Paw dropping performance at Tribeca Performing Arts Center


By Jefferson Siegel

An unusual theater troupe is staging its first-ever shows in the U.S. and many will find the performances of its feline stars absolutely paw dropping.

The “Moscow Cats Theater” features cats leaping through the air, balancing on a rolling ball and even riding a bicycle. One Persian suspends his longhaired body from parallel bars and slides across, paw by paw, like an Olympic gymnast. The troupe is a national institution in mother Russia, having delighted families for almost 30 years. After touring throughout the world, their American premiere was held this past weekend, the first shows of a 6-week run, at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center Downtown.

The creator of this theater group, Yuri Kuklachev, is also the star clown of the show. Dressed in colorful hats and costumes, he strokes, nudges, hugs and kisses his co-stars before putting them through their paces. One demonstration of mutual trust involves Kuklachev’s favorite cat, Marusa, doing a pawstand in the palm of his hand while another cat, seemingly bored by all the fuss, rests draped across his shoulders.

“In a circus cats just come and do some tricks and go away. Here, the cat doesn’t do tricks. The cat has some dramatic role,” explained Kuklachev’s son Dmitri, also his assistant and a co-creator of the show. Yuri Kuklachev, speaking through a translator, explained the patience involved in coaxing a cat’s inner star to shine.

“Nobody can say the cats are doing anything they don’t want to do. The idea is that you can work with a cat if she loves you,” Yuri said.

Some of the more breathtaking exploits on stage involve cats balancing on lofty perches, walking on a spinning disco-style mirror ball and tightrope walking.

But are cats amenable to the greasepaint life? Is there a Tabby Awards show in the future? The Progressive Animal Welfare Society (P.A.W.S.), a Seattle-based animal-advocacy group, questions the concept of cats in the spotlight.

“We prefer not to see animals used for entertainment,” said spokeswoman Mary Leake Schilder. “We really believe companion animals should be companions. But there are exceptions,” she explained. “Are the animals getting what they need? I would hope that he would be using methods that are kind to the cats and not forcing them to do anything.”

Yuri’s son Dmitri swears it’s all good. “In Russia we don’t have a problem. My father is president of the “green groups” who take care of animals. I don’t think we’ll have problems because our cats don’t live in cages. We don’t use something to make the cats wild (and perform).”

He said the cats usually have a whole house to themselves. For their stateside tour, two houses in Brighton Beach serve as litter-box central. Backstage, “They are sitting in make-up rooms, they are resting,” Dmitri added.

Anyone who wonders if cats should be earning their Equity cards can adopt a stray and enjoy years of magic every time it jumps on your lap. For those who thrill at the sight of cats stretching their acting legs, performances of the Moscow Cats Theater will be held every Friday at 8 p.m and Saturdays and Sundays at noon and 3 p.m. through October 30.

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