Greatest Show in Soviet Union Heads for S. D.

San Diego County Arts Writer

A dozen juggling brown bears, 18 dancing Sumatran tigers and a thundering squad of Cossacks on horseback will descend on the San Diego Sports Arena in December for what the arena management predicts will be the biggest show in its history.

The all-star Moscow Circus, making its first California visit in 20 years and its first U.S. tour in 10, is coming to town. The West Coast swing of the circus’ North American tour opens Dec. 7 at the Sports Arena for a five-day run, circus and arena officials announced Thursday.

The Moscow Circus--109 people and 42 performing animals handpicked from 137 circuses across the Soviet Union--is bigger and better than any four Russian circuses combined, said one of the performers who was in town for the press conference.

The talent was chosen by Yuri Matveev, deputy director of Soyuzgoscirk, a Soviet circus organization, and Steve Leber, the U. S. impresario of the tour, which is sponsored by Lever Brothers’ Snuggle fabric softener.


Aleksander Makovei and Vladimir Anoufriev, two Russian gymnasts who perform a balancing act, took time off from the current engagement in Washington to fly to San Diego for the announcement.

Graduates of the four-year State School of Circus and Variety Art, Makovei, 37, and Anoufriev, 31, have performed as a team for four years. Circuses in the Soviet Union are considered an art form that compares in prestige with the ballet, opera and theater.

Makovei said circuses typically play in a big city for six months and for as long as six weeks in smaller cities. However, ticket prices are nominal, about 50 cents, he said.

“The Soviet individual will never see a show in all his life like this,” Makovei said through an interpreter. “One would have to see three or four circuses in the Soviet Union to see all the acts in this show.”


The pair demonstrated a couple of routines from their act. Anoufriev executed a perfect handstand as Makovei lifted him high overhead. Neither broke a sweat.

Asked how he trains, Anoufriev, whose mother was a circus acrobat, said he never lifts weights.

“I use my body. I do pull-ups, chin-ups,” he said. Asked how many chin-ups he can do, Anoufriev responded, “How many do you want?” In their costumes, both looked as if they could do a hundred.

Highlights of the Moscow Circus’ 15-city North American tour, which began in August in Toronto, include Svetlana and Vyacheslav Zolkin and their 12 trained bears; the Chernuvsky group of 13 Ukrainian acrobats; and Alexander Frish, a juggling clown who is nationally acclaimed in the Soviet Union.

However, the group that is generally considered the circus’ top headliners is the Cranes, a team of 10 aerial artists whose choreography pays homage to soldiers who died in World War II.

Philip R. Quinn, executive vice president and general manager of the Sports Arena, estimated that the Dec. 7-11 run will cost about $500,000.

“I found out that shipping bears is not cheap,” Quinn cracked.

Floor-level seating is available. Tickets, at $12.50, $17.50 and $20, go on sale Sunday at the Sports Arena and at TicketMaster outlets.