Russians start circus star wars big top battle big From Birmingham with love

Moscow State troupe takes legal action over use of name by `impostors' performing in Midlands Midlands`Russian-style' artistes competing for British audience
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The Independent Online
JAMES CUSICK

It promises to be "from Russia with love", full of tigers, camels, clowns and horses. But the "Traditional Russian Circus" currently entertaining Christmas audiences in Britain is lacking one essential ingredient - Russians.

The absence of real Cossacks and performers trained in the internationally renowned Russian state circus schools has prompted the organisers of the Moscow State Circus to take legal action against what it is calling the "impostors".

The "impostors" who will be performing at Aston, Birmingham, until 16 January initially billed themselves as the "Traditional Moscow Circus". However, after legal intervention from the Gerry Cottle Circus company, which brought over the real Moscow troupe earlier this year, posters were taken down. They reappeared with "Russian" instead of "Moscow" in the title.

Was this enough to placate the genuine Cossacks? Chris Baltrop of the Cottle company said: "We are very upset. They may be traditional, but Russians they are not. With the great financial uncertainties now facing traditional circuses in Russia, the public here is being offered only an imitation. Our lawyers have been contacted."

The "traditional Russians" are organised by a company called Circus Harlequin. Inquires about what audiences may expect are diplomatically answered. A spokeswoman for Harlequin said: "You'll be seeing tigers, camels, horses , clowns".

But will they be Russians, real Russians?

She replied: "Well not actually Russians - but it's Russian-type circus."

So where does the "from Russia with love" description come from? She said: "Well, it's similar to the Russians."

The imitation, however flattering, angers Mr Baltrop. "When the real Moscow state company came here this year the response was wonderful. They will be back again in the spring. Like all the circuses in Russia now, international touring will be their only hope of survival".

Since the Russian economic revolution under President Yeltsin, state funding of all circuses has been slashed. Where once 15,000 performers tumbled, rode bare-back and performed acrobatic tricks in 70 permanent circus buildings, the Russian circuses and their performers are struggling to survive. Of the three famous circus schools, only one in Moscow is left. And even there it was recently admitted that money for the most experienced circus teachers could no longer be found.

The visit to Britain last year for the Moscow state troupe was regarded as a financial saviour. However with no actual licence for its name, the legal power to act against impersonators is unclear.

Mr Baltrop said: "The true Russian circus performers used to enjoy employment certainty. Circuses held contracts with the state. But now every performer has to find his or her own contract. Like the former ballet dancers of the Bolshoi company who now tour the world, Russian circus acts are similarly having to perform all over the world. Both their reputation and skills are the unique selling point."

Mr Baltrop admitted Britain was still sceptical about circuses : "With imitations of the real thing, this will not help."

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