The history of Russian circus


 The history of Russian circus

Since the reign of Catherine the Great, the circus has played an instrumental role in the rich cultural traditions of Russia. In the country, the circus is regarded as an art form on par with the ballet or opera; a showcasing the varied talents of highly skilled and creative artists.

But where do the roots lie? It wasn't actually a Russian who began the tradition. An Englishman, Charles Hughes, is partly responsible for the huge popularity of the circus in Russia today. Renowned for his entrepreneur flair, Hughes started performing with his troupe for the court of Catherine the Great. Immediately captivated by the performances, the ruler ordered that two circus rings be built for the company and Hughes remained in St. Petersburg for a year.

Despite Charles Huges eventual return to his homeland, some of his colleagues remained in Russia and the circus became hugely popular amongst the Russian people in the 19th century, rapidly becoming an important established form of entertainment in the country. Following the turmoil of the 1917 revolution, the founding fathers of the Soviet Union recognized the circus' importance as a truly popular form of entertainment, transcending the borders of race, language, age, education or class.

The Soviet Union leaders widely supported the circus as a flagship art for Russia alongside ballet and through the establishment of state circus schools in Moscow in 1927 and later in other major cities, the circus, as an artistic medium, developed in quality and on a scale unknown in other countries. From the 50s, it became a high quality cultural export, embarking upon frequent much anticipated tours of Europe and the Americas.




At its height, on the eve of the collapse of the Communist regime in the early 60s, there were around 50 traveling circus companies in existence and almost a same number of buildings dedicated to the art. The fall of Communism threw this massive cultural organization into disarray and the future for circus appeared uncertain. Thankfully, its rich tradition and enviable reputation endures; the Russian circus and its legacy remains as one of the most prominent and qualified, with companies travelling around the world and families still dedicated to the continuity of this unique art.

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