IT GOES "Gasp! Oooh ... ah ... BANG! Finish!" said the general manager of the Great Moscow Circus, Greg Hall.

Touring Australia with the circus in the past 40 years, Mr Hall has heard those sounds from audiences and performers thousands of times and it's still visible in his eyes as he speaks: he loves it.

Mr Hall is trying to tell me about the circus without sounding like he's selling me a ticket.

But his enthusiasm is infectious and his wealth of stories so appealing that I'm enthralled. My childhood dreams of running away and joining the circus are being reactivated.

The current show has 30 performers, all but six from Russia, and all the highlights of physical circus - acrobats, jugglers, clowns, trapeze acts and specialist performers - including a human cannonball.

Circus is considered a high art on a par with ballet and opera in Russia, Mr Hall said.

Things have changed a lot since the Moscow State Circus first came to Australia in 1962.

"It was the height of the Cold War," Mr Hall said.

"Performers were accompanied everywhere they went by KGB minders.

They were privileged to travel outside the Soviet Union."

Mr Hall said the circus used to feature horses, Siberian tigers and Russian brown bears, but stopped 20 years ago.

"Now we donate to breeding programs for endangered species," he said.

The circus opens tonight in Lismore.

Because it is the 50th year the circus has toured Australia, one night of each stay in each town is Mayor's Charity Night, when the proceeds of 500 tickets sold will go to a charity nominated by the local mayor.

Lismore's Jenny Dowell has chosen the Police Citizens Youth Club and Lismore Soup Kitchen to be tonight's recipients.

Mr Hall said while a three-year tour with international performers presented many challenges, he loved the life of the circus.

"The background noise is laughter and applause.

"Everyone's smiling. How many people can say that?"


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