Let it snow
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.