Moscow, Russia – The day of reckoning has arrived. One month after our annual visit to the Big Apple Circus, I dragged the family out to the Moscow circus to see how it measures up.
There are actually two highly lauded, permanent circuses here in Moscow. Near the center of town, Tsvetnoy bulvar has been the site of the Moscow circus since 1880 (though it’s not the same building). The so-called “Old” Circus on Tsvetnoy bulvar–now named for the famous clown Yury Nikulin–had always set the standard by which all other circuses were measured.
Until 1971, when the new Bolshoi Circus on Vernadskogo was built. This state-of-the-art facility was bigger and better, with room for 3500 spectators and with five replaceable arenas (water, ice, equestrian, etc).
We chose to go to the Bolshoi because it’s located in Sparrow Hills, which is an area I have to cover for my guidebook work. Here’s how the “great” Bolshoi compared to the Big Apple:
- Price To sit in the front row at the Bolshoi, we would have had to pay upwards of $80 a ticket. We paid only $50 for front row seats at the Big Apple Circus, BUT that was for a mid-week show; weekend prices were actually twice as much. This is a tricky comparison, but I’ll give this one to the Big Apple, for offering bargain prices during the week.
- Scale The large size of the arena at the Bolshoi was not a disadvantage. We sat midway back (12th row) and we had a perfect view of the action. The pitch is steep, so even the twins could see over the heads in front of us. True, it does not have the intimacy of the Big Apple Circus, but this is a BIG show and there is plenty to see. Both circuses get points here.
- Acrobatics The acrobatics were phenomenal. I cannot begin to describe the amazing display of daring-do, but highlights included a well-crafted trampoline act, synchronized parallel bars and a spectacular (and rather romantic) aerial hammock routine. The twins were entranced and so was I. This show was on par with Big Apple–and maybe even better. Score one for the Bolshoi.
- Animals The Bolshoi Circus included dancing bears and jumping monkeys, as well as two very talented sea lions. It broke my heart to see the bear in a leash and a muzzle, spinning a hula hoop around his neck and dancing to bee-bop music. The monkeys wore dresses and suits, while they performed balancing acts and other tricks. It was all very humiliating. The sea lions also did plenty of tricks: I’m not sure why it did not bother me quite as much–perhaps because I have seen similar tricks at the New England Aquarium (so it can’t be that bad, right?). In any case, the animal acts were a major downside of the Bolshoi Circus–especially compared with the Big Apple, which uses only dogs, horses and ponies who do not wear clothes. Point. (Incidentally, I am relieved that we did not go to the Nikulin Circus, which includes tigers and panthers in the show, as well as a poor bear who poses for photos in the lobby.)
- Knife Thrower I didn’t think too much of it when he was throwing knives at a balloon, but when the balloon was held in the mouth of a scantily clad woman, I had to raise my eyebrows. Watching some guy throw knives at women–not exactly my idea of good entertainment for kids (or anybody). Deduction for the Bolshoi.
- Clowns Daddio and I noted that neither circus had much in the way of good old fashioned clowns. But I think the Bolshoi wins for funny bits, which included a judo fight between a sort of clown and a remote control “robot” (definitely the twins’ favorite performance of the day). Also, at least one Bolshoi Circus character got a pie in his face.
- Timing The Bolshoi runs for more than 2½ hours. It’s a lot of circus for your money–too much, in fact. The second half of the show really dragged, and we finally had to leave before it was over. The fact that the twins let us get away with this, is a sign that it really did go on too long. The Big Apple Circus runs for just under two hours, with a 15-minute intermission. Perfect timing earns one more point.
Final tally: Big Apple 4, Bolshoi 2. New York wins! That said, the Bolshoi really did put on a good show, but better logistics and more progressive social values mean that the Big Apple gets the prize. Take that, Putin!