Advanced Low The best of Russian Circus

This episode can serve as a prompt to the debate on the animal rights. Views on this issue are culture-specific. Spaniards may find it easy to accept bull fighting while some Britons may feel more sympathy with fox hunting. Drawing on ancient traditions, trained animals are an integral part of a Russian circus performance.

In the USSR they had us to believe that the Soviet circus is the most human circus in the entire world. Since then, this illusion has faded. I know, many people would never be visiting a circus with wild animals, because animals in circuses are often portrayed as either ferocious or stupid compared to their "brave" or "commanding" human counterparts. It is also hard to think that such intelligent, sensitive, marvelous animals as lions, bears, panthers or elephants can be treated with abuse. The worst is the dancing bears or bears balancing on a ball, isn’t it?

But what about domesticated animals like dogs, cats, and horses? Have you heard of the Cat Theatre founded and run by the clown Yuri Kuklachev? It has been enormously popular in Moscow and abroad for twenty years of its existence. I have to admit I've never been a particular fan of clowns or cats, but as a kid I admired Chekov’s short story “Kashtanka.” Now whenever I see Kuklachev with his cats and canines I can't stop comparing him with Chekhov’s animal trainer and circus master. Note that Kuklachev’s performers that now live at the theatre in Moscow are often stray cats, rescued from the streets by the Kuklachevs. All cats have the traditional Russian cat names such as Timophey or Vaska. Kuklachev is spending long hours examining each cat's natural behavior before developing tricks to incorporate them into a performance. Kuklachev is also a professional circus clown, not one who dresses up as a clown and performs at birthdays. It is hard to describe, but he plays his part incredibly well – very slapstick and very funny indeed.

Cats are traditionally hard to train as cirucs animals, however they do have active mind and have responded to a direct benefit such as a treat or a meal, just like other brighter animals. Although Kuklachev's cats may occasionally refuse to do what's expected of them, or do something completely different instead, most of the time the “cat whisperer” can coax his feline performers into doing some amazing tricks, including handstands and aerial acrobatics. He claims he is doing this with no more than soft words and gentle hands -- believe it or not.