Artists at the Moscow State Circus rehearse before a performance:

There was a quiet, patient atmosphere around the circus. The group had only just arrived and were still settling into the place that would become their home for the rest of the week.

A group of girls chatted in the ticket office trailer, occasionally leaving to make a drink and stretch their legs in the room next door. They would keep the slots covered up at the windows to keep the heat in – only opening them when people would walk up to enquire about and buy tickets. Unfortunately, for the girls this would be every 30 seconds or so, even though it was only early afternoon.

A couple opened the shutters on the food area, brushing and washing the metal floor. Piles and piles of batches were piled up in bags on the shelves at the back of the space. It looked as if a high demand for burgers was anticipated from the crowd on the opening night that evening.

Several men were using power washers to clean the bright yellow transport trucks of the circus which looked clean and sparkling enough already. A torrential downpour started half way through the cleaning, prompting cat calls from some of the men – crying out that it would be pointless to carry on with the job.

The floor of the big top tent was still the soft, bouncy grass of the field upon which it was pitched. It was still warm inside, even though the weather was terrible outside.

Groups of performers milled around, waiting for journalists to turn up for the Press Call. Three contortionists chatted at the side of the ring. A pair of acrobats sat on the floor of the ring, warming up and stretching out – to already to seemingly impossible degrees for humans. A clown wearing a big red nose chatted to her clown husband, just waiting and looking on. It’s a bizarre and slightly surreal sight to see clowns acting just like anyone else, rather than jumping around making people smile and laugh. Technical men brought ropes down from the top of the tent, attaching different weights before moving the pulley to take it back up to the ceiling.

A shadowy figure up on a platform at the back of the tent fiddled with switches and knobs causing the colours and intensity of the lighting to wax and wane, moving from pale blues to intense reds.

After attending the Press Call, each person in attendance was given four free tickets to attend a show at a time of their choosing.

The four 30 year old-ish people who used the tickets had varying experiences with the circus. One had never been to a circus, two had not been for 23 and 13 years respectively while the fourth had visited within the past couple of years.

On a Thursday evening upon arrival, the guests using the complimentary tickets were seated Ringside – which happened to be the most expensive seats in the Circus at £27, and also the emptiest section. Even with this taken into account – around 80% of the seats throughout the big top tent were occupied with the majority of people choosing to sit in the Grandstand seats.

A 2 minute warning was given for the start of the show, bringing squeals of excitement from children and adults alike.

Then the lights went down and a rather cheesy piece of synth intro music started to play – which went on for just a bit too long. But it was worth the wait.

The curtains opened at the back of the ring releasing a cloud of smoke to reveal figures in hooded cloaks, lit from below. Holding electric candles, the figures glided out spacing themselves around the ring.

The first act were Grigory’s Girls – Evgeniya Bortnikova and Viktoryia Arabei. They wrapped their arms or legs in silk ropes suspended from the ceiling, twirling around and dropping down from great heights.

Then there was a funny dance rountine incorporating the majority of the cast. This was the first time that the character Rasputin was introduced who acted as a kind of Ringmaster. He never said a word throughout the show, as a pre-prepared narrative guided the audience instead.

Rasputin was escorted by 5 Russian soliders who at the end of the routine discarded their long woollen coats to do some juggling in silk costumes with embroidered red flowers flowing down their arms and legs. They stood in a circle throwing their batons to each other – so fast and in such a complicated pattern that it was difficult to keep track of any particular baton. The juggling routine was extended by the addition of 3 more men throwing hoops to each other. The ring became extremely busy. Sergii & Ievgen Didyk, Oleksiy Trushnikov, Oleksander Kovtun, Sasha, Volodymyr Lubenets, Ivan Nedostup and Ruslan made up this troupe of jugglers.

Next were the clowns (featured in the rehearsal footage above) whose routine involved Valery Kashkin walking a tightrope while slipping and jumping into changes of clothes – without ever falling off the rope. His wife – the clown Valentina Rumyantseva cajoled him throughout his performance.

Yulia and Alexander followed the jugglers with their act of Statues – defying gravity by balancing on each other in the most seemingly impossible positions and holding them without shaking one bit. Absolutely wonderful. Wearing skin tight pink lycra costumes which made them look like they were naked – some disscussion followed among the four guests as to what their bedroom life might be like.

Crossbows were used by another married couple Anton Popazov and Nataliya Popazova. Their leather costumes would put a smile on anyones face. Anton displayed his exquisite levels of accuracy by shooting through the thinnest of targets without fail and at other times using multiple crossbows all at once.

The clowns then returned to the ring to relieve the tension brought about by Anton and Nataliya.

A giant contraption called the Sky wheel was then constructed in the ring which rotated around a central point with two hoops at each end. Kakha Kvlivdze, Zviad Gabarashvili, Jemal Parkosadze and Zurab Skhirtladze ran around the inside and outside of the metal mesh hoops as the wheel rotated high into the heavens of the tent. Some of the guests had to look away during the act fearing for the safety of the performers. This was by far the best act in the show – shocking, breath taking and astounding. The 20 minute interval was conviniently placed after this act, allowing the guests to find their senses again.

The trampoline act – Tramps Forfeit followed the interval. Two of the members were suspended at some height, throwing an apparently drunken invader to each other as if he was a cricket ball. It was so entertaining with how all the performers made performed mind bogglingly difficult tasks – as if it was no effort at all for them!

Unfortunately, strobe lighting was used for several minutes while the trampoline net was taken down.

High Society (also featured in the rehearsal video) followed, climbing on top of each other and dancing with grace around the ring. Viktoryia Arabei, Evgeniya Bortnikova, Katsiaryna Drazdova showed off their strength and control.

Again Valery and Valentina returned as clowns to show off their tap dancing skills, followed by a gymnastic act of 3 ladies.

Husband and wife team, Andrey Voronin (who also plays Rasputin) and Svitlana Svystun then joined the show as the act Full Circle, rolling around in a big ring. This passed the time.

Next up were Alexander Doktorov and Yulia Tsurikova (wearing the most beautiful lace and sequined costume) performing the Trapeze Washington. He dangled her by her legs at one point – but there was a wonderful chemistry between them.

The clowns then performed a musical piece as a distraction while the Russian Swings were set up. Valery just kept taking more instruments on – as if he couldn’t have too many at once.

Iryna Zherebnova joined her husband Sergii and the multi-talented troupe of jugglers now acrobats on the swings in this last act – with members flying through the air and each others legs from one swing to the other.

After the act ‘Rasputin’ came back into the ring to perform a curtain call. The entire troupe filled the ring, to much appreciation shown by the clapping and cheering from the audience.

There is plenty of variety in this show – something for everyone. The performers were very, very, very talented and were an absolute joy to watch. Take your children, or partner or friends – no one is ever too old to visit the circus. A grand way to forget your troubles and enter into a world of fantasy for 2 hours.

To the founding fathers of the Soviet State, circus had a special significance which put it on a par with – even above the ballet and the opera. It was a truly popular, egalitarian form of entertainment. Enjoyed by all – regardless of race, language, age, education or class.

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. From the 1950′s circus became a highly successful culutural export – first visiting Britain in 1956.

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 travelling circuses. The fall of communism has thrown this massive cultural organisation into disarray, and its future is uncertain. Meantime, however, it is possible to still be able to glimpse the glory of this part of Russia’s impressive cultural heritage.

There are 27 artists working within the animal-free Moscow State circus that is currently touring the UK. As described, the acts include aerial silk acrobats, other acrobats using fantastic mechanical creations, jugglers, clowns, gymnasts, crossbow artists, trampolinists, contortionists, circus-orientated ballet artists, trapezists and Russian swing artists. A total of 60 people work within the circus – other roles include electricians, plumbers, chefs and ticketing staff.

The circus takes 2 years to tour the UK, with the development of a new show inbetween each tour. The show is developed back in Russia, then the artists visit and spend 4 weeks rehearsing the new show. Performances take place in the outdoor big top tent with a capacity of 1200 people from spring to autumn, then move into indoor theatres in the winter.

The show itself lasts for 2 hours, with two performances a day from Wednesday – Saturday at 3pm and 7:45pm. Tickets for adults range from £10 to £27 while concessions are from £7 – £21. The Moscow State Circus is easily accessible for disabled people. As seats for disabled people are at the ringside (the most expensive seats) there is a discount available.

If you give your e-mail details to the Moscow State Circus, then further discounts will become available including free tickets for those on Job Seekers Allowance, and family tickets (2 adults and 2 children for £30).

40% of the ticket price will be donated to the NSPCC from Ringside, Grandstand Deluxe or Grandstand tickets.