So, last night at the circus (yes, I went to the circus, and yes as will become clear, I went last year too). This is the Universoul Circus, a multi-cultural circus with performers from all over the world, a hip-hop soundtrack and a positive family message. Cirque-du-Soleil-ish Asian girls hanging from the ceiling, contortionists, elephants, tigers, ponies, a little person ringmaster, funnel cake, nachos and other circus accoutrements.
There were a few acts from last year that weren’t in the show last night that I missed (the guys who ride motorcycles in a spherical cage), but a lot of new acts (ponies!).
There is, however, something that confused me last year that again, confused me this year.
There’s an acrobatic act called Russian Swing, performed by the Zhukau Acrobatics troupe. I did some research, and discovered these guys are from Belarus, a landlocked former member of the Soviet Union tucked between Russia, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. Their act involves two platform swings which face each other. A big hulky guy gets on the back of each and swings it, while a little guy gets on the front and jumps from one to the other, while they’re swinging, really fast, and sometimes they do flips and stuff, and sometimes two go at once, crossing each other.
I’d like to note here that it’s terrifying, and I can’t really watch it. I spend most of the act looking at the floor and listening to people gasp. I’m too worried there’ll be an accident and I get worried so I can’t look. (A few years ago I went to Cirque du Soleil’s KA in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand and spent the first half in panic mode, looking around thinking of all the terrible accidents that could happen and all the different ways I could see someone break his or her neck, and so my complaining sparked my mother to purchase me a 64-ounce alcoholic slush beverage during the intermission, and then I drank 3/4ths of it and fell asleep, I’m guessing from the combination of exhaustion and grain alcohol.)
So, here’s the confusing part. They wear sort of Bono-esque black patent leathery outfits with sort of tied-on mis-matched plaid wrap skirts. Their tops are sleeveless, but underneath they wear those flesh-colored long-sleeved shirts with fake tribal-tattoos on the arms (not really Celtic, but more like a George Clooney in “From Dusk Till Dawn” sort of look). In between terrifying acrobatic bits, they sort of dance and jump and twirl and yell, and the whole thing is set to sort of Riverdance music.
To drive from Edinburgh (the capital of Scotland) to Minsk (the capital of Belarus), it’s 1,751 miles. You go through France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and Poland. If you were to fly a straight line, you’d cross Denmark, Poland, Lithuania and that little separated bit of Russia between Lithuania and Poland.
What I’m trying to do here (besides show off my ability to read a map) is show you the cause of my massive confusion. Why are these guys, billed with an Eastern-Bloc-y name and coming from an ex-Eastern-Bloc-y country, doing this pretend Celtic thing as part of their Russian Swing act? And why is it so weirdly non-authentically Celtic? What’s with the tattoo shirts and the patent leather? What’s with the Riverdance music?
So, in the middle of my circus experience, twice last year and also last night, I’m having this mental breakdown, while staring at the floor of the big top circus tent because I’m terrified I’ll see some Belarusian guy accidentally break in half, because I took basic European history in college and have a giant mental conflict over what does Belarus have to do with Scotland, and why is this connection being made and why aren’t other people yelling out in the crowd “What in the hell is going on? Don’t you know you can just be Belarusian? It’s all exotic and wild to us because we’re in a tent in a parking lot in Atlanta, Georgia.”
I realize I’m trying to apply logic here to something that is obviously, and incredibly, resistant to logic. But nobody else seems to be as unsettled by this as I am, so I feel obligated to say something.
So, officially, for the record, there it is. I have some concerns (well, one concern really), but now I’ve documented them and can move on, I guess, because everybody else seems to have done so.