Since the reign of Catherine the
Great, the circus has played an important role in the
rich cultural traditions of Russia. In Russia, the circus
is regarded as an art form on par with the ballet or
opera, a showcase for highly skilled and creative artists.
An Englishman, Charles Hughes, is
partly responsible for the huge popularity of the circus
in Russia today. A renowned horseman and impresario,
Hughes gave a command performance with his troupe of
circus entertainers for the court of Catherine the Great.
She was immediately captivated by the performances and
ordered two circus rings to be built for the entrepreneurial
Englishman. Hughes remained in St. Petersburg for a
year before returning to England. However his performers,
now admired by the Russian nobility, decided to remain
behind, thus giving birth to the contemporary Russian
circus we know today.
The circus became hugely popular
with the Russian people in the 19th century, rapidly
becoming one of the chief forms of entertainment. The
Nikulin Moscow Circus was founded in 1880, in response
to the huge popularity of the art form, and quickly
became the most respected and loved circus in Russia.
After the turmoil of the 1917 revolution, the founding
fathers of the Soviet Union quickly recognized the circusí
importance. It was truly popular - egalitarian - form
of entertainment, enjoyed by all, regardless of race,
language, age, education or class. Requiring great skill,
benefiting from creativity and originality, circus nevertheless
needs no sophistication.
Through the establishment of state
circus schools in Moscow and other major cities, circus
developed in quality and on a scale unknown in other
countries, and from 1950`s became a highly successful
cultural export, making frequent tours to the United
States and Europe.
At its height, on the eve of the
collapse of the Communist regime in the early 1990`s,
there were 70 permanent circus buildings and about 50
traveling circuses. The fall of Communism threw this
massive cultural organization into disarray, and the
future was at times uncertain. However, the Moscow Circus
has continued to thrive, recently celebrating its 120
With its rich tradition and enviable
reputation, the Moscow Russian Circus remains the standard
by which others are judged. We are privileged to still
have the opportunity to experience one of the jewels
of Russiaís impressive cultural heritage.