They call him "the best clown in the world". His Snow Show is celebrated as "a theatre classic of the 20th century" (The Times, London). Recognition came unusually early for Slava Polunin, and from that moment on, his fame was unstoppable. This is probably because Slava doesn't do things "just like that". Everything in his life is very well considered, very finely weighed - even the most crazy, the most incredible, the most adventurous of feats. In achieving his aims, he is concrete, collected and imperturbable.

Evidently he was always like this. As when he left his native Novosil, a little town in the Orlovsk province, to see the most beautiful city in the world, as he imagined Leningrad through his geography teacher's tales. Or, as when he quit the Engineering-Economic Institute in that same Leningrad, regardless of Mama's dreams to see him as an engineer. Or indeed as when, almost wholly independently, he started working in pantomime, that intriguing art of secrets and the ineffable.

His eccentric pantomime, which he lovingly dubbed "Expressive Idiotism", brought him enormous popularity. It also crowned him an artist laureate of Estrada, the Russian showbiz stage. There wasn't a single concert of note in which the double-act Polunin-Skorzov didn't play a part.

Only a year went by and Polunin's famous clown, Asisyai, was born: a humorous and touching figure in a yellow boiler suit and red fluffy slippers. This thoughtful, gentle, poetic character came into the world drawing on the poetic sadness of Leonid Engibarov's clownery, the refined philosophising of Marcel Marceau's pantomime, and the humanity and comic poignancy of great Chaplin's films. All of these Polunin considers his major teachers.

Asisyai first appeared before an audience of millions of television viewers in the new year's edition of "Light Blue Flame" in 1980-1981, in a sketch with two oversized inflatable telephones. Here for the first time was heard his dialogue on love, on loneliness, on the longing for human understanding, on the bliss of discovery and the bitterness of loss, which to this day accompanies Polunin's hero - and the clown himself - to his audiences in the most diverse corners of our planet.

Originally Asisyai was many-faced and multi-facetted: he could be gentle and na?ve, but ironic the next minute, or puffed up in full-blown conviction, emitting his invincible "Zya!". So the thought arose, that each facet of his character could grow into a separate personage. This is how the idea for a theatre of clowns was born, where each is different from every other, but recognisable and familiar to every single member of the audience. This kaleidoscope of characters came to fruition in a renewal of his Licedei, a theatre founded by Polunin himself, whose last curtain was only to fall in 1992. The Licedei was so stunningly popular that the force of the entire country's love for it began to take on a threatening dimension. It might have seemed the time to rest on his laurels, but it is precisely this that Polunin is incapable of. Slava was determined to use this nationwide popular devotion to purposeful ends, and began, step by step, to bring to life the most unbelievable and courageous projects.

The first of these was the Mime-Parade of 1982, to which flocked more than 800 pantomime artists from every corner of our then still very far-flung country. Next, already as early as 1985, Polunin found the courage to take a glimpse beyond the Iron Curtain, to cut a window into it - and not only for himself, but for his Moscow audience. For in that year, for the first time, he brought foreign mimes and clowns to Moscow for a festival organised in the context of the World Gathering of Youth and Students. Polunin next felt the need to not only work in street theatre himself, but to captivate with this idea those freshly-baked clowns his gentle hand had only recently recruited to clownery from pantomime. That was in 1987, at the first festival of street theatre called Licedei- Lyc?e. A year later, it was decided to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Licedei with an All-Union Congress of Fools. The latter event was not only a festival of clown theatre, but became the festive funeral for the Licedei theatre itself - for, as Stanislavsky had asserted, a theatre dies after 20 years of life. Not wishing to argue with the classics, they put coffins on stage and invited their dearest guests to attend the requiem. All was done with great dignity and honour: the mournful birthday congratulations, the many-thousand strong procession through the streets, and finally, the ceremonious floating of the burning coffins down Leningrad's (now St. Petersburg's) broad Neva river.

The apotheosis in matters of making the impossible possible, and realising the unrealisable was the Mir Caravan (Caravan of Peace) - a traveling festival of theatre which wheeled its way across Europe, from Moscow to Paris, in the course of half a year. The artists lived in camper vans, performed in the streets and under the circus flaps. A grand composition of theaters from Russia, France, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic and Poland, they made up an epochal canvas, a veritable Odyssey, and almost went mad from the novelty and intractability of it all, from what surrounded them, and from their incessant public life. And thus, in 1989, three months before the fall of the Berlin wall, the participants of the Caravan independently upended all borders in Europe - if only for a limited contingent of artists. Europe didn't wait for long, but followed in their tracks to actively unite!

Next to be founded was the Academy of Fools. Within only a couple of years of activity on Russian soil, this was able to countenance the problem of the rebirth of the idea of carnival: a carnival of the new, of the contemporary - not of the reconstructed kind, not of the museum. In that year, in 1993, the first fumbling steps where taken towards that road, along which they would later broadly stride, to eventually unfurl the so-called New Carnival in the framework of the World Theatre Olympics, in Moscow's Hermitage Gardens in the summer of 2001.

First, however, the Academy of Fools introduced a festival with the typically Russian name of Baby-Dury (the Crazy Women Festival), which was dedicated to the rare natural occurrence of female clownery. The new expanded version of this festival still awaits realization under new historical conditions. But at the time the veteran guild of fools under the leadership of Rolan Bykov frolicked and wreaked havoc in Moscow, bestowing the titles of "Total Idiot" and "Half-wit" to the best of the best, and also giving welcome to great fools from abroad. Many years later Polunin brought these very same luminaries together for the Theatre Olympics in Moscow, all in the context of another one of his programmes called The Twentieth Century's Best Clowns. It was then, truly, that the Russian capital became host to the peerless - the maddest and the wisest - Boleslav Polivka, Jerome Deschamp, Franz-Joseph Bogner, Django Edwards and Leo Bassi.

Between 1993 and the projects of the Theatre Olympics of 2001, when Polunin's name was once again on everyone's lips in Russia, the years passed by with work in other countries: the never ending world tour of Slava's famous Snow Show, which continues to this day. In the course of its travels, it has been awarded a plethora of prestigious prizes, and smothered in popular adoration and the exuberant reception of critics.

Once a Canadian lady sent Slava a little note after the show: "Your snow warms our hearts. Thank you." And indeed, Polunin's "snow storm " keeps warming our hearts with its snowy tenderness.

Natasha Tabachnikova

Слава Полунин Биография сНежное шоу Менеджмент Slava Polunin The Story SnowShow Management
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