Not Quite The Greatest Show On Earth

by Chris Noonan Sturm

Vaudeville lives on. We found it on Letna plain under a yellow and red tent that's home to the Circus sultan.

Perhaps it's a sympton of TV withdrawal. Or maybe a result of a dreadful malnourishment in trips to the Galaxie multiplex. But our kids actually liked watching people juggle bizarre objects with their feet.

Ringling Brothers and the Moscow Circus have nothing to fear. The Sultan is no big top or "Show of Shows," but then who hasn't had trouble deciding which of the three rings to watch in those big circuses?

What we found was an earnest little circus with very hard-working people -- from the four-piece band that never seemed to take a breath, to the cute, curly-haired twin acrobats, to the pony smaller than a Great Dane.

The "sultan" theme begins with the ticket-takers, who wear badly fitting red and gold coats and turbans that have trouble defying gravity.

Inside, the tent is dark and warm from the crush of people. The smell is of sawdust. You find a seat on a bleacher bench with your cotton candy, soda and popcorn.

For two hours, not counting the intermission, you watch juggling, followed by some balancing. Then, more juggling.

Did I mention that they do a lot of....juggling?

But put thoughts of dangerous objects such as flaming torches, gleaming knives, bowling balls, a chain saw and such out of your mind. They don't do those.

In fact, this circus appears to have gone out of its way to avoid tired circus-act cliches such as the fire juggler; the woman who spins around by her hair or her teeth; the flying trapeze; the dog act; the magician; the woman who rides around the ring standing on a horse; and, of course, the elephants who circle the ring at the end of the show, trunk to tail, followed by a clean-up brigade.

It was very post-modern. Even groundbreaking.

So, you might wonder, what kinds of acts do they perform?

And we enjoyed every minute of it.

(Originally appeared in the Prague Post English-language weekly.)

(c) 1994-2001 David and Chris Sturm
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