Last Wednesday evening, one of the seminary students named Joseph, James Kim and I went to the a circus. It is called the "Great Moscow Circus on Vernadsky Avenue" and was built under the reign of Leonid Brezhnev as First Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR, and opened its doors on April 30, 1971. I don’t think I had been to a circus in 25 years and still am not a fan of them, but this was definitely impressive. With 3,350 seats, I read it is the largest circus building in the world. That's it in the picture.
The government runs the circus. James said they once used it a as a distraction to the people. When I heard that and I thought of how the colosseums were once a distraction for the people of Rome. Only the circus is a lot more family-friendly. Sort of.
This particular show was unusual. The circus had a storyline woven through the performance. It’s hard to say exactly what that storyline was because there were long stretches of narrative and I got bits and pieces of it from Joseph whispering the translation into my ear. It was sort of an Alice in Wonderland meets Nightmare Before Christmas meets Sigmund Freud meets Barnum Bailey meet post-modernism. The usual circus things were there: trapeze artists, horse riders, clowns, lion tamers. In ways that I'm sure would have made a whole lot more sense if I understood the language, the story tied all those circus-y things together. Joseph explained after the show, “The main character was sentenced to die with her friends, was offered freedom just for her, chose to stay and defend her friends, was sent to be executed, did battle with the character of death and won. Then she woke up. It had all been a dream. The battle was all internal.” I got about…a third of that in real time. In the showdown with death, the character of death looked like a creature from the movie Alien. In the scene in which she was sentenced, the judge looked like Riff Raff from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (a mostly bald, stringy-haired guy acting creepy). Overall, James and I had the same reaction, “When I kids were little they would have been scared to death in places of this show!” Still, many families were there and the kids were seemed pleased.
I will say that for production value and talent, we were all impressed. One guy had two people on his shoulders walking across a tight rope 50 feet in the air and jump up and down on the tight rope. Another jumped rope in the push up position with two people on his back . The acrobatics, animal trainers, showmanship, music, technology and acting were all impressive.
Clearly, with a 3,350 seat venue still in business after all these years, this is a major feature of Moscow entertainment and history. Like the ballet the night before, this show was another way the founder of the seminary helps guests get to know the city.