Acrobat, Aerialist, Director
By Dominique Jando
Nikolai Chelnokov was born in Russia on December 2, 1960. He entered the State College for Circus and Variety Arts in Moscow in 1982, where he trained in all major circus disciplines, and specialized as an aerialistAny acrobat working above the ring on an aerial equipment such as trapeze, Roman Rings, Spanish web, etc. under the legendary team of Tereza Durova and Viktor Fomin.
The vertical rope act Chelnokov created there with Durova and Fomin for his graduation in 1986 was totally original, and it has opened the doors to a new style that was to attract men to a specialty usually reserved to women. His back flip catches and his rolls-down will also become classic tricks of the specialty's repertoire—at least for acrobats able to replicate them.
Chelnokov’s act was one of the sensations of the 1987 Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris, an edition that marked the turning point between classical and "new" circus, and was instrumental in redefining circus arts for generations to come. Chelnokov was awarded a Silver Medal in this festival, which was amazingly rich in surprises and novelties.
After the fall of the Soviet regime and the opening of Russia to the western world, Nikolai Chelnokov joined the company of the Cirque du Soleil for its production of Saltimbanco in 1992. At Cirque du Soleil, he also developed a hand-to-handAn acrobatic act in which one or more acrobats do hand-balancing in the hands of an under-stander. and contortion act with his son Anton and his wife, Galina Karableva. (Nikolai and Galina divorced a few years later.)
Back to Russia, Nikolai formed his own circus company, and began to create a stream of new and extremely original acts, some of which were awarded medals and prizes in several circus festivals, including the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain. Among those are his son Anton Chelnokov’s aerial net and Gulnara Karaeva’s hand-balancing and contortion act in a water basin (which were both featured in Cirque du Soleil productions).
Nikolai Chelnokov obtained a Circus Director diploma from the famous GITIS theater institute in Moscow. Beside his work as a director and an act creator, he also teaches clowning in Moscow.
- Video: Nikolai Chelnokov, Vertical Rope, Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain, Paris (1987)