Come one, come all ... The Moscow Cats Theatre is on yet another US tour.
What? You think I'm joking? In fact no - this famous Russian children's theater, with clowns Yuri Kuklachev, his wife Elena Kuklacheva, son Dmitriy Kuklachev, and 26 cats will initially be performing in the following US cities:
- Atlanta - October 28-29
- San Diego - November 4-5
- Los Angeles - November 11-12
- Phoenix - November 18-19
- Los Angeles - November 25-26
- Los Angeles - Deccember 2-3
- Detroit - December 9
- Chicago - December 10
- Columbus - December 16-17
- Detroit - December 22-23
- Chicago - December 26-30
More dates are yet to be scheduled, but as this is the 2006 - 2007 tour, it is likely there will be other cities after the New Year holiday. From the New York Times article describing the 2005-2006 tour:
The theater has a total of nine different routines, including "Cats From Outer Space" and "Nutcracker." No one show is ever exactly like another. "Cats are like actors," Mr. Kuklachev said. "They do what they want. Sometimes a cat doesn't want one trick, so he does another."
The next day, in rehearsal, Mr. Kuklachev gave a preview. A cat called Tamara was brought out onstage and began rocking on a glittering pink rocking horse, nearly tipping over at one point.
There would also be a "tightrope" act. Two people held a pole horizontally while Belok, who is white, walked across it, with an intent manner. A black cat named Charlie did the same thing, but upside down, grasping the pole from underneath with his four legs. Motia, who is off-white, outdid them both. She made her way across the pole from underneath using only two legs. As the cats worked, Mr. Kuklachev clucked and cooed encouragingly, rewarding them with gentle strokes of his curved palm.
The story of "Queen of the Cats" is a kind of allegory, Mr. Kuklachev explained. He plays a painter who goes to sleep and dreams that aliens arrive from outer space in a U.F.O. and try to steal his cats.
At one point, one of the cats stands on a mirrored ball that looks as if it has been borrowed from "Saturday Night Fever." She is emitting "rays of goodness," he said, spreading kindness throughout the world.
The idea of performing cats came to Mr. Kuklachev in 1971, he said, when he found a stray begging for food by performing on its hind legs and doing somersaults for onlookers. Mr. Kuklachev, the son of a truck driver and a factory worker, had attended clown school. He realized he and the cat might be able to do something together. He named her Strelka, and soon she was performing with him at the Moscow State Circus.
Mr. Kuklachev did an act which would become well known as "The Cat in the Pot." A cat would sit in a pot. He would take her out, and she would keep jumping back in again. In 1988 Mr. Kuklachev left the Moscow circus, and in 1990 he founded the Cats Theater. It is very popular in Moscow, Mr. Kuklachev said, and over the years he has traveled to 80 countries and won many awards.
There are 120 cats altogether in the company. The other 94 are back in Moscow at the theater on Kutuzovsky Prospekt, where 10 caretakers and four veterinarians look after them. There, they live in the theater in glass-fronted spaces - not cages, Mr. Kuklachev insists - where they each have a bed and a chair to play on. They are allowed to roam but must enter and exit their rooms on his command, he said.
"We have no mice," Mr. Kuklachev noted.
... And a more critical BroadwayWorld review by Michael Dale:
But despite its name, the show is mostly a silent clown act, with Kuklachev center stage and in the spotlight for most of the hour-long intermission-less performance. (I've seen web postings from audience members saying the show had an intermission and was 80 minutes long. That wasn't the case when I attended.) He performs standard routines like continually stepping on a broom that always winds up hitting him in the back, pretending to be a great artist and painting portraits of audience volunteers or miming umbrella mishaps on a windy day. It's all very cute and suitable for the youngsters, but no more interesting than the average professional clown you might hire for a kid's birthday party.
As the show moves along, we start to see what is meant by "death defying acts" and some of the stunts become a little disturbing. One cat is placed on a platform attached to two bonded hula hoops and Kuklachev twirls it in the air at high speeds. Another cat is placed at the end of a pole and carried into the audience, allowing anyone to touch and pet it. Another has parallel bars placed under its kitty arms and it shimmies from one end to the other. The difference is that for most of the show the cats perform stunts by following commands, but in these cases, and others, they are placed in situations where they have no choice in the matter. My guest was a life-long cat lover who was very excited to come see cats jump through hoops and do balancing tricks, but she left the theatre repulsed by some of the stunts. I wasn't all that thrilled myself.
I don't want to suggest that there is any mistreatment of the animals. They are frequently petted and shown affection by the clowns throughout the show. But even if they were perfectly comfortable because they've done these tricks a hundred times, they still looked frightened during the more dangerous moments, and it's hard to be entertained by animals whose body language seems to say they don't want to be there.
Who would have thought that training cats to do tricks might be controversial? It is probably a good thing this guy didn't catch our "cat tricks" when I was a teenager in Bad Nauheim, Germany.
In the interest of fairness and a complete review, I also have a third, less critical review by CurtainsUp:
The Lamb's Theater in the heart of the theater district is small enough for Dmitri Kuklachev's Moscow Cats Theater to still come off as a uniquely entertaining mom and pop style circus for the whole family. So, yes, it's still the cat's meeow and the human ensemble contributes more than its share of talent and laughs.Katja says Kuklachev is quite famous in Russia and his cat Theater is considered pretty amazing. I guess Russians are pretty surprised to see cats perform these tricks.
I was a little concerned about whether training cats -- not an easy task, as any cat owner will confirm -- would cause more sympathy than admiration for the cats. But the 20 cats racing across the stage, climbing poles, riding go-carts and tricycles seem none the worse for having weathered the rigors of becoming show cats. My feeling that the animal rights activists don't have much cause for complaint was confirmed by the frequently heard " ooh"s and "ah"s and "how cute" from the many cat lovers in the audience.
I'm waiting for them to cough up a hairball on command ...