THE AMERICAN public must be getting comfortable with the Russian people. So comfortable, that some of them greeted the Moscow Circus, opening last night at the Baltimore Arena, with a protest. Thirty demonstrators, chanting "Free the Bears! Keep the Clowns!" paraded outside the Arena. Meanwhile, the crowd poured in eagerly awaiting the famous dancing brown bears.
Kyrem Ross, 10, admitted that he was worried about the bears -- worried that they would escape and eat him up. His fear, however, proved to be groundless. The bears were brash but also charming; just like the Moscow Circus itself.
Those familiar with the extravagant slickness of a circus like the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey will be slightly disappointed by the Moscow Circus' lack of glitter and glamour. This circus is rough around the edges, a little slow in spots, but also full of some truly exciting moments. It offers spectacle of a different sort.
How else can a performer such as Kaseyeva, the hoola hoop artist, be described? Her talent sounds bizarre but she is really good. Twirling six hoops, she energetically runs around the ring, switching each hoop from her arms to her legs and then to her waist. Without stopping. For her grand finale, Kaseyeva spins 25 multicolored hoops around her entire body, becoming a swiveling rainbow.
Zolkin and Mikityuk, along with the trained bears, came next and almost stole the show. The bears entered walking on their hind legs and, for a brief moment, resembled humans in bear costumes. These bears can juggle, twirl logs, and do a mean jig. One particularly modest bear presented his trainer with a bouquet of flowers on bended knee. Then he bowed to the audience who collectively melted into a sweet sigh.
Gasps of another kind greeted Abakharov, the high-wire team. These men and one woman, up 30 feet in the air, carried each other across the wire on each other's shoulders, arms, and heads. At one point, Akhmed balanced his wife, Alla, on his head as he worked his way over the wire. Never mind that she was also balanced on the tip of a very thin 10-foot pole. She fell once and was caught by her guide wire. Her second sojourn was successful.
Do not try this at home.
Eight-year-old Musheerah Habeebullah wants to. At intermission, she confessed that, if she had the chance, she would like to be "the girl on the pole." She adds, "I was scared when she fell. I jumped out of my chair." Jared Brown, 10, deemed the high-wire act "pretty awesome, especially the back flip." He, however, is in no rush to try it for himself.
The majority of the second half of the circus was more quiet. The Dyusembayev Cossack Horse Team, Pilipovich, a pair of disco juggler/acrobats, and Belkin, an equilibrist capable of extraordinary feats of balance, were all overshadowed by the closing act, the Cranes.
These artists performed an aerial ballet on trapezes. Based on a Russian song, this ballet enacts the transformation of the souls of fallen World War II soldiers into flying white cranes. Forget the music, which is an ungainly classical pastiche, and even forget the story. All that matters is the breathtaking and thrilling artistry the Cranes produce on their trapezes. Their somersaults, flips, twists, and turns are stunning. At the end, they plunge gracefully, one by one, into the net rendered invisible by cloud of smoke which mysteriously pours into the audience.
The Moscow Circus will be at the Baltimore Arena through = Sunday. Show times are tonight at 7:30; Friday at 7:30 p.m.; = Saturday at 11 a.m., 3:30 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 and 5:30 ? p.m. Tickets are $19.50, $16, $12.50 and $10. Tickets are : available at TicketCenter outlets, including the Baltimore Arena A box office, or by calling 481-6000. $