2006-05-10 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets...

by Joanne Anderson

Cat lovers, hurry! There are only two more weeks left to see the amazing Moscow Cats Theatre in New York City. The show now at Lamb's Theatre, just off Broadway, closes Memorial Day. The nonstop antics of Yuri Kuklachev and his troupe of 26 cats and 2 Poodles will astound you. Cat owners know you can't force a feline friend to do anything; yet, for over 30 years, Yuri, a renowned circus performer, has disproved the popular notion that cats can't be trained. Imagine his cats pushing a dog in a baby carriage, sliding across parallel bars on 2 legs, or balancing in a handstand on his palm. All it takes is a gentle stroke of Yuri's curved hand.

One stray cat started it all. Born in Moscow in 1949, Kuklachev was a struggling circus clown when he rescued a kitten on a busy street. The first night she raised such a ruckus in the communal apartment that the other tenants demanded Yuri get rid of her or leave. He and the waifKut'kamoved into the circus dressing room where he discovered she had a talent for retrieving her ball. This gave him the idea to add a cat to his act. He worked on a simple trick for over 6 months, desensitized Kut'ka with tapes of applause when she got stage fright, and wowed audiences.

 Pets of the Week Geezer Pets of the Week Geezer Performances eventually became more feline filled and complex. They were invited to join the Moscow Circus, and then in 1991 Yuri developed his own Cats Theatre and became a popular weekend attraction for Russian families, selling out every show. The Moscow Cats Theatre has traveled to over 80 countries and won numerous awards. In 1990 the troupe wasn't allowed to enter Britain because of quarantine rules so Kuklachev spent 3 months in London adopting strays and shelter cats that he trained for a similar act.

What are Yuri's secrets to success? Observation and kindness. He doesn't boss the cat. Everything starts with a game. He watches and sees what the cat likes to dorolling, jumping, climbing.... He zeroes in on specific talents, and encourages the cats with petting and affection. He tailors the stunt around each cat. K u k l a c h e v claims he doesn't train the cats; hey train him. In an interview with Russian TV, Yuri said: "Cats u n f a i l i n g l y evaluate what kind of energy a person emitskind or evil. One can try to get along with them. Then, they turn out to be clever and affectionate and spiritualized."

Sudoku Sudoku Last September the Moscow Cats Theatre had its American debut at the Tribeca Performing Center and moved to130 W 44th in February. Lamb's Theatre is a quaint venue that looks as if it were carved out of a Bavarian forest. Its fairy tale appeal accentuates the feline mystique and Yuri's intimate rapport with his cats and audience. Dressed in colorful costumes, Yuri's cherubic face resembles Babylon's late Captain Kangaroo. With animated pantomime, partly because he d o e s n ' t speak English, Yuri e n c o u r ages his cats and audience to participate. His wife Elena plays the part of the Queen of the Cats.

I don't know what took me so long to get there. During the fall media blitz, friends ran into Yuri at a city hotel and he put on a private performance for them with his favorite cat, Maruska, shown here. Anyway, we were dazzled by last Friday's performance. Plain alley cats and exotics show off their skills on cue and exit stage right or left. A Siamese walks the tight rope, a Persian pops out of a pot, a frisky tabby climbs a 20 foot pole to a tiny perch, a flame point Himalayan sits nonchalantly in a hoopla hoop while Yuri swings him out over the cheering audience. Each show is different. Unfazed cats watch above the stage in swaying port holes, cleaning themselves while the music blares and clowns cavort.

About 26 Moscow cats from this thespian company of over 100 are touring America. They travel with an entourage of care takers and hair stylists. We ran into their dish washers after the show. While at the Tribeca, the cats were staying at a Brighton Beach apartment between performances. The dish washers told us that they were staying back stage now, but I'm not positive they understood our question.

An overabundance of calico acrobats shine on stage because Kuklachev finds females smarter. (Of course!) The show closes with a phony Cruella DeVille cat that only pretended to hate him earlier. She's balanced on a glittery, disco ball while Yuri dresses her like the Empress of RussiaCatherine the Great. Purrfect finale. Call 212-239-6200 for tickets.

Find your own "spiritualized" cat or dog at Oyster Bay Town Shelter (677-5784) Miller Pl. Syosset. "Mama"#06037 is a young calico, almost a clone of Maruskathe handstand star of the Moscow Cats. She's a playful kitten herself who raised a litter at the shelter and now waits in the lobby for a home of her own. "Casey" #060258 is a brindle Retriever mix, approx. 1 year old, found by a homeless man who tried so hard to keep the dog in his car.

Cats: "Midnight"a black female DSHvery loving; "Sushi"a female snowshoe Siamese (both in the lobby window).

Dogs: "Bonnie" #060176the small black Shepherd mix. Her pal "Clyde" was adopted. Also "Dakota" #060097a Border collie/ Shepherd mix.

Last Hope Low Cost Vaccine ClinicSun. 5/21 from 12 to 3 at Mutts & Butts, 2078 Merrick Rd, MerrickNo appt. necessary. Call 516-334-6069 or 631-205-5069 for shot and blood test prices.

Readers can write to Joanne Anderson, the Pet Columnist, in care of the Post, 1045 B Park Blvd., Massapequa Park, NY 11762 or e-mail her in care of the Post at acjnews@rcn.com. Please put "Attention Joanne Anderson" in the subject line.

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