments that would bring the “aristocracy of the American circus” to Moscow later in the year. 1963 was the first time the Moscow Circus has come to the United States. The Moscow Circus was presented by F.G. Bardian who, the pamphlet explains, was in charge of all of the circuses throughout the Soviet Union. A few facts, as described by the Russians: there were 80 circuses in the Soviet Union, a Moscow Circus School (founded in 1926), and more than 7,000 Russian circus performers.

The pamphlet puts special emphasis on the international reputation of its top clown, bear trainer, “football playing canines,” high wire walkers, acrobats, stilt jumpers, gymnasts, artistic acrobats, juggling strongman, and Cossack horse riders, etc. There’s something competitive about the Moscow Circus. Perhaps circuses are by nature competitive, or perhaps its only socialist insecurities that made it so. The brochure advertizes Russian tourism. According to the country’s official travel bureau, Intourist, is “the most intriguing and stimulating country in the world today.” Intourist offers Americans a choice of “100 fascinating tours.”


  1. I actually saw the Moscow Circus, in Moscow, in 1988 with Intourist. I remember the trapeze acts as breathtaking (literally) and the animals as sad and ragged-looking. When I had my photos developed, most of them centred on the shiny bald pate of the man sitting in front of me. Sometimes I think that's still my dominant image of the Soviet Union: a big bald head obscuring performers who don't really want to be there.

  2. Cool. And guess what? I just learned that the Moscow Circus is comming to my community college February 30th. I'm definitely going!