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Star-Bulletin Features

Thursday, December 16, 1999

Slava's Snowshow photo
"Slava's Snowshow" is a sophisticated clown show,
full of color, surprises and a blizzard of confetti.

Snow whirl

Sit back and enjoy the visual
spendor of 'Slava's Snowshow'

By Tim Ryan


IN a publicity video for "Slava's Snowshow," opening tonight at the Hawaii Theatre, the audience is subjected to surreal and macabre music; a pathetic poor soul of a man dressed in a bright, baggy yellow suit, frilly red shoes, and an overcoat who's having a sort of confusing moment with himself; an indoor blizzard of confetti that fills the theater; and giant balls that roll out over the group.

When it comes to the art of clowning, there's no business like "Snow" business, the creation of Slava Polunin, a native Russian, who began studying mime and clowning in Leningrad at the age of 17.

In 1979, Slava formed his own clown theater company, moving on in the early 1980's to the Theatre of the Art of Modern Clowning, and developed "Snowshow" in 1993.

Rooted in the history of comedy, goofy mime, theatrical expressionism and Russian avant-garde, Slava's clowning comes across as a skewed world of small wonders and frustrations, with an endearing fool trying to survive loneliness and lost love, and sort through who's friend and who's foe.

Slava's Snowshow photo
The audience gets an eyeful of dazzling effects
at a showing of "Slava's Snowshow."

And because he speaks mostly Russian, Polunin, 49, lets a videotape do his talking.

"Slava's Snowshow" combines spectacular visual acts with scenes ridiculously funny and sublime. Although the company is made up of a number of performers, it's rarely known in advance which clowns will perform at which performance and do which act, said "Snowshow" promoter Tim Bostock.

"You can only loosely describe Polunin as a clown," said Bostock, a Honolulu resident. "Clowns call up images of a circus, but there's as much Samuel Beckett as Billy Smart in his act."

Slava's Snowshow photo
Due to the nature of the special effects, this
show is not recommended for children under 7.

Slava might come on stage carrying a thick rope to suggest he has a pet. Then he puts a noose around his neck, suggesting suicide, while a sidekick does the same with the other end. All the while, Slava's red-nosed expression fluctuates between grinning ecstasy and despair.

In another act, Polunin dances romantically with his own overcoat before bidding it a tearful farewell at an imaginary train station. The fight against loneliness becomes an overriding theme throughout the performance.

"Slava wants to unite everyone in the audience," Bostock said. "When his body seems pierced by rubber arrows he walks feebly through the theater letting his fans bring him back to life."

Slava never talks during the nearly 90-minute performance, although he may mumble something into an imaginary telephone. He also does the occasional stock clownish thing: falling off a chair placed at 45-degrees to the floor, dashing between giant telephones to play both sides of a conversation.

Slava's Snowshow photo
Slava never talks during the nearly 90-minute performance

Through it all, Slava has the benign presence of a holy fool, not unlike comedian Jackie Gleason's classic character the "Poor Fool." Slava -- and Gleason -- draw on the great clown tradition of appearing isolated in a bewildering, hostile world.

But the show's real impact depends some startlingly effective images which would be spoiled if revealed. Just be prepared to take part in and share Slava's dreamworld.

In a published interview, Slava said he founded the Theatre of the Art of Modern Clowning to re-establish the great tradition of the art of clowning.

"In order to reflect the crazy spirit of the 20th century, the art of clowning began to draw on poetry and philosophy and in doing so moved closer to tragicomedy," he said. "My hope is to mend the broken thread of this great tradition."

On stage

Bullet What: Slava's Snowshow
Bullet When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday and Dec. 21; 7 p.m. Sunday; 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22, 23 and 24
Bullet Where: Hawaii Theatre, 1110 Bethel St.
Bullet Cost: $25, $35 and $45, available at Hawaii Theatre box office and TicketsPlus outlets
Bullet Call: 528-0506
Bullet Advisory: Due to the nature of the special effects, this show is not recommended for children under 7

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