By Dominique Jando
Vladimir Andreevich Tsarkov was born January 15, 1963 in Moscow, Russia (then part of the USSR), in a family that was not connected with the circus. But like many youths of his generation in the Soviet Union, Vladimir dreamed of becoming a circus performer, and he applied for the State College for Circus and Variety Arts—the famous "Moscow Circus School"—where he was accepted in 1978, at age fifteen.
After the usual basic training in all classic circus disciplines, Vladimir went on to specialize in juggling under Firs Petrovich Zemtsev, and began practicing for a group act of jugglers on unicycle. Meanwhile, he was experimenting with new bouncing juggling rings, and decided to put together a solo-juggling act for himself. He developed his concept in 1984 together with Valentin Gneushev, then a promising act director at the School.
The result was The Red Harlequin, whose imagery was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s Harlequin paintings, and in which Vladimir made good use of his remarkable flexibility. Tsarkov’s act was a radical departure from anything seen until then in juggling acts: it introduced a well delineated character along with truly original moves—not to mention Tsarkov’s unusual juggling rings.
Presented at Paris’s Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in 1986, Vladimir Tsarkov’s Red Harlequin act was the sensation of the festival, and it won him a Gold Medal—the first of many medals that young Russian performers would share with Valentin Gneushev in the 1980-90s. His award propelled Vladimir into some of Europe’s best circus and variety shows, including Germany’s Circus Roncalli, Switzerland’s Circus Knie, and Berlin’s Friedrichstadt Palast.
In 1992, Vladimir went to the United States to perform with the Big Apple Circus, and settled there at the end of his contract. In the U.S., Tsarkov has performed at Circus Circus Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, at Sea World in Orlando, Florida, and with the stage show Cirque Ingénu around the country, among other venues. He has also performed in Europe, Asia, and South America.
Now a resident of Florida, Vladimir has formed an entertainment company, Elite Entertainment, LLC, with his wife Elena, a hand balancer-contortionist, which provides performances for special events with the Tsarkovs' numerous family acts (Vladimir and Elena have three sons). They also offer a full-length show, The Adventures Of Red Harlequin, based on Vladimir’s celebrated juggling character.
- Video: Vladimir Tsarkov, The Red Harlequin, at the Big Apple Circus (1992)
- Video: Vladimir Tsarkov, The Red Harlequin, at Lone Star Circus (2006)