Today I went to the Great Moscow Circus at Learmonth Park here in Bathurst. As we approached, I noticed that all of the vans were extraordinarily clean. I should have realised this was a warning sign, a portent. The dusty, bedraggled air of the circuses of memory was nowhere in sight. Once the show started, it became clear that there was not much Moscow-ness in this Great Moscow Circus. The opening scene had a billowing floor and fake snow and little Russian children playing with snowballs, and a great wash of Russian male voice choir. After that there were references to vodka, a thumping Russian song, and and the ring master said do svidaniya at the end. But that was about it. Nobody seemed to be speaking with a Slavic accent. I realised the whole thing was actually from Generica, the same place that breeds shopping malls, Darling Harbour and top forty hits. It was all about lights and a great blare of sound. My little friend Marcus, five years old, actually asked to be taken out a couple of times, such was the noise. Another little boy that passed my seat a couple of times had his hands over his ears both times.
Maybe the loudness and machines were there to make up for the lack of animals. There were no lions or elephants or any other uncontrollable things on the premises. It was a loud, giant, literally well-oiled machine and it made the skilled performers seem small and maybe not such a big deal. They had been swallowed by the machine. It was all about bigness, the sort of bigness that has no end; it must just keep getting bigger, like the mining machinery at the Cadia goldmine, like the hole in the ground at Cadia.
There were lots of little kids there. Tellingly, the greatest response from the kids came with the lowest-tech performance. The ringmaster took off his red coat and became a drunken clown, splashing “Vodka” from a bottle over the audience. He climbed a ladder to a diving springboard, hurting his crotch on the way. The kids were in gales of laughter and participation. There is nothing like the sound of hundreds of children laughing. But then it was back to the Big, Loud and Overwhelming. The kids were pinned back in their seats in shock and awe. The finale was a giant metal spherical cage in which three loud roaring motorbikes rode in tiny dizzying circles. The riders would die if they made a false move, but they didn’t. There was great skill there, but somehow it was buried inside the gigantic machinery of the set-up.
We walked out into the bright, warm spring sunshine. Across the fields were people playing with frisbees and it was mercifully quiet.