Bolshoi Circus

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By Dominique Jando

Bolshoi Circus
The "Great Moscow Circus on Vernadsky Avenue" ("Bolshoi Moscowskiy Tsirk na Vernadskogo" in Russian) 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. It is located on Vorobiovy Hills (formerly Lenin Hills), near Moscow University, at 24 Vernadsky Prospect (Avenue). Built by Yakov Belopolsky—one of the busiest official architects of the Brezhnev era—in cooperation with E. Bulikh, S. Feoksitov and V. Khavin (who may have been more familiar with the technical demands of such a structure), it is, with its 3,500-seat house and its numerous and specialized facilities, the world's largest circus building.
Architect's Plan

Its unique technical fittings make it an exceptional tool for the presentation of all sorts of large-scale circus productions. The building includes a rehearsal ring, located backstage, behind the ring entrance, in a space vast and high enough to accommodate a large flying actAny aerial act in which an acrobat is propelled in the air from one point to another.; a stage above the ring entrance, which can connect to the ring with a giant telescopic staircase that unfolds automatically; the possibility for aerialists to access their apparatus from the ceiling; and several rooms at various temperatures to accommodate the upkeep of exotic animals. But its interchangeable ring is the true jewel in the crown: It is placed on a hydraulic platform that can be lowered into a gigantic basement, in which four other rings are stored around the central elevator. The full-size rings can roll on and off the elevator platform. The main ring is a traditional equestrian ring, the first ever to have been covered with a hard-rubber mat, as it is now the custom in Russian circuses. Others are a water basin, replete with underwater lighting and fountains; a hard floor ring with trapdoors for magic acts; a lighted floor ring; and an ice ring.

This system allows not only quick floor changes adapted to each specific act, but also gives the possibility to install complicated riggings or scenic elements during the presentation of an aerial act, or of an act on stage.

During the Communist era, the Bolshoi Circus was the most prestigious circus of the USSR. From 1977-1983, it was under the management of the famous "antipodist" (foot-juggler—and, in this case, foot-balancer) Evguenny Milaev, who happened to be Leonid Brezhnev's son-in-law. It is today under the management of another former star of the old Soviet circus, the perch-poleLong perch held vertically on a performer's shoulder or forehead, on the top of which an acrobat executes various balancing figures. balancer Leonid Kostiuk. But the building's heavy machinery was conceived with custom systems and elements especially designed for this project, and it has become difficult to maintain or fix when needed, since there are no existing replacement parts. Furthermore, the building is located far from Moscow's center, and after the fall of the Soviet regime—and its system of corporate group sales—it has proved increasingly difficult to fill to capacity the 3,500 seats of a circus that is particularly expensive to maintain. Although the Bolshoi Circus still offers circus shows of the highest quality, its old downtown competition, "The Old Circus on Tsvetnoi Boulevard," officially known today as Circus Nkulin, has reclaimed its crown as Moscow's—and Russia's—premier circus.

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