Департамент культуры города Москвы
Учреждение, подведомственное Департаменту культуры города Москвы
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Marvelous Week with TV. Interview with Yuri Kuklachev.

Today one may find it difficult to meet a person with a better grasp of cats’ habits than this clown and trainer. It was Yuri Kuklachev who pioneered the introduction of these pets as circus artists and founded the world’s single Cats Theatre. Yuri Kuklachev is a professional artist, a master of various circus skills. Besides, he writes stories about his four-footed friends. And everything done by him is done very well indeed. In Japan Kuklachev was awarded “Golden Oscar”, in Washington he was elected an honorary member of the US clowns’ association, in Canada he won a “Golden Crown” special prize for training. In Monte-Carlo he became a laureate of the World Contest of Circus Artists.

- Yuri Dmitrievich, why the cats, and not, say, the tigers?

- I did not intend to become a trainer. At the time when I was entering the circus school I dreamt of clownery. By the way, I made seven attempts of entering the school: I was politely given to understand that I had no talent. But in the long run I managed to squeeze in. After graduation from school I worked for a few years with a gilly, traveling around the Ukraine. One may say the cats entered my life by sheer chance. Once I saw a little helpless grey kitten in a park, and took the squeaking softling to my place. “Kut’ka” lived in my make-up room, loved to play the ball, slept in clown’s wig. It was Kut’ka who became my first partner on the circus arena. Our act was as follows: I came out with a large Puss-Puss candy, spoke out a few words, opened it and a kitten jumped out of it. With the tail perked up it stepped out loftily on the arena.

- How do you train your artists? By stick or carrot?

- No, I never use a stick, as cats are so touchy. No use beating them: they’d just purse the ears or run away. And then they’d sure spite the offender. You see, cats cannot feign, they always show their emotions honestly.
It would not be correct to say that I train the cats. I look narrowly at them, try to grasp what they are fond of doing and fix it with the help of certain techniques. You are sure to have seen them working during the performance, jumping, climbing, pushing the pram and even playing up to the clowns on the stage.

-You know everything about cats. Is there anything they can surprise you with?

- Cats always surprise. With them I discover again and again something new for myself. The Cat is a real friend. One cannot cheat a cat, it can have a deeper insight of a man than we can imagine. Cats unfailingly evaluate what kind of energy a person emits – kind or evil. I am sure they are mysterious creatures, they possess inexplicable qualities which man has not yet finished studying. One can try to get along with them. And then, they turn out to be clever and affectionate and spiritualized.

- And do you understand the cats’ language?

-Of course, I do. I can really understand the miaowing, whereas my wife, Lena, who works with me, can even talk to the cats.

- What kind of family do you come from?
-From a common one. My father was a blacksmith, then a driver, my mother was a worker. But I had been dreaming to work at a circus since my very childhood, and, in the end, I realized my dream.

- How did your theatre start up?

- Ten years ago I was fired from the circus. I walked along the street and pondered over my bitter fate. And suddenly an idea came to my mind: why not to create my own cats’ theatre? I took my project to Moscow Council, and I was amazed to find support there and was allocated the premises of the former “Prizyv” cinema theatre at 25, Kutuzovsky Prospect. Now, there are 120 cats and 6 dogs in the theatre.

- How long does it take you to prepare an act?

- It varies. Sometimes, an hour, two or three, sometimes – a month, a year, or even longer. Once, I was on a tour in England under a contract. Just on the eve of our departure it turned out that I cannot travel with the cats – for quarantine reasons. So, we had to catch homeless cats right there in the streets. And we had to do it very cautiously, indeed. Well, home cats are supplied with special magnetic chips in England. We were subjected to several checks by the “green society” representatives: on whether we had stolen the home cats. Fortunately, everything turned out well.

- You don’t confuse your cats, do you?

- Normally, not. But there are two cats, Kath and Kil’ka, who look so very much alike that one cannot tell one from the other at a glance.

-Are your artists sensitive toward each other’s creative success?

- Cats, like other animals, are quite jealous. For instance, when I enter their cage, they all run to me chasing each other. You just pat one first, and the others pounce at it, fighting. And I take my “artists” home in turn. When I train several cats at a time for one act, I never show the doubles to one another. Otherwise, it ends up in “showdowns”, depressions. Once, a very gifted cat saw me rehearsing his act with the other cat. It got offended and ran away. And here is another example. I had a very kind dog, Peenya, who was friendly with another dog, Pet’ka. Having seen me putting on Pet’ka his artistic dress and letting him out on the arena, Peenya ambushed his friend, tore the pants on him and gave him a dusting. I’d dub it a creative personality’s jealousy.

- You are likely to have experienced a lot of fun, aren’t you?

- Well, yes, there were a lot of hoodlum artists. One dog called Crocodile had a bad habit of nibbling at anything in his way. So, one day we set out with the Crocodile on a tour to the States. Before check-out time we were allowed to keep animals at the hotel. Crocodile was normally locked in a tiled bathroom. So, once a tile under wash basin went loose, Crocodile caught the scent of glue, licked it; he liked it so much he got carried away and gnawed a huge opening through the wall. When I came back, he was running in the adjacent hotel room.

- Would you say that your pets’ temper gets worse with time?

- Certainly. But we work with any. With the exception of cowed animals which may be found in our country only. One can also find them in Israel, where homeless cats are rather scary.
- How many cat species are there?

-As far as I know, there are 36 cat species in the world registered by the special international cat lovers’ federation. According to statistics available, there are about forty million cats in the world. By the way, my favourite writer Ernest Hemingway used to keep 150 cats at home.

- I’ve read somewhere that your cats are afraid of mice.

- Indeed, my cats are “intelligent” in this respect. They perform well, but when it comes to rats and mice… Once on a tour, I opened a box with food and saw mice there. Then I placed our largest cat Nikita Barabul’kin in the box. On seeing the mice, he got so scared that he leapt out and hid in the corner. So I released Kesha for a fight. The cat was so surprised his eyes went bulging out and he… started playing his paw with them. Then the mice got together and attacked the cat. Kesha was humiliated into inglorious retreat…

- How did it happen that many years ago pseudo-Kuklachevs performed under your name?

- And here now, please do write about it, though I don’t feel like remembering about it. A few years ago I staged a programme for my students; I gave them my cats so that they could appear on their own with a Clown Lozhkin posters. Shortly, some gossip came to my ears that my students goofed off on a tour and put up my posters since Clown Lozhkin’s performances were not popular among the public. Then I suggested that the guys tendered their resignations. They did resign, but how! They trained their doubler-cats for my stunts, retained three of my “artists” with them and performed in my make-up, with my acts using my name. Of course, it damaged our prestige: Kuklachev is allegedly sending his brother to goof off for himself… In order to stop it Public Prosecutor’s office had to be involved.

- Are you a demanding chief?

- If I am not strict, we will also be downgraded to hockey-pokey, but we cannot afford it and have to uphold the trade mark. During the years of work at the Cats Theatre I had to part with many employees. For different reasons – the work at the theatre is a huge, hard labour; the great physical and mental strain.

-Did you think of leaving the country?

-We are often invited abroad. We went on tours around practically the whole world. Shortly we are going to travel to Japan where the film “How to train cats” about our theatre will be shot. By the way, the Japanese have promised to pay good money for the film, and I dream of building a Cat’s Temple in Moscow. It will combine a museum and an exhibition. I’ve got its blueprint already. As to my permanent residence, I have made up my mind long ago that we are required by our children here, in Russia.

- The cats are said to cure their owners’ even serious ailments. Do feel it yourself?

- I agree with it absolutely. None of my family members has health complaints. In general, I dream of creative longevity, so I practice the Buteiko system and keep to the diet, I have even lost thirty kilos lately.

- Yuri Dmitrievich, do your children follow your steps?

- I always wanted my children to grow independent, creative persons. My eldest son, Dima, works with cats at my theatre. All cats appearing in ad clips, including the most famous cat Boris, are the cats of my son Dmitriy. I believe he’s a very talented artist. By the way, he’s got the name of Dima just when he received his passport; before that his name was Yura (this name still remains in his birth certificate). The point is when he decided to join us working with cats we thought they would simply start confusing us. My daughter Katya studies at the Arts Academy. She’s got terrific works. The younger son, Volodya, dedicated himself to ballet, studies at the choreographic academy. He’s considered to be a very gifted dancer. My wife, Lena, as I said earlier, works as a clown at our theatre.

-Do you have an unrealized dream?

- I do. I want some time to come out on the grand circus arena, to feel the odour of circus wings. I do hope my dream will come true.
Leonid GUREVICH.