February 28, 2006
Russian clown brings acrobatic cats to New York
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK -- Russian clown Yuri Kuklachev has a troupe of cats who do handstands, crawl along high wires and balance on balls and he says the secret to training them is realizing that you can't force cats to do anything."The Moscow Cats Theater" came to New York in September and did so well at a small theater in the Tribeca neighborhood that it recently moved uptown to a bigger venue near Times Square, where it is close to Broadway giants such as "The Lion King," although not the musical "Cats," which closed in 2000.
Kuklachev started working with cats more than 30 years ago after adopting a stray kitten he named Koutchka. He now has 120 cats in Moscow and has brought 26 of them to New York.
"If the cat likes to sit you can't force her to do anything else," he said, adding that several of the cats in the New York show simply sit and watch the others.
"Each cat likes to do her own trick," said Kuklachev, whose show has not been the target of animal rights protesters. "Maruska is the only one who does the handstand. I find the cat and see what they like to do and use that in the show."
Kuklachev's cats apparently like to be swung precariously around his head balanced on hoops, to be shut up in a cooking pot and to walk on their hind legs pushing a child's stroller.
"I have a cat now that loves to be in the water," he said.
Kuklachev said the breed of cat made no difference to their abilities, although Persians tended to be lazy. He adopts cats from shelters and trains the offspring of the cats he has.
BOOK IN THE WORKS
Sharing his secrets over caviar and blintzes in Brighton Beach, a New York neighborhood known as Little Russia, Kuklachev said he plans to write a book about how to train cats since so many people are asking him.
Kuklachev, 56, said his cat-training method also can be applied to children.
"Parents need to watch their children to see what he or she likes to do and encourage this," he said, adding that it worked for his three children.
One child joined Kuklachev at the cat theater, one is a dancer and one is a painter who paints cats.
"If you do the same thing with your child as you do with your cat, he may not become a genius but he'll do whatever he enjoys doing," Kuklachev said.
He has had about 300 cats in his life and says every one had a different personality. Only one did not want to go on stage because she was already an adult when he got her.
Kuklachev says the show, which also includes his wife Yelena, is a hit because people everywhere love their pets. He chuckles as he recalls a friend who bought a hamster for $10 and spent $300 on surgery when it got sick.
"You're a better person when you love animals," he said.