The Bolshoi Saint Petersburg State Circus

The Bolshoi Saint-Petersburg State Circus – the first stone stationary circus of Russia – was opened on December 26, 1887. It was one of the most beautiful circuses in Europe according to the words of circus actors who had seen quite a few circuses on their roads of European tours.
The initiator of its construction was the Italian subject and head of a large circus family, circus equestrian and horse trainer Gaetano Ciniselli who made a big name in Europe of that time.

The circus building is a unique engineering structure designed and built on a basis of the state-of-the-art engineering ideas. It was for the first time that when constructing a big top of the then record bay (49.7m) the inner supporting pillars were not used, which produced an unusual space effect. The fundamentally new rib-mesh construction of the big top covers the hall like a gigantic cup. This new engineering solution came later into wide use in construction of similar buildings.

The decoration of the auditorium was luxurious. The crimson velvet of the decoration was combined with gold and mirrors. The boxes and stalls could seat 1500 people and in general the auditorium was designed to seat up to 5000 people at the expense of the spacious gallery.

Soon the building of the Ciniselli circus was reckoned among the main attractions of the city and occupied the position of a paramount entertainment centre of the capital. Here in 1892 the water pantomime was performed for the first time.
In the show called “Four elements” water rushed down in a cascade and fountains gushed out in different places of the arena. Deer, elephants and horses with riders swam in the arena lake and various technical novelties were demonstrated. In 1897 a show of “Magic electric fountain” was also performed. In February of the same year one could see the “Original cosmograph – live photographs of various sights”. Every season of the Ciniselli circus included a spectacular pantomime – a performance where a beautiful extravaganza was arranged showing an impressive battle scene with the participation of foot and mounted troops.

During the pre-war period (before 1935) not only home actors performed in the Leningrad circus, but also European stars of the first magnitude: the trainers Togare, Carl Kosmi, captain Wall, magician Kefallo, athlete Sandvina, musical clowns Barrasetta and others.

In 1941 the Leningrad circus completed its 63-rd season. The Great Patriotic War broke the activity of the circus and the opening of the next season was only in November 1944.

In the first after-war programs of the circus the participants were the actors who created their shows and attractions during the war. Those were the aerialists Polina Chernega, and Stepan Razumov with their show “Diving airplane”, grotésque equestrienne Valentina Lerri, Alexander Kornilov with his show “Elephants and dancers”, the sisters Koh - tightrope walkers on a “giant sémaphòre”.

The program for the opening of the season 1946-1947 was prepared by the new art director of the Leningrad circus Georgy Venetsianov.

The profound knowledge of the specific character of the circus art and his rich imagination made it possible for G. S. Venetsianov to produce both theme performances (“Women – masters of the circus art”, “Holiday on water”, “Carnival on ice”, “Circus of animals” and others), and separate shows. His activity was particularly fruitful in the equestrian genre (“Russian troika” under the guidance of Alexandrov/Serge, “Eastern fantasy” with B. Mangelli and others) and clownery (Demash and Mosel, B. Vyatkin, Kh. Mousin and others).

From 1965 to 2008 the art director of the Leningrad (Saint-Petersburg) circus was Alexei Sonin.

In 1997 a Tour department was organized on the director’s initiative, the function of the department being to recruit actors for the Saint-Petersburg circus and to manage their tours both in Russia and abroad.

Since 1992 the Great Saint-Petersburg circus is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Culture and mass communications of RF.

By the opening of the 2003-2004 season the works on restoration of the circus façade were finished and the building regained its former architectural splendor.
In 2007 the 130th anniversary of the Saint-Petersburg circus was celebrated by the new program “International circus show “Carnival on Fontanka”.

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