“King of jesters” Anatoly Durov: why officials were afraid of the founder of the famous circus dynasty
The famous Russian trainer and clown Anatoly Durov, who became the founder of the circus dynasty, turned the idea of clowning and circus art. He was the first circus performer to turn to political satire. Trained animals served him for creating allegories – he put on fables and mini-plays on the day’s malice, and in these numbers the audience easily recognized famous officials. The prospect of being publicly ridiculed did not appeal to anyone, and the higher ranks were afraid to go to the performances, during which there were many curiosities.
Anatoly Durov was born in 1864 in the family of a police bailiff. At the age of 5, he lost his mother, and soon, unable to cope with the loss, his father also passed away. Anatoly and his older brother were raised by their godfather, a Moscow lawyer named Zakharov. He intended to give them a good education and arranged for them to join the First cadet corps, but the brothers ‘ studies were of little interest. Since childhood, they were in love with the circus and dreamed of performing in the arena themselves.
The godfather was dissatisfied with such Hobbies, because in those days the circus was considered a “low-grade” art. Then the Durov brothers ran away from home and got a job in a traveling circus, where they performed as acrobats, equilibrists and jugglers. Durov changed several troupes, where he performed acrobatic numbers. Once he tried himself as a clown. The performance was so successful that the host then signed him to a one-year contract.
Durov tried to find his own style in clowning. Using animals in the numbers, he acted out entire performances. Satirical numbers were particularly successful. At the age of 20, the young man came to Moscow and joined the troupe of the German Schumann circus. Performances of the clown caused surprise and Homeric laughter. He was surprised by the fact that he used a minimum of makeup and did not try to make fun of his own falls and other traditional techniques. His skill was shown not in training, but in witty monologues and remarks, and when the audience recognized the four-legged artists of famous officials, they roared with laughter.
Soon Durov’s numbers became the highlight of the program. If before him the real names of clowns were not indicated on posters, then his name was written in large letters – this became an effective bait for the public. They called him the ” king of jesters “and he didn’t mind – as long as he wasn’t the”jester of kings.” Durov began to tour not only in Russia, but also abroad, and everywhere he was met with ovations. He became the first Russian circus star on a global scale.
However, in Russia, the clown profession was still treated with disrespect, and circus art was considered “low”. Repeatedly Durov tried to touch and prick. Once the son of the editor of the newspaper “Moskovsky list” asked the artist a question: “is it true that to enjoy success in the circus arena, you must necessarily have a stupid face?”. Durov replied that this was true. Then he paused and added: “and if I had a face like Yours, my success would be even more assured!”.
Durov ridiculed bureaucracy, bribery, police brutality, boldly criticized the powers that be, and in his numbers, the audience easily recognized famous officials. Many of them were afraid to go to his performances, and people went jokes based on his satirical stories. Because of such numbers, Durov was persona non grata in many cities, and in the Newspapers he was harassed: “This farcical clown of bad taste tries to act as an actor, a coupleteer, and even… an Expositor.”
Once during a tour in Odessa, there was such an incident. The local mayor by the name of Zeleny went to the circus buffet. Everyone stood up, and only the actor is left to sit. The official angrily exclaimed: “Explain to this oaf that I am Green!”. To which the artist calmly replied:”When you are Mature, I will talk to you.” And during the performance, at which the mayor was also present, Durov brought a hog painted green into the arena and made all the animals bow to him, saying: “bow to him, all of You, because he is green!”. After that, the artist was told to leave the city in 24 hours. He left… in a cart with a green hog in it.
In 1916, while on tour in Mariupol, Durov fell ill with typhoid fever and died suddenly. And his business was continued by Anatoly Durov Jr. Gorky wrote about the outstanding circus artist: “He was the wizard who poured a drop, just a drop of living water – laughter – into the poisoned source of sadness and made it curative, giving strength and life.” And Kuprin said: “This is the greatest Russian circus artist, who for the first time showed that the clown is not a buffoon, but an artist and satirist.”