(Maria Ivanova’s article appeared in Russia Beyond the Headlines, 2/21.)
During the 20th century, the name of Russia became almost synonymous with that of the circus: Soviet trapeze artists, clowns and acrobats were renowned for their skill and artistry, and numerous circus acts toured the United States under the name “The Moscow Circus,” bringing Russian circus to global prominence.
Yet the history of the enduring love affair between Russia and the circus goes back almost a thousand years, to the appearance in the 11th century of the skomorokh, a kind of wandering minstrel-cum-clown: They sang, danced, did conjuring tricks and performed comical scenes.
Later, skomorokhy were replaced by show booths erected during fairs and other public celebrations. It was there that some of the routines that later became standard fare at latter-day circuses were first performed: strong men lifting weights, acrobats swinging on a trapeze, gymnasts walking on their hands