Hundreds of spectators drop their jaws and look up to watch a man suspended from the ceiling by his arms. His wife, suspended above him, steps on his head, then his back, and twirls him like a pinwheel as they slowly float down to the center of the ring.
Tbilisi’s 125-year-old circus is back in action, and its shows, playing to sell-out crowds, are proving that, for all the ethnic and geopolitical differences that split apart the Soviet Union, under the big top, circus performers remain part of one big family.
“Circus artists are not political,” commented 76-year old circus caretaker Arkady “Shekir” Parsadanishvili, who, in Soviet times, performed with a team of ethnic Uzbek, Georgian and North Caucasian “djigits” or stunt-horsemen. “They have no nationality.”
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Paul Rimple is a freelance reporter based in Tbilisi. Justyna Mielnikiewicz is a freelance photojournalist also based in Tbilisi.