Clowning has a pretty bad reputation these days. This ancient and noble art has almost entirely disappeared from children’s entertainment, and clowns are thought of as sad and seedy at best, horrifying nightmare fuel at worst.
This weekend though you can rediscover why clowns were once so loved. Slava’s Snowshow has been delighting audiences around the world for nearly a quarter of a century, and this weekend it can be seen at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center. The show’s creator Slava Polunin is dedicated to preserving the true art of clowning: mime, mischief and physical comedy as precise and athletic as ballet.
There is no story as such, although the show has something of the surreal flow of dreams, or of children’s imaginative play. Everything is soft and malleable; the clowns’ baggy clothes and big feet allow them to shrink and elongate their bodies. But most of all it’s funny. Ridiculously, hilariously funny.
While much of the performance has been polished to perfection over decades of touring, there are aspects which are necessarily improvised, such as the frequent audience participation. If you can, get tickets in the first ten rows – but if you do, be prepared to become part of the entertainment. And don’t wear that designer dress. The show must be a nightmare for the theater management, given the clowns’ anarchic tendencies and the sheer mess they make.
Melancholy is of course an essential color in the clown’s palette, without which he’s just a fool. There are spooky moments, and there’s plenty of sadness and anger in the beautiful sequence leading to the climactic snowstorm, which is a truly breathtaking theatrical tour de force. But parents should have no concerns about taking kids of any age to this show (though the theater insists they need to be at least 1.2m in height). The whole thing is conducted with a perfectly-pitched understanding of a child’s world, and it all ends in a joyous, chaotic balloon party, sending everyone home with a smile on their face.
Which after all is what clowning is all about.
Slava’s Snow Show, August 31 – September 3
All ages (but minimum 1.2m height). RMB 180-680, available from www.tartscenter.com/item/1392.html. 7.30pm (all dates), 2.30pm (September 2-3),. Tianqiao Performing Arts Center, 9 Tianqiao Nandajie, Xicheng District. www.tartscenter.com. 西城区天桥南大街9号楼.
Photos: Andrew Killeen