Designed by the architects L. Segal, V. Shadrin, A. Nezhurin, and D. Leontovich in 1976, the Kyrgyz State Circus was one of a series of circus buildings commissioned across the Soviet Union during the 70s and 80s. While some of its mural art — including a raised relief of frolicking performers — has been damaged by wear and tear, the modernist landmark was fully renovated in 2005. Its pink roof, surrounded by geometric glass panels, was given a new lease of life, and the ground-floor walls were restored alongside a new coat of yellow paint — picking out the heavy-rimmed circular portholes peering out from the lower levels.
Bishkek’s UFO-shaped circus still functions today, although its performances are less frequent than in the building’s Soviet heyday, when crowds of more than 2,000 came to see what was then the capital’s biggest spectacle. The circus hosted its first show in 1978, combining acrobatics, magic, slapstick humour, and animals. But in 2009, a bear attack irreversibly damaged the institution’s reputation. During rehearsals for the Russian State Circus’s Bears on Ice, one of the animal performers killed 25-year-old circus administrator Dmitry Potapov, dragging him across the rink by the neck. An animal trainer who tried to intervene was also severely injured. The bear was immediately shot dead. In the years since, the debate surrounding animal rights and such performances have intensified in Kyrgyzstan, and in 2016, hundreds of people petitioned to halt a show in the country by a traveling Russian Dolphinarium. Ultimately, however, their protests were ignored.