Slava’s Snowshow

The blizzard brainchild of Russia’s Slava Pulonin blows more than a ton of faux snow—it blows minds. It’s all the funny bone-tickling tomfoolery you’d expect from a show boasting a troupe of clowns in bright yellow getups, but this delightful reverie is touched with melancholy, a poetic sadness that keeps adult audiences enraptured without scarring da keiki for life. 

Last on Maui in 2002, I had the pleasure of attending and (if you couldn’t tell already) fell entirely in love with Pulonin’s imaginative venture, still cherishing to this day my little Ziplock bag of square shaped “snowflakes” in my box of show memorabilia. 

The show’s been running in excess of 15 years, so it’s no spoiler to say it’s stuffed with eye-popping audience interaction. You’ll think it’s hard to top the gargantuan colorful balls they release into the crowd—which balcony and mezzanine patrons get a good view of but will desperately wish to get their hands on (it puts the beach balls at any summer baseball game or weird stuff floating around at a String Cheese Incident concert to instant shame)—but they do more than manage. As for the show-stopping finale, I can still see that first flake falling—silent, sparkling, alone. It’s a crystalline crescendo right to the breathtaking end, the paper flake snowstorm unfolding ingeniously thanks to an airplane engine secured in the ceiling.

Pulonin has been challenging the art realm and the Iron Curtain since the late ’60s. In 1985, he orchestrated the first festival to host foreign mimes in Moscow at the World Gathering of Youth and Students, a follow-up to his groundbreaking 1982 Mime-Parade, which brought out from the woodwork over 800 performing artists in a country where the literal wall of oppression was still years away from being torn down.

His body of work is as fascinating as it is long. After quitting engineering school, Pulonin founded the Academy of Fools in 1993, which lead to a plethora of endeavors including the New Carnival of the World Theatre Olympics, which “still awaits realization under new historical conditions.”

I’ll admit, though, I’m a little fearful. Not of clowns, but of Pulonin’s belief that “a theater dies after 20 years of life.” OK, so there’s no rumor of the show ending yet, but he did kill his wildly successful theater, Licedei, on its 20th anniversary, in a street procession consisting of thousands. “Mourners” filled the theater, paying their last respects, before taking to the streets and setting alight coffins that were floated down the Neva River.

If you suffer from clourophobia, this might actually be the best exercise in quelling your anxiety—it’s enough to make even the most Pennywise-petrified want to run away and join the circus. Maui Time Weekly

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