Circus has changed massively since the last time I stepped through the canvas doorway and entered the magical, mystical world of the big top. The wild animals and the ringmaster are gone and, replacing them in the 21st century circus, is a totally human and very much more theatrical performance. This is circus with a storyline!
As we take our seats and marvel at exactly how high the big top really is, the lights dim and the voiceover tells us the story of the Babushkin Sekret. Based on the Russian folk tale of the Twelve Chairs, we learn that Valik and Valerik the clowns must find their inheritance, which has been hidden in one of a set of matching chairs.
The storyline links all the acts that we are about to see in this two hour celebration of the most amazing feats of human strength, balance, skill and ability. The selection of international acts is many and varied, but each and every one elicits the same reaction from the audience, one of stunned amazement.
The Allkhanov Wanderers are the first troupe to take to the ring and they bring with them metal poles which must be 10 metres long. Under the poles stand three incredibly strong men and atop the poles balance three, very brave, women. The combination of power and grace works well and they get a great reaction from the packed house.
After another appearance from the clowns, who combine some hilarious routines with their search for the hidden inheritance, Sasha and Yulla take over the ring – or to be strictly accurate, the air above it, as they perform a stunningly graceful aerial routine suspended on bungee ropes which enable them to not only spin and twist but also to bounce, a combination that creates a display that is the epitome of muscular elegance.
The Scherbakovs juggling is, for me, one of the highlights of the entire evening. To be able to do their act standing still would be incredible, but they choose to perform on a fast revolving platform and, somehow, still manage to catch the flying clubs with perfect timing.
After the interval, yet more death defying acts follow. High wire walkers The S.T.A.L.K.E.R.S open part two with an absolutely spectacular performance with more acrobats, balancers and tumblers completing the simply marvellous line up.
Special mention goes to Sasha Doktorov who, as well as being half of the aerial ballet act, also helps Valik and Valerik to obtain the last chair in the set, and the answer to the riddle of the hidden inheritance, by balancing on an incredibly high, and very precarious, tower of chairs.
After the extremely practised and colourful tumbling finale the audience shows their appreciation with a tremendous ovation, a testament to their amazement at seeing a totally original, incredibly skilful, wonderfully entertaining show. It is no “sekret” – the Moscow State Circus is simply unbeatable.