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Entries / Circus (entry)

Circus (entry)

Categories / Population/Urban Living

CIRCUS. The establishment of circuses in St. Petersburg was preceded by traditional Russian amusements and games where trained animals took part in the fun. In the first years of the city's live bear-baiting (bear comedies) appeared in St. Petersburg: their performances involved trained bear doing tricks, while the trainers played clowns or fought with the animals. In the late first quarter of the 18th century, so-called horse tricksters - horse trainers and riders - first appeared in the public sphere. Soon menageries beside the Summer Garden (Animal Yard) and on Petrovsky Island were established. In the second half of the 19th century horse circuses became very popular: in 1764 the English equestrian Bates went on tour in St. Petersburg, in 1784-85 - Czech N. Mori, in 1797- Spaniard P. Mague and others. At popular carnivals numerous jugglers, acrobats, animal trainers and comics performed; there were both local amateurs and touring artists from other cities. In the 18th century circus performers and companies from western Europe predominantly toured Russia performing in private or public theatres, riding-houses or special makeshift buildings. The most popular places for performances included the area around Karavannaya Street and Slonovy Yard, Admiralteyskaya Square, Tsarytsyn Meadow. Sometimes the artists stayed in St. Petersburg for several years. Comedians and tricksters came from Persia, Holland, France, and Great Britain (such artists as ropewalkers, acrobats, jugglers, jumpers, clowns, etc). By the early 19th century the number of foreign entertainers and circus companies had increased. The information about Russian artists of the 18th-19th centuries is rather limited. The well-known Russian juggler Ivan Lazarev was a notable circus performer who appeared in public in the 1730s at Empress Anna Ioannovna’s court. Juggler Ivan Lamin (1785) is also worth mentioning. Serf circuses also existed though they were few in number (for example, Count S.S. Apraxin's Circus). In 1793 at the Moika River the first public fun-fair garden in St. Petersburg was established: Concourse at Naryshkin Garden. Different festivals were arranged, where body contortionists, jumpers, muscle men, giants, riding-masters, and lion trainers appeared. In 1822 on Krestovsky Island architect I. Gabit erected the first (wooden) edifice for circus performances (opened on the 4th of June 1822). In 1827 director of French company J. Tournier built at his own expense a large Olympic Circus on the Fontanka River Embankment (where the Circus is situated presently), which opened on December 11, 1827. Beside individual tricks there were staged programme circus dumb shows (The Seizure of Ochakov, Napoleon Camp and others). In 1828 Tournier sold the building to the government treasury, and after some reconstruction works it came to be the house called Imperial Theatre-Circus at Simeonovsky Bridge. Dramas were staged at this theatre along with proper circus performances. Apart from the Tournier Company, foreign companies of B. Fourot, C. Bach, D. Gautier appeared on stage at that theatre. In 1842 the building was dismantled due to sheer dilapidation. In 1836 the company of Stuckmeisters (comedians) Legat and Wagner obtained permission to entertain the public in the wooden Kamennoostrovsky Theatre (built in 1827). In 1843 the company of the equestrian L. Soulier came to St. Petersburg. This riding-master built an open wooden circus with an amphitheatre for 15,000 spectators. The circus was situated not far from the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. In 1845 on Teatralnaya Square a permanent wooden circus was built for the company of riding-master A. Gverra. This circus was also called “Olympic” and was opened on the 2nd of November, 1845. Gverra soon acquired rivals - the company of riding-masters J. Legear and P. Cuzan. In 1846 Legear built his own wooden circus not far from Alexandrinsky Theatre. In 1847 the direction board of imperial theatres bought both buildings for the government treasury. Gverra's company then left for Moscow, and Legear's was engaged by the Direction Board of Imperial Theatres and performed under the name of Circus of the Imperial Theatre Direction. The building on Teatralnaya Square was dismantled, and in 1849 the first stone permanent public theatre-circus was erected (architect A. Cavos) in St. Petersburg. This theatre was opened on January 29, 1849; circus performances there also went along with theatrical ones. Thus, in 1856 the opening night of A.S. Dargomyzhsky's opera Mermaid took place here. In 1854 the circus company was disbanded due to material losses. In 1859 the Theatre-Circus burnt down, and in 1860 Cavos built Mariinsky Theatre on its place. In 1855, after the closing of the Imperial Circus, the clown-acrobat Louis Viol built a booth circus on Admiralteyskaya Square, where part of the company continued to perform. This circus existed for only one season. In 1857 Colonel V.V. Novosiltsov of the Guards, a circus fanatic, together with his wife, the circus rider L. Basen, organized a circus company in the building that used to belong to J. Legear. After the fire in 1859, the company performed at the private riding-house on Bolshaya Millionnaya Street. In 1860, Novosiltsov constructed a new wooden circus for Basen's company’s performances. In the 1860s, the building was rented by various foreign companies (including those of Madam Legear, K. Ginne and Neus, V. Carre, L. Soulier, E. Renz and others.). In 1867 a wooden circus was built for Ginne's company on Mikhaylovskaya Street (architect A. Mezhov). In 1869 G. Cinizelli's group joined this company (see Cinizelli Circus); in 1872 after the death of Ginne Cinizelli became the head of the company. In 1908 a wooden New Circus was built on Petrograd side, later it was renamed the Modern Circus (A. Marchand owned it, also the owner of a sausage shop). In 1916, the circus was taken down due to dilapidation. After 1917, the only working circus in Petrograd was the circus at 3 Fontanka Embankment. In 1924 the Cinizelli Circus came under the jurisdiction of Central State Circuses Administration. Its first director was the equestrian and animal trainer from Cinizelli's company V. Truzzi. In the 1920s–30s there were staged such pantomimes as Makhnovshchina (1930), Men of the Sea Floor and 1905 (1935, after V.V. Mayakovsky), Shamil (1936), Taiga on Fire (1938). The stage directors E. M. Kuznetsov, E.P. Gershuni, Y.S. Yursky worked in the circus. The Variety and Circus Experimental Workshop functioned attached to the circus (1930, under the supervision of Kuznetsov), as well as equestrian workshops, musical comic tricks and parodies (in the 1940s). In 1928 the Museum of Circus Art was opened. From the beginning of the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 the circus activities were interrupted and could only be resumed after the end of the siege (the first performance took place on December 28, 1944). In 1946–65 G.S. Venetsianov was the head of the Circus; pantomimes like Shot in the Cave, Festival on water and others were staged then. The circus dynasties of Durov, Filatov, Kio, Zapashny, Olkhovikov, Volzhansky and others appeared on the circus arena, as well as clowns Y.V. Nikulin, B.P. Vyatkin, O.K. Popov, M.N. Rumyantsev (called Karandash which means pencil), animal trainer I.N. Bugrimova, equestrians Manzhelli, athletes Novak and others. In 1951–74 V.A. Tsvetkov was the head of the Circus, since 1974 – I.N. Kirnos. Since 1968 the chief stage director has been A.A. Sonin. In 1959–64 the building was reconstructed; the hall was redesigned, cloakrooms were arranged, backstage areas and accommodation for animals and stables were enlarged. After the reconstruction thematic performances and dumb pantomimes were staged, like Ruslan and Lyudmila, Kashtanka, Praising the Jubilee of Fatherland, This Proud Name of Victory, From Circus to Festival, numerous New Year children’s performances and so forth. In 1920–22 in the building of Narodny House (Popular House) the Theatre of National Comedy (National Comedy) functioned; the theatre company conducted experiments in making theatre performances with the help of circus and variety means and methods (stage director S.E. Radlov was the initiator and director of the theatre). Beside actors (B.P. Annenkov, F.A. Glinskaya and others) the company also included acrobats and trapezists, parterre clown J. Delvari, music comic Bob, variety artists K.E. Gibshman, P.I. Alexandrov and others. The repertoire consisted of clown shows and improvised comic performance. Since 1935 the organization Circus on stage functioned in Leningrad, aimed at working in remote districts of the country. In 1978 it was comprised of six direction boards (including the one in Leningrad). The staff of this circus were selected both from experienced and young artists. From the beginning of the 19th century different gillies, or tent shows, performed in St. Petersburg (temporary marquee circuses for one season), where guest companies and individual touring artists would appear. For a long time gillies were built in summer beside Park Pobedy and Avtovo metro stations.

References: Кузнецов Е. М. Цирк: Происхождение, развитие, перспективы. М., 1971; Медведев М. Н. Ленинградский цирк. Л., 1975; Дмитриев Ю. А. Цирк в России: От истоков до 1917 г. М., 1977; Федоров С. Г. Цирк Чинизелли и его предшественники // ЛП. 1988. № 1. С. 29–31.

Y. N. Kruzhnov.

Alexandrov P.I.
Anna Ioannovna, Empress
Annenkov Boris Pavlovich
Apraksin Stepan Stepanovich, Count
Bach Christopher de
Basen L.
Bugrimova Irina Nikolaevna
Carre V.
Cavos Albert Katarinovich
Cinizelli Gaetano
Cuzan Paul
Dargomyzhsky Alexander Sergeevich
Delvari George (Georgy Ilyich Kruchinsky)
Fourot Baptist
Gabit I.
Gautier D.
Gershuni Evgeny Pavlovich
Gibshman Konstantin Eduardovich
Ginne Karl
Glinskaya Faina Alexandrovna
Gverra Alexander
Kirnos Iosif Nikolaevich
Kuznetsov Evgeny Mikhailovich
Lamin Ivan
Lazarev Ivan
Legear Jaques
Mague P.
Mangelli Boris Pavlovich
Marchand A.
Mayakovsky Vladimir Vladimirovich
Mezhov A.
Mori N.
Nikulin Yury Vladimirovich
Novak Grigory Irmovich
Novosiltsov V.V.
Olkhovikov Nikolay Leonidovich
Popov Oleg Konstantinovich
Radlov Sergey Ernestovich
Renz Ernst
Rumyantsev Mikhail Nikolaevich
Sonin Alexey Anatolievich
Soulier Louis
the Durovs
the Filatovs
The Kios
the Olkhovikovs
the Volzhanskys (real name Volzhankins)
the Zapashnys
Tsvetkov Vladimir Andreevich
Turnier Jean
Venetsianov Georgy Semenovich
Viol Louis (Ludwig)
Vyatkin Boris Petrovich
Yursky Yury Sergeevich

Bolshaya Morskaya St./Saint Petersburg, city
Fontanka River Embankment/Saint Petersburg, city, house 3
Karavannaya St./Saint Petersburg, city
Mikhailovskaya St./Saint Petersburg, city
Teatralnaya Square/Saint Petersburg, city

Кузнецов Е. М. Цирк: Происхождение, развитие, перспективы. М., 1971
Медведев М. Н. Ленинградский цирк. Л., 1975
Федоров С. Г. Цирк Чинизелли и его предшественники // Ленингр. панорама, 1988
Дмитриев Ю. А. Цирк в России: От истоков до 1917 г. М., 1977

The subject Index
Imperial Theatres Board
Mariinsky Theatre
Cinizelli's Circus
Museum of Circus Art


Menageries (entry)

MENAGERIES. 1) In the beginning of the 18th century - hunting areas in the appendages of tsar's property. In 1718 a menagerie like that was established in Sarskaya farmstead (see Tsarskoe Selo)