Pattaya Mail turns 12

Vol. XIII No. 45
Friday November 11 - November 17, 2005

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Local Personalities

Anatoly Gurov

by Dr. Iain Corness

If you have ever wanted to run away and join the circus, think twice. After spending an hour with Anatoly Gurov, the Ringmaster and clown for the Royal London Circus (on until late November, don’t miss it), I began to realize just how hard a life being a circus performer really is. However Anatoly said, “It’s not difficult after the first 20 years!”

Anatoly is Russian, born in a small town somewhere between Moscow and St. Petersburg, which in itself sounded like it was no tropical wonderland. His father was in the Russian Army, so Anatoly’s young life was spent traipsing around the outposts of what was then the USSR. Subsequently his schooling was through seven or eight different government schools in Russia.

As he was coming to the end of his schooling, he thought he might like to do Medicine at university, but one fateful day walked past a circus. “I went inside,” said Anatoly, shrugging his shoulders, as if that should be enough to explain his shift of direction in his proposed career.

Being still at school, he worked there in the evenings as part of the ring crew or helping the clowns. I asked Anatoly if this were for the money, to which he replied, “In Russian circus you don’t make big money!”

By the time his secondary schooling was over, he knew that the circus was where he wanted to be, so he went to circus school. Yes, perhaps one reason why Russian performers are so skilled is that they go to circus school. For four years! But this is done through a government sponsored scholarship plan. This is also not a ‘get rich easily’ scheme for young runaways. 25 years ago, the scholarship was worth 25 rubles a month to the young circus student.

“You learn all,” said Anatoly. Being a performer means that you graduate as being multi-skilled in the art of entertainment under the big top. And yes, you do get a certificate at the end of your four years - if you are successful. By the way, the hours are so demanding in the circus school that you attend classes day and night. The only time you get to actually work in a circus is during the holidays.

After graduation, young Anatoly went to work in a circus in Moscow, where he assisted an old clown, learning even more about being a performer, almost an on the job apprenticeship after the four years of theory. After a few months, he then joined the circus travelers. Unlike many countries where the circuses move from town to town, in Russia, the circuses are established in major cities and the performers move from circus to circus with about one month in each venue. “In 12 months you go to around eight or nine circuses,” said Anatoly.

He kept up this gypsy routine for the next 15 years, but in 1984 during that time, he met Layma in St. Petersburg, the woman who was going to become his wife. Layma is from Lithuania and was part of a long circus family tradition. “Her family has been in circuses for around 100 years,” said Anatoly. In the circus, the path of true love is also not easy. Anatoly and Layma would meet each other once a year as they rotated around Russia, but in 1987 they stopped long enough to get married, and Layma changed her act from being an acrobat and horse-rider to being the clown’s assistant.

When the old Soviet Union disbanded and the Iron Curtain was lifted, it became possible for circus performers like Anatoly and Layma to go overseas, and their next five years were spent in Japan; however, the Japanese regulations meant that they spent three months in Japan, and then had to go out of the country for a while, and then return for another three month contract. During this extended contract, Anatoly also learned enough Japanese to get by. Other countries they have worked in include Sweden, Hungary, Korea and many other European countries. Talking to Anatoly, it was obvious that he had been to so many countries, he could not remember them all.

I wondered if his act remained the same as he moved through the different circuses, but that was not the case. As a performer, he has to be versatile, as it is the circus director who chooses the acts the individual performers will do. “Some directors like some acts that other directors do not like.”

I also wondered if Anatoly has to wait till the phone rings, for a new contract, or whether he contacts the directors. By this stage in his career, he is apparently well known in the circus fraternity. “Many directors know me and my family and contact me directly. Though sometimes if I don’t have a contract we go home (they have two homes in Moscow and Lithuania) and we wait, or then I ring the directors.”

They also now have a daughter, Kristina, who is nine years old. Her education is done in two ways, by the internet from her school in Lithuania, or by booking in to an international school in the country in which they are performing, if they have a long contract. However, Anatoly finds the cost of international schools in Pattaya just a little too expensive.

Anatoly is now 46 years old and believes that he can continue as a circus performer for at least another 10 years. “Some old artists work till they are 70, but if the audience does not find my act entertaining, then I will finish my work,” said Anatoly. The mark of a true artist.

For circus performers like Anatoly and Layma, they live in the circus, not in the country where the circus is performing. “I live here,” said Anatoly, motioning towards the line of trailer homes. For those like me, still imagining life in the circus, it was a fascinating insight. Thank you Anatoly, and the Royal London Circus.

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