New London Feature
Story and photos by Brenna English Chapman
“EXCUSE ME!” a man in the back of the line yelled to a mother using her windbreaker jacket to tow her three children to the front of the line. Lined up, were crowds of people flooding the streets of downtown New London for the Moscow State Circus Monday afternoon.
“Don’t you know there’s a line here?” Not willing to be accused of cutting in line the mother hesitated by the door of the Garde Arts Center, spinning around to find the owner of the voice, but after seeing the mass of people she gave up looking for him and addressed everyone, offering them an explanation of why her family got to go in ahead of everyone else. “EXCUSE ME,” she yelled back. “We have reserved tickets.” Someone muttered, “yeah right,” as the family was swallowed inside and another person stated exactly what the ringmaster would have said about the situation if he were out there to tame the crowd himself. “WHO CARES? THE SHOW MUST GO ON!”
And indeed it did. The general rhythm and roar evolving from the anticipation of the crowd started on the sidewalks long before the performance even began, escalating a bit more each and every time the door swung open to let a new group file in before the ticket booths, the smell of popcorn escaping onto the sidewalks, along with the squeals coming from those already inside delighting in a child friendly lobby, imitating a mini-Disneyland. Children under 12-years-old were admitted free, but most likely, most caregivers who brought their young loved ones spent almost as much as their $ 20.00 adult admittance between popcorn and soda, blow-up Spiderman figures, spun cotton candy, and multi-colored light sticks. The same light sticks the ringmaster later mentioned during the show revolutionized the game “Hide and Go Seek,” and had the power to make a child appear, or disappear on demand. And the children were feeling the power. It was their night. If their energy had the ability to transmit sound, they would have been deafening.
The lights in the theatre dimmed and disappeared with a command of the ringmaster whose booming presence materialized on the stage in a cloud of vapor mist, the spotlight on him illuminating a full-house of youthful faces, where no one could tell whether the smiles and peels of laughter were coming from the adults or the children. That is the magic of the circus. It is a festival for all ages, a gala about believing in the impossible, celebrating the fantastic instead of the realistic, a fiesta where the imagination performs the unimaginable. Like one woman in the crowd said, “It’s one night out of the year we don’t want or need to know what to expect.”
No one could have expected the famous cartoon character Sponge Bob Square Pants making an appearance, or the sight of a monkey dressed in a suit. Neither could anyone have expected they would have a picture of themselves with a snake wrapped around their neck at the end of the night. And no one could have anticipated that such a small, family based and affiliated operation could have put on such a dramatic, flawless show of clowning, dance, juggling, hand balancing, in addition to trapeze, roller-skating and magic acts, while still maintaining a quality paralleling the larger circus productions, only minus the animals. No spectators even seemed to realize, nor did they care, that the performers were still running the show while not on stage. The cotton candy man was spotlighting as the trapeze man, the manager was selling coloring books in between an extremely precarious balancing act performed with his son. And the hoop dancer and a Sumo Wrestler were both serving as face painters, during intermission. The members of Moscow State Circus treat their real and live roles with ease, their desire to offer a grand performance is just as strong as the crowds desire to see it performed, and the Moscow State Circus performers are just as excited to stick their stunts as the crowd is to see them successfully land them, the circus crowds resembling sports spectators revving up with the same heated enthusiasm when they hear the song with the words, “Are you all ready for this?”
According to ringmaster, Ben DeWayne in a backstage interview, the Moscow State Circus evolved from the Original Moscow Circus, based in Russia and was created after the original traveled through the area five years ago. After that the Moscow State Circus hired all Russian acts, obtaining a title and obtaining unusual acts from all over the world to travel with the North American version of the Moscow Circus, which currently travels across Canada, the United States, and Mexico. DeWayne, a 3rd generation circus performer, who has been in the circus business for 65 years says his job as ringmaster came late in life, after attempting many different roles in the circuit such as high wire, and elephant training, and after suffering one year of retirement, where he was stationary and bored out of his mind. “People said I had a good voice,” DeWayne smiled, pointing to his throat spray, saying that’s what gives him his sexy sound. “I got so tired of playing chess with the old men in the park in Saratoga, Florida so I got myself hired on as a part-time ringmaster.” DeWayne jokes that he is 74 years-old, going on his 29th birthday and says being with the circus has been wonderful because he’s gotten travel all his life. The other 45 members in his traveling troop share the same transitory lifestyle, residing in campers, driving from show to show, every one being responsible for their own living quarter and DeWayne says they are still practice in the meantime. “You have to enjoy what you do here, if you don’t you’ll never last.”
Berengere Naidenkine, a French native, and a hoop dancer and strap performer in the Moscow State Circus traveling with her husband and step-son who also both perform, shares the same sentiment, like most of the performers do. “You have to love it,” Naidenkine says. “Not like, love it.” Naidenkine says the money is good but there are a lot of expenses that follow suit, and trials and tribulations just like in any other profession, and pressure, especially when there is a full house of people there to watch them perform. “We are not like robots, sometimes we are good, and sometimes we are not,” Naidenkine says. “We try to be the best, waking up in the morning, working two shows, jumping in the car, driving 200 miles, sometimes waking at 3 a.m., trying to sleep a little the next day.” But almost every day when the Moscow State Circus Members wake up, they are refreshed by different people, and different towns.
Nickolai Koshkarev, Russian manager and hand balance performer in the show sees the traveling as just another part of the other duties he performs, going on the road, working hard, fulfilling his expectations. “That’s circus life,” Koshkarev says. His fifteen year-old son, Anton Koshkarev, also a hand balance performer with his father said he didn’t know he was going to follow in his father’s footsteps, he just started practicing when he was five-years-old, and he and his dad began an act when he turned nine. Seemingly fearless of crowds and settling into a gymnastic split with the same painless effort Anton shrugged off everything with optimism in reference to life with the Moscow State Circus and responded with the same strong resolve as his father. “It’s not as hard as it seems,” Anton smiled, admitting he ate 8 pieces of pizza between shows. “I basically work ten minutes during the shows, which is not easy, it’s not hard, it’s just what you do.”
And for some people, like soundman, Dennie Pinson Jr. he couldn’t, and wouldn’t have it any other way. Born into a traveling circus family in a dressing room of the Shrine Circus in Vancouver, British Columbia during the Pacific National exhibition (similar to the World’s Fair) Pinson said he assumed his role in the circus automatically, like 90% of offspring do, with eight generations of circus performers on his mother’s side and two generations on his father’s side to historically and traditionally influence him. Pinson says being in one spot and having a regular life, and a regular job, and a toilet not connected to a truck going 80 miles an hour would be an abnormal life for him.
“Life with the circus is like a revolving door,” Pinson says. “You don’t ever know when it’s going to stop or where.”
This time it was in New London.