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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a circus genre, consisting of comical scenes in which clowns perform and use the devices of slapstick and buffoonery.

The origins of clowning were secular farces. The traditional mask of the white clown is taken from the Italian commedia dell’arte and French and English street theater. The mask of the red clown (wearing a red wig) comes from folk jesters and clumsy circus hands, who parodied the performances of the actors. A conflict arises between the elegant and self-confident whiteface clown and the awkward and ridiculous red clown; the red clown is usually the victor.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, clowns performed as horsemen and ropewalkers. In Astley’s first stationary circus (London, 1780), the comic actor B. Saunders played the role of a hapless horseman. J. B. Auriol in his debut in Franconi’s circus in 1834 combined complicated acrobatic exercises with comical routines. Since that time clowns have made extensive use of trained animals, acrobatics, and musical instruments in their performances. Gradually their acts acquired a satirical and topical quality. This was particularly characteristic of the performances of the Russian clowns A. L. Durov, V. L. Durov, and V. E. Lazarenko.

There are clowns who perform solo, reciting monologues, performing sketches and acrobatic tricks, and displaying trained animals. There are also carpet clowns (who performed between acts) and comic clowns (buffoons), who work in pairs, trios, or larger groups. The first comic clowns were Foottit Chocolat in France and S. S. Al’perov and Bernardo (B. M. Mukhnitskii) in Russia. In the prerevolutionary Russian circus the clown duos of Lepom and Eizhen (E. Pillatt) and the Kostandi Brothers gained fame, and “Bim-Bom” musical slapstick clowns occupied a special place.

Clowning in the Soviet circus is distinguished by an intensification of the satirical and topical tendencies of the repertoire and by the fusing of witty buffoonery with the psychological development of the characters. Among the best Soviet clowns are V. G. Durov, Iu. V. Durov, D. S. Al’perov, Mishel' (M. P. Kaliadin), Maks (M. I. Fedorov), the Lavrov Brothers, the Tanti Brothers, the Kol’petti Brothers, S. F. Krein, Roland and Koko (K. P. Pluchs and A. F. Lutts), Karandash (Pencil), O. K. Popov, Iu. V. Nikulin and M. I. Shuidin, L. G. Engibarov, B. P. Viatkin, K. A. Berman, and A. N. Nikolaev.


Kuznetsov, E. Tsirk. Moscow-Leningrad, 1931.
Rumiantsev, M. Na arene sovetskogo tsirka. Moscow, 1954.
Radunskii, I. S. Zapiski starogo klouna. Moscow, 1954.
Dmitriev, Iu. A. Sovetskii tsirk. Moscow, 1963.
Dmitriev, Iu. A. Sovetskii tsirk segodnia. Moscow, 1968.
Rémy Tristan. Klouny. Moscow, 1965. (Translated from French.)
Ardov, V. Razgovornye zhanry na estrade i v tsirke. Moscow, 1968.
Iskusstvo klounady. Moscow, 1969.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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