The history of the circus art of Ukraine begins with the IX century. Wandering artists entertained the audience until 1797. That year the Kontraktovaya Fair, was transported from Dubno to Kiev what led to the emergence of “booths” and “circus-columns”. They built them out with cheap boards and old boxes. This method of construction made the booths look like ordinary sheds. Inside there stood benches in several rows for wealthy spectators, and behind them was a fence specially for the standing places of the “poor peasants”. In the center of the arena was the pillar, which supported the canopy from the canvas.
The first stationary circus theater in Kiev was called the “Alcazar” and was opened in 1875 by the Austrian Ignatius Sobbot. It was at the crossroads of the modern B. Khmelnitsky and Pushkin streets. The building of the circus was two-story, built of stone. There were more than 60 artists, ballet from Naples, clowns from London, orchestra with 35 musicians and actions with the participation of 40 horses. However, the content of the circus was unprofitable and the following year it was closed, and the premise was leased to the tour of theatrical companies.
1876 – 1890
The next 14 years there were not permanent circus in Kiev. Meanwhile in the neighboring cities was started the opening of stationary circuses: in Odessa in 1862, in Moscow in 1868, the second circus in Odessa in 1879, in Kharkov in 1883, in Riga in 1888. Kiev, which experienced at that time a rapid development of culture and economy, could not lag behind.
The Kyiv City Сouncil held a competition for the best project of the construction of a stationary circus. The first person who introduced the project was the famous Albert Salomonsky, then, no less authoritative Scipio Ciniselli and other outstanding representatives of the circus world. Despite such a variety of projects, the Counsil rejected all proposals and decided to create a special city commission for the construction of a city circus. It was headed by the famous Kiev architect Georgy Shleifer.
The construction was entrusted to the son-in-law of the Kiev Governor-General Mikhail Dragomirov – Peter Krutikov. The son-in-law of the Kiev official was more suited to this role than anyone else – he was a great admirer of horses. Petr Krutikov’s horse performances were distinguished by an unusual manner of performance and entertainment. Only 2-3 times a year he held public appearances. In 1897, a talented trainer went on tour – Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa. Tickets for his performances were sold out a month in advance, and during the tour in Paris, he was visited by former President of France Casimir Perier.
When Mikhail Krutikov received success and recognition he engaged in circus activities professionally and headed the construction of a stationary circus in Kiev. On November 23, 1903, a circus was built on the site of the modern street of the Architect Gorodetsky. Kutikov named it Hippo-palace (“The Horse Palace”), the final project of the building was executed by the architect Eduard Bradtman.
It was the largest Europe`s circus – bricked, two-storied, arranged according to the latest technology. A spacious three-storied hall, a huge dome over an arena, electric lighting. A comfortable chair was waiting for each of the 2 thousand spectators (after a chapel with wooden benches, this luxury amazed).
Krutikov performed himself in the circus 1-2 times a year, and money, which were invested in the construction he reimbursed at the expense of domestic and foreign touring. At first only horses were performing in the arena, but then polar bears, lions and tigers appeared in the arena. One of the first trained monkeys, a female chimpanzee, was also noted in the walls of the Hippo-palace.
The building of the Krutikov Circus was destroyed in 1941, and in its place in 1964 the cinema “Ukraine” was erected.
In November 1960, the construction of the new building of the Kiev circus, which accommodates 1,900 spectators, was completed.
In 1998, the Kyiv State Circus received the status of the National Circus of Ukraine, what gave it the right to be called the main circus of Ukraine. On its basis, most of the actions that have been touring the world were created. Today the circus has its own artists of various circus genres, a ballet troupe, one of the best musical groups. Recently, the technical base of the circus has been improved, what made it possible to improve the quality of artistic perception of the performances.
Forty years of life was given to the National Circus of Ukraine by his general director, Boris Mikhailovich Zayats. Even in the conditions of the all-Union circus conveyor, he managed to create a purely Ukrainian team, which successfully represented the National Circus on the international arena glorifying Ukraine.
Domestic figure of circus art- Boris Zayats had significant international authority. He prepared and directed tours of circus groups in many countries of the world, participated in the work of the jury of international circus festivals and competitions. National Artist of Ukraine, Academician of the National Academy of Circus Art of Russia, Professor of the Karpenko-Karogo State Institute of Theatrical Art. Throughout his life he managed to pass on many years of experience to many circus groups.
A whole era of domestic circus art embodied in the activities of Vladimir Dmitrievich Shevchenko. Air gymnast, acrobat and world-famous trainer devoted his whole life to circus variety. The hereditary circus artist graduated in 1966 from the State College of Circus and Variety Art and devoted himself to the training of dangerous predators of the world.
Together with his wife Lyudmila Shevchenko, a talented trainer created his own attraction “Among the predators”. In the performance participate up to ten predators and a couple of artists perform acrobatic tricks and dance among animals, playing with lions as with kittens.
In the 80’s Vladimir Dmitriyevich headed the Ukrainian circus team, which was one of the most stable among all collectives of the Union of State Circuses under his leadership for many years. In 2007, he was appointed General Director and Artistic Director of the National Circus of Ukraine.
Vladimir Shevchenko brought up predators by his own method. The essence was the incentive principle of working with animals without elements of coercion. Humane attitude to the four-legged artists is the basis of labor with animals in the walls of the National Circus of Ukraine.
Vladimir Shevchenko danced tango with lions and rolled them on horseback. At the age of 14 he performed his first action on the arena together with six lionesses in front of the audience. All his life Vladimir prepared the actions, which later became classics of the circus world. For example, tango with lions. For several months he trained the lioness to stand on his hind legs, put the front ones on a special stand and do not release claws. This action, the Argentine tango with an adult lioness, thundered all over the world.
Success accompanied Vladimir Dmitrievich not only in circus activity, he equally brightly expressed his talents in the cinema. Many of us probably know the movies “Hyperboloid Engineer Garin” and “Make the Clown Funny”, in which the artist plays himself.
In 2011, the National Circus had an anniversary – 135 years since the foundation of a stationary circus in Kiev. The recovery occurred gradually, step by step, during the last decade. But already today we can confidently say that the representations of the National Circus of Ukraine can be a model of quality. This was confirmed by the high rates of attendance by spectators of last programs of the National Circus of Ukraine.