Let it snow

NOW Magazine - - STAGE - KATH­LEEN SMITH

sLAVA’s sNOWsHOW by Slava ñ

Pol­unin (Show One Pro­duc­tions/St. Lawrence Cen­tre for the Arts). At the Bluma Ap­pel (27 Front East). Runs to De­cem­ber 16. $59-$129. 1-855-872-7669, stlc.com. See Con­tin­u­ing, page 26. Rat­ing NNNN

Any­one who thinks clowns are only good for slap­stick cir­cus acts and creepy memes should spend a few min­utes with Slava Pol­unin. The Rus­sia-born master clown (who’s also artis­tic di­rec­tor at the Bol­shoi’s Saint-Peters­burg State Cir­cus and pres­i­dent of his own In­ter­na­tional Academy of Fools) is in town af­ter a 20year ab­sence with the ac­claimed physic- al the­atre clas­sic Slava’s Snowshow. There’s gen­uine po­etry in ev­ery move he and his six-per­son clown crew make.

The work is a se­ries of vi­gnettes, some with tran­si­tions be­tween, but many not. Rec­og­niz­able mu­sic ex­cerpts – from Carmina Bu­rana, the theme from Char­i­ots Of Fire – and a sound­scape of howl­ing wind and steam en­gines cre­ate a cold dream-like world. Good thing the phys­i­cal­ity of the per­form­ers is very warm.

In his trade­mark fluffy suit and red slip­pers, Pol­unin re­sem­bles a portly yel­low koala bear. His com­pany wears long black slip­pers, dis­tressed green trench coats and hats with wings off to each side. The cos­tum­ing and makeup lend a

gen­tle me­lan­choly to the group, but an­ar­chy is never far off.

Pol­unin’s trade­mark Yel­low Clown char­ac­ter – with his grace­ful, ar­tic­u­lated feet, hands, eye­brows and, well, ev­ery­thing else – keeps the au­di­ence riv­eted. The Bluma is a big house – Pol­unin reads it well and picks up on a child’s cry here, a com­ment in Rus­sian there.

The rap­port he builds is im­por­tant for when his fel­low clowns start climb­ing through the au­di­ence on the backs of seats; help­ing hands are re­quired to get the per­form­ers safely back on stage. And when the pro­duc­tion lets rip with some over­whelm­ing ef­fects, the ex­cite­ment of the au­di­ence en­sures de­light rather than dread.

Pol­unin knows just how far to push a gag, and in some cases it’s far – fall­ing off a tilted chair, re­peated in­ter­ac­tions with au­di­ence mem­bers in the front row. Some of this re­turn-and-re­peat pat­tern feels fa­mil­iar from cabaret or com­edy shows. Other sec­tions are fleet­ing, del­i­cate and mag­i­cally the­atri­cal – as when Pol­unin turns a coat rack and cloth­ing into a ten­der good­bye at the train sta­tion.

And then there’s the snow. Suf­fice to say the cleanup crew and ush­ers should be get­ting a bonus for this one.

Would it be Grinchy to wish for a stronger through­line – metaphor­i­cal, con­cep­tual or nar­ra­tive – and for all this ge­nius to serve some­thing higher than en­ter­tain­ing and mak­ing peo­ple happy?

Prob­a­bly. In these grim times, when the cur­rency of laugh­ter and silli­ness is rarer and more valu­able than ever, Pol­unin nudges us gen­tly to­ward the light.

In­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Slava’s Snowshow sends in the clowns.

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