Brighton’s familiar ring: Russian circus stars feel right at home
Ringling Bris. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performer Olga Surnina longed for her mother’s homemade Russian blintzes as she traveled the country. Now, her cravings are being satisfied.
Ringling’s Boom-A-Ring circus has set up its tent and trailers in Coney Island, just down the Boardwalk from the city’s most famous Russian enclave — Brighton Beach.
“When we first got here, before we even settled in, we walked over [to Brighton,]” said Surnina, who rides a motorcycle inside a globe.
“The first day, I completely overate. I had the pelmeni [Russian dumplings] and blintzes. Just like my mom makes,” she said, rubbing her stomach.
Of the 24 circus performers in the act, 16 are Russians who have been touring small-town America since 2007. Although they’ve come across smaller Russian communities in places like Orlando, Fla., nothing has come close to Little Odessa by the Sea.
The performers said they missed everything from the food to kvas (a drink made from yeast) to Cake Napoleon (a dessert) to Russian toys for their kids, newspapers in their native tongues, medicines and just being able to talk to people who understand them.
“This is so comfortable for me. I don’t speak English well, and to be able to walk in and explain myself at a bank is great,” said juggler Dmintry Kasnin, 29, who is from St. Petersburg.
Fellow juggler and clown Stanislav Knyazkov was relieved to find his pain medication on the pharmacy shelves.
“As soon as I’d get a headache, I think, ‘Tsitramon,’ but where to find it? I got it here!” said Knyazkov, 33, as he strolled Brighton Beach Ave.
“I haven’t had a chance to get new books on the road,” he said, noting that he picked up the newest reads by author Boris Akunin at Brighton’s St. Petersburg Bookstore.
Brooklyn News took five of the performers out to breakfast at Brighton’s gourmet food playground, M&I International supermarket and cafe, where they feasted on mashed potatoes, sausages, blintzes, cheesecakes and, of course, herring.
“Yum! Now, this I missed!” gushed clown Vasily Trifonov, as he scooped up a plateful of the fish.
Trifonov, 33, who lives in a circus trailer with his wife and two children, also visited a Russian-speaking doctor with the kids and picked up some books for his 5-year-old daughter.
“I went to the children’s store and bought books for her. She’s just starting to read,” he said, proudly.
The Russian-speaking audience members provide a big boost, too.
“This week, there was a Russian man in the audience. All he needed was a Russian flag in his hands. He was so loud, supporting us,” said Knyazkov’s wife, juggler Gulia Safargalina. “It was like a soccer match. He really took us in as his own.”
Still, there’s one thing they have yet to do in Brooklyn before it truly starts to feel like home: “We have to find a banya!” Kasnin said of the traditional Russian bath house. “I haven’t been in a year-and-a-half.”