A Russian history lesson under the big top

Every working day, Oxana Zinchenko takes her life in her hands - and her arms, legs and feet. The aerial silk performer in the Great Moscow Circus practises for at least an hour a day, perfecting her act and strengthening her body. When she rehearses, there's padding below, but at performances, there's nothing but a thin mat between her and the hard ground.

''You have to be very careful,'' she said. ''You have to think about every move you make, every time.''

Zinchenko, 32, grew up in a Russian circus family.

''My father worked with horses and my mother was a ballet dancer,'' she said.

''My parents taught me to do everything - when I was six I could do many different kinds of work.''

She is married to Yuriy Abrosimov, 36, who is a clown in the circus and is also its artistic director.


''Usually there is one person crazy in a family - it is me!'' he said.

Abrosimov's was a military family going back many generations but he found he wanted to make people happy.

''My father, he is a general, he is very clever and smart. He told me, 'It's your life, your destiny.'''

The family was on a posting to Uzbekistan when he began attending a circus school at the age of 11, with a particular focus on clowning and the rollo-bollo cylinder. He began performing 22 years ago. He and Zinchenko have been together for 10 years and married for five.

Abrosimov has worked with many different circuses - this is his third time performing in Australia and his first with the Great Moscow Circus, now in its second year of a three-year tour. Michael Edgley has been bringing the circus to Australia for more than 40 years.

More than 2000 performers were auditioned in Russia, he said: ''We found the best of the best.''

Abrosimov said one of the things that made this tour special was that it was designed as a pageant of Russian history, with each act representing a different event or period.

His wife's act, with its swirls of red, represents the 1917 revolution while his own, filled with slapstick and squirting water, is intended to evoke pre-revolutionary Russia.

''It's something funny like in a Russian market.''

But, he said, clowning wasn't easy.

''It takes a lot of skills, a lot of power.''

The Great Moscow Circus at Majura Park, Canberra Airport, April 13 at 1, 4 and 7.30pm, 14 at noon and 3pm, 16 at 2pm, 17 at 2 and 7.30pm, 18 at 2pm, 19 at 2 and 7.30pm, 20 at 1, 4 and 7.30pm, 21 at noon and 3pm, 23 at 2pm, 24 at 2 and 7.30pm, 25 at 2pm, 26 at 2 and 7.30pm, 27 at 1, 4, 7.30pm, 28 at noon. Tickets $29-$60. Bookings: 0429 667 269 or the site.