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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Baku State Circus

Did I ever tell you that I've never been to the circus?  My parents claim that they took my older sister once and all she did was complain about the smell so they swore it off forever after.  Every time the circus came to town I would beg and plead to be taken (I think this lasted into high school) and they would bring out the same story about elephant poop.

Circuses were evidently a big deal in the Soviet Union and so pretty much every major city has a circus building that various circuses make the rounds of throughout the year.  I've meant to go to one the entire time we've been here (just like I've meant to go to the opera house) but there's no good way of telling when they're in town other than spotting the banner when you're driving past.  The circus is in a part of town I don't do much driving in and so usually I would see the banners just as it was over.  Once we even saw the banners before it came and tried to buy tickets but they were sold out.

A few weeks ago, however, the CLO sent an email around about an upcoming one.  All we had to do was give her the money and she would go buy the tickets.  And so finally, after almost thirty years of waiting, I got to go to the circus last Saturday.

Brandon had warned me not to expect too much - this is, after all not Barnum and Bailey - but I wasn't too worried.  I'm not much of a 'cultural experience' sort of person, in the traditional sense.  I'm not that interested in traditional cultures; what fascinates me instead is seeing contemporary culture and going somewhere like the circus is a perfect place to observe contemporary culture.  This circus would never even think of being a tourist attraction - it was a place where locals took their children for a good time.  It wasn't even just the rich locals, who we see at some of the places we take the children, it was all sorts of locals.  We even passed busses filled with children who had been shipped into town to come see the circus.  Evidently the circus is just as exciting now as it was when I was five.

The show started out with Father Christmas in his blue-and-white outfit and tinsel-wrapped cane introducing the Snow Maiden who sang everyone a song before the New Year's Tree was lit.  Then we got to watch a troupe of jump-ropers, poodles doing tricks with a stiletto-wearing bicycle lady, a restaurant comedic act, a family of acrobats, more dogs doing tricks (big ones this time), a couple of snakes and crocodiles, some dancing with more stilettos, a plate-twirling man, and the first-act finale, three bears doing various tricks including dancing, catching balls and hoola-hooping.  After the popular acts, children would file down with flowers to give to their favorite performers.  

After fifteen minute break we got to watch trapeze artists followed by a magic show with people disappearing and reappearing from a false floor they had set up during the break.  The whole show was accompanied by waving, flashing brightly colored wands throughout the crowd, bubbles from children with bubble guns, and balloons waving through the air.  Popcorn and cotton candy littered the aisles by the end, and at least a hundred phones got the whole show on tape.

It was interesting to see what was considered 'cool' here - lots of sparkly stiletto heels and sparkles in general, big band music from America, lots of flesh-colored leotards and bleach-blonde and red hair.  But, other than the music and flesh-colored leotards that's pretty much half the female population of Baku.  The first half of the show felt straight out of the fifties, and the second, complete with laser lights and smoke machines was early nineties.

But what wasn't different was how much everyone enjoyed the circus.  I guess it doesn't matter where you come from, watching a little girl catapult through the air and land in a handstand on her father's upraised hands is pretty cool.  And who doesn't like dog tricks?  And even if you know that the magic isn't real, it's still pretty cool to see those white doves emerge from handkerchiefs, crumpled newspaper, and thin air.  I confess that I'll always enjoy a good trapeze show.

After the show was over and we had swam through the crowd we asked the children how they liked it.  "That was great!  Can we go again next time?"  I doesn't matter where you are and where you're from, the circus is still the circus.  And it's pretty amazing.


UnkaDave said...

Ooops! As your father, I am feeling pretty shamed right now for depriving you of the circus. It was all your mother's fault.

PaulaJean said...

I regret that your childhood is forever blemished because I didn't like the circus. But not that much. :-)