There is nothing than can prepare you for the experience of a Ukrainian circus. .
My first and only performance was a matinee in Dnepropetrovsk. Unlike traveling circuses back home, the circus in Dnepropetrovsk runs from early spring through early fall. Ukraine, and to a larger extent, Russia, is a hot bed of circus talent. In fact, a great deal of circus performers in the U.S. hail from the former Soviet Union.
After purchasing the tickets, Olya, my Ukrainian fiancé and I headed to a nearby market to purchase snacks and beer.. We entered the Soviet-era lobby, which included a pet store for some odd reason. Various souvenirs were sold in the lobby, but the vendors were dressed as clowns. The fact that they spoke Russian somehow made them even more horrifying. As somebody who has a complete and utter fear towards these sinister spawns of Satan, it’s a wonder I didn’t run away.
We headed to our seats in the 300-400 seat arena, which was probably about three-quarters full, which is pretty impressive considering the circus is pretty much always in town in Dnepropetrovsk.
As we waited for the show to begin, Olya used an armrest seat to pop the caps of our beer off just before the chimes of what sounded like a very depressed clock rang, a cue for the audience to know the show would begin in ten minutes. Five minutes later, it chimed again. And the crowd began to buzz. Olya explained that the chimes rang out the melody of the Moscow Circus. It sounded like a funeral. Finally, the lights dimmed and a spotlight shined upon the house jazz band sitting perched in a balcony overlooking the crowd, which was now going bananas in anticipation. As if this wasn’t surreal enough, the band was entirely comprised of midgets! Suddenly, my real-life romantic-comedy was turning into a David Lynch nightmare.
The band would provide accompaniment for the entirety of the show, which included everything one would expect to see at a circus: tightrope walkers, gymnasts, lion tamers, monkeys (applaud!), clowns (boo!) and various other hijinx, including performers dressed inside giant, glow-in-the-dark worm-like creatures that resembled a Slinky on acid.
Before the second half, a woman was brought into the ring from the crowd, wearing a mixed expression of shock and confusion. Moments later, a man was rolled out by a clown inside a giant ring – his arms and legs spread out like DaVinci’s “Virtruvian Man” drawing. When the clowns released him from the wheel, he got down on one knee in front of the woman and proposed. She accepted. How could she not? The crowd went crazy and all I could think was, why didn’t I think of that?