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A Purrrfect Performance
By Kimberly O’Haver
Issue 5
April 8 - May 13, 2004

Dmitry Kiyan
Super cat trick: pawstand
Only a few people in the world have the patience to train cats, and one of Russia’s top clowns is among them.

Yury Kuklachyov, known to generations of Russian children as Uncle Yura, began training cats for performance 35 years ago. Kuklachyov opened his internationally renowned Cat Theater on Kutuzovsky Prospekt in 1992, and since then it has become one of the city’s most popular venues for children’s entertainment. The 2,000-square-meter theater is home to over 120 cat “actors,” as well as a few talented dogs. It is said to be the only cat theater in the world.

Each weekend, Kuklachyov and his cats perform for hundreds of attentive children in seven colorful, fun-filled shows. Kuklachyov interacts directly with the kids and audience participation is a big part of the appeal, but Russian-language skills aren’t necessary to enjoy the performance. The theater has nine shows in its repertoire, including “The Nutcracker” and “Swan Lake.”

On a recent Saturday afternoon, the theater was nearly sold out. Children had arrived to watch a two-hour performance in which Kuklachyov and his ensemble — featuring cats of all sizes, shapes and colors — saved the world from alien invaders.

“What I like best are the aliens and the cat that tries to scratch and bite,” said 9-year-old Zhenya. “It’s a really funny show.”

A dozen or so furry performers took part in the performance. The show involved one cat pushing a baby carriage, another cat jumping in and out of a samovar, and yet another cat balancing on its front legs in a “pawstand,” while others walked tightropes and rode rocking horses. One fearless feline named Rediska climbed up a pole that almost touched the theater’s ceiling, before jumping in a death-defying leap — and landing squarely on Kuklachyov’s shoulders.

“We’ve traveled the world: Japan, Finland, Germany,” said Kuklachyov. “On the other hand, it isn’t really worth going abroad now. Being in Russia pays well. Now things are stabilizing. In the past we tried to go abroad because it paid well. Today it pays to stay here. Everything has changed. Now when I’m invited to travel, I don’t want to.”

Dmitry Kiyan
Cat theater: pony ride
Kuklachyov decided to start working with cats after finding a hungry, abandoned kitten in a park. This kitten, Kutka, was Kuklachyov’s first feline sidekick.

Most of the cats work for a long time. “We have a pensioners’ room, but most of the cats try to work up to the end,” Kuklachyov said.

When it comes time to search for new whiskered talent, Kuklachyov doesn’t prefer one breed of cat over another, and many of his cats were rescued from the street. Kuklachyov said that although training may start when the cat is a kitten, adult cats can also be trained.

“The most important thing is that the cat is healthy, psychologically normal, not easily startled and that it hasn’t been mistreated,” said Kuklachyov.

Kuklachyov’s inspirations for the theater’s shows come from the cats themselves. He plays with them, observes their behavior and creates skits based on each cat’s specific talents. None of the cats is ever forced to perform against its will, he said.

When asked how he knows whether a cat will make a good “actor,” and how he communicates with the cats, Kuklachyov said: “It’s a feeling, an emotion. It’s possible to speak with emotion. Speaking with words is not the only way to communicate. You can speak with the eyes, a touch and a breath.”

After the performance, Kuklachyov had the children take an oath of kindness and love, urging them to be compassionate in all that they do. He then invited them to have their photo taken with him and a fluffy, brown, photogenic cat named Banan.

Kuklachyov Cat Theater
25 Kutuzovsky Prospekt (M. Kievskaya / Kutuzovskaya)

Today's Gigs
19:00 - Beatles Live Festival
Uma Thurman
Marc McCabe (Scotland)
Theodor Bastard
Sad (Belarus)


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