Russian mime Polunin in uneasy circus challenge
Russian mime Slava Polunin during an interview with AFP at the Big Saint Petersburg Circus office on June 10, 2013 (AFP/File, Olga Maltseva)
By Marina Koreneva (AFP)
June 21, 2013
SAINT-PETERSBURG — World-famous Russian mime Slava Polunin was just a few months into his appointment as head of Russia's oldest circus when an animal rights scandal laid bare his uneasy challenge: to reform the stodgy venue without an ugly uproar.
Now the bushy white-haired Vyacheslav (Slava) Polunin carefully chooses his words when asked whether the Big Saint Petersburg Circus, also known as the Fontanka Circus, will get rid of its many animal numbers and veer toward the more artful western style.
"I want to keep the best there is in the circus. I don't want to destroy anything," said Polunin, who has spent many years in France, Britain, and Canada, where he worked with the Cirque du Soleil before accepting the ground-breaking invitation to head the Fontanka Circus in January.
The Fontanka -- named for the Saint Petersburg street where it is located -- dates back to 1877. It was the first stationary circus in Russia, housed in a magnificent state-of-the-art building in a prime location of the historic imperial city.
It was founded by Italian Gaetano Ciniselli, and his family ran the venue until the Bolshevik revolution. In 1919 the circus was nationalised and Ciniselli's son fled the country.
Today, the sign "Ciniselli Circus" adorns the ornate building, but inside it has lost much of its lustre. The circular audience stalls date from the Soviet times, and their red fabric seats are faded and worn.
Critics have disparaged the circus for its tired Soviet-era tricks and lack of vision. On its 135th anniversary show last year, guests watched as a man in a tailored suit tamed lions, acrobats soared to the tune of a Russian folk song, and poodles marched on hind paws in a single file - all staples of the Soviet past.