Police called to Russian circus as spectators fume

A new year show put on by a touring circus in the Belarusian city of Vitebsk was so awful that police were called in, local media report.

Spectators suspected the Russian performers of being drunk as artistes repeatedly fell off bicycles and jugglers dropped their props.

Exotic beasts, including two species apparently plucked from the realms of fantasy, did not show up.

The circus said later the missing animals had been stopped by customs.

The director of Vitebsk's palace of sport, where the circus was performing, told Belarusian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda that the tickets would be refunded.

Igor Kalmuk added that his lawyers were working to recover the money from the circus, which reportedly left Vitebsk soon after being interviewed by police.

A Belarussian police spokesman said an investigation was under way into whether a crime had been committed.

'Black bears and orcs'

Local people said a new year spectacular of this magnitude was a rare event for Vitebsk, the city in northern Belarus made famous by artist Marc Chagall.

Posters had promised a show featuring "jugglers and midgets, fantasy heroes and performing animals", put on by the Student Association of Kostroma, a city in central Russia.

Black bears were billed along with performing crocodiles and monkeys and "orcs and turantons".

Local media suggest the "orcs" were a reference to the goblins in the literature of JRR Tolkien, while the "turantons" may refer to a figure out of World of Warcraft.

Several thousand tickets were sold, snapped up for between 10,000 (?2, $3, 2.5 euros) and 50,000 roubles apiece, according to Belarusian news website Narodnya Navyny Vitsebska.

The early performance on 2 January turned out to be the first and last.

"When the show started, they had a few poodles and one crocodile, and the artistes kept falling off their bicycles," said Mr Kalmuk.

Angry spectators began demanding their money back during the interval and someone called the police.

A rumour went around that the performers were drunk. "How else can you explain that one fell off their bike three times in two minutes?" one spectator told Komsomolskaya Pravda.

As a result, other performances were cancelled, and circus performers were interrogated and even breathalised. As it turned out, they were sober, Komsomolskaya Pravda wrote on Tuesday.

The administrator of the circus, Yekaterina Kudasheva, was quoted by Mr Kalmuk as saying, variously, that some of the promised animals had "got stuck at customs" or "were outside Moscow".

One Vitebsk father, named only as Yuri M, had taken his wife and child to the show for a treat, braving a blizzard on the way, only to find the second performance of the day cancelled.

"It was not so much the money we spent on the tickets as the look and tears of the children... when they got to see nothing," he told Narodnya Navyny Vitsebska.


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