The Panteleenko Brothers

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Aerial Straps

By Dominique Jando

Valery (1946-2006) and Yury (1946-1989) Panteleenko were born May 15, 1946 in Russia. They were identical twins, and began their performing career in the magic act of Simon Rubanov (1908-1976), a famous Russian illusionist who worked exclusively in the circus ring, and, like his predecessor, the legendary Emil Kio, used several pairs of twins in his "attraction(Russian) A circus act that can occupy up to the entire second half of a circus performance.."

In, 1969, during an engagement at the Circus of Rostov-on-Don, Vladivien Levshin, who was the Rubanov Company’s acrobatic coach, noticed the brothers’ athletic qualities and began to train them as acrobats. He then created for them an original aerial strap actAerial act performed hanging from a pair of fabric or leather straps. (See Aerial Straps.), which has since become a milestone in the history of this specialty.

Before the Panteleenko Brothers, aerial strapsPair of fabric or leather straps used as an apparatus for an aerial strap act. was a Chinese specialty where various highly athletic tricks were performed in a static mode, in a vertical plan: gymnasts went up and down a pair of straps, performing planges, roll-ups, etc. Levshin created for the Panteleenko Brothers an ascending apparatus, and introduced swinging and circular moves, and of course, two-person tricks.

The brothers’ elegance and their amazing resemblance added to the balletic beauty of the act. The Panteleenko Brothers made their debut as aerialists in 1972; it was an immediate success. The following year, they won the All-Union Circus Competition of the USSR—at the time, arguably the most difficult circus competition in the world. In 1980, they were featured in the Closing Ceremony of the Olympics Games, which were held in Moscow.

Subsequently, Valery and Yury Panteleenko were featured in international tours of the Moscow Circus. They performed in Paris in 1980, and although the star acts of the show were meant to be Irina Bugrimova’s lions presented by Boris Biriukov, and the clown Maï (Evguenny Maïkhrovsky), to the public and critics alike, the true revelation was the Panteleenkos’ act.

The Panteleenko Brothers participated in the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo in 1983, where, amazingly, the Jury ignored them: they received only the City of Monaco prize. It was perhaps too early for a performing style that would be totally accepted merely a decade later. Nonetheless, the Panteleenko Brothers’ act would indeed inspire most of the aerial strapsPair of fabric or leather straps used as an apparatus for an aerial strap act. acts that are seen today.

In 1987, Valery Panteleenko became Director of the circus collective Allez Hop!, but the brothers continued to perform their aerial duet. With the fall of the Soviet Union, Valery and Yury Panteleenko were among the first Russian performers to seek individual foreign engagements. In 1989, they were featured with the famous Circus Knie in Switzerland.

On July 7, 1989, while the brothers were touring with Circus Knie, Yury died suddenly of a cardiac arrest after a performance. Although he was deeply affected by the death of his twin brother, Valery was a consummate professional and decided to fulfill his contract with Circus Knie, no matter what. He found another aerial gymnast, Igor Gruzen, to replace Yury, and he completed his engagement.

Valery’s next contract was already signed with the Big Apple Circus, and the Panteleenko Brothers (now Valery Panteleenko and Igor Gruzen) went to the United States, where they were featured in the 1990-1991 Big Apple Circus production of Ballerinas, Horses and Clowns… The Golden Age. The next season, they found another engagement in the United States with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

The Panteleenko Brothers performed their aerial strap actAerial act performed hanging from a pair of fabric or leather straps. (See Aerial Straps.) for the last time in the 122nd edition of The Greatest Show On Earth, in 1992-1993. In 1994, Valery, Igor, and Valery’s son, Maxime Panteleenko, appeared in the Ringling show with a new aerial act that combined trapeze and straps. Valery retired from performing at the end of the 1994-1995 tour, but remained for a while with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey as a rigger. He was Head Rigger with the Feld production of Barnum’s Kaleidoscape (1999), a remarkable, albeit quickly aborted attempt at a high-end one-ring tented circus.

Valery then retired to Florida. A gifted artist, he indulged in his favorite passtime, painting. He died of cancer on January 7, 2006. Valery Panteleenko had been made Artist Emeritus of the Republic of Russia in 1980. His son, Maxime, who is now a U.S. citizen, has continued in his father’s footsteps, performing as an aerialistAny acrobat working above the ring on an aerial equipment such as trapeze, Roman Rings, Spanish web, etc. in Tokyo Disneyland, in Orlando’s SeaWorld, and in the equestrian show Cavalia, among other venues.

See Also