They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but one clown has proven you can definitely teach a feline a thing or two. In fact, Yuri Kuklachev, Soviet child star and well-known children’s performer, built up one of Moscow’s theatrical institutions on the concept and opened the world’s first and only cat theatre.
Before establishing Moscow Cat Theatre in 1990, clown Yuri Kuklachev began incorporating fluff balls into his acts while at the Soviet State Circus. Kuklachev, along with his son Dimitry, now puts on clowning shows for children where the stars of the show are four-legged, instead of two.
The four-legged cast includes over 120 cats and four dogs, who perform acrobatics and clowning tricks or support the human clowns with their own stunts. Cats climb and balance on long poles, push prams on their hind legs, jump from object to moving object, roll across barrels and jump from platforms of varying heights into other cast’s arms.
The performing fur balls have a repertoire of acts such as Fluffy Rhapsody, Cat Sailors, Winter’s Tales and I Am a Clown.
Shows are performed in a custom-refurbished building, which cost the city of Moscow 50 million roubles (£671,883). There is a ‘cat temple’ on the second floor, similar to a cat cafe, where the feline cast live and play. In the cat temple there are cat and dog training sessions, where children can play with the animals. They, and their parents, are also invited to offload their problems onto the felines as if the cats were councillors.
The cat temple also hosts allergy management classes which work towards improving respiratory systems, reducing allergic reactions. Kuklachev claims he has been using these techniques for years on his own son who was allergic as a child, but has gone on to have a successful cat-centric career.
Kuklachev claims training begins with play, as withholding food or mistreating animals looses trust, and cats – well-known for knowing their own mind – will become indifferent. Rather, each cat’s unique potential has to be discovered on an individual basis, which will open up each furball’s inclinations and talents, on which their repertoire of tricks is built. Although, how he does this exactly, is unclear.
However, animal rights groups are concerned by possible mistreatment during the training process, and former Cat Theatre veterinarian Nikolai Loginov, has publicity commented on suspect treatment he claims to have witness while in the job.
Despite this controversy, families throughout Moscow and from across the world come to see the felines perform, and the cats appear to be well-fed, looked after and at ease with their human counterparts.