ex-Soviet and modern Russian music

Friday, March 24, 2006

Slava's Snowshow

A man is standing on scene. He holds in hands enormous air telephone. He should make fun but he's sad. And all ex-Soviet Union likes him.
His name is Slava Polunin and he has his own show called Snow Show.

Jerry Tallmer, The Villager:
"Slava’s balloons work better than those at the Democratic Convention. They’re also bigger — just this side of Zeppelins.

They rain down on stage and audience as Slava and his colleagues are taking their bows during the huge (dry) snowstorm that ends “Slava’s Snowshow” — at least they did in the video from Paris that preceded the Russian mime and his company’s August 24 arrival at the Union Square Theatre on East 17th Street.

Slava is the one in the da-glo egg-yellow bathrobe and big furry brick-red carpet slippers. During the show he may or may not hang himself, may or may not be pierced with arrows like Saint Sebastian, may or may not dance with a mannequin, may or may not get himself enmeshed in a giant spider web of gauze, may or may not don a top hat as smokestack and tootle around like a choo-choo train.

“The show is constantly changing,” he said some days ago from his and his wife’s house outside Paris. “So is the troupe. It’s full-time improvisation. Often we don’t know who plays which role until we get to the theater.”

A translator, on the line here in New York, put all this into English. But Slava understood. When she, the translator, was conveying Slava’s encapsulation of what he does as “a combination of metaphysics, tragedy, and comedy,” the snowman broke in (in Russian) with: “ . . . and poetry.”

Blame it all on Charlie Chaplin.

Some of the largest and fiercest tank battles of World War II took place in the Orel-Novosil area in 1943.

Slava Polunin, whose parents were “in commerce” — sales clerks in a toy store — was born in Novosil, “a little village 60 kilometers from the city,” on June 12, 1950.

“In 1960, when I was 10 years old, I was watching on television the movie ‘The Kid’ [Charlie Chaplin, Jackie Coogan, 1916]. My mother came into the room and turned it off. I cried till morning.”

Later, in his 20s, Slava would get to think that Buster Keaton was an even greater silent-film actor, in short, a mime, than Chaplin, but in any event the damage had been done.

“When I was 12 years old I started performing, first with friends, then in school, then to the big city, and then in 1967, when I was 17, I decided to leave my little village and go off to mime school [instead of the family’s aim for him, engineering school] in St. Petersburg.”

A famous movie, “Les Enfants du Paradis,” had already (1945) established the primacy of Etienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault in the universe of mime, and Marcel Marceau was soon to walk in their tracks (leaning against the wind, which Slava, mercifully, does not do).

“French pantomime and English pantomime were the second stage of my education,” he says over that phone line. “The third stage was folk art and commedia dell’arte and jester [perhaps a mistranslation of ‘gesture’?]. And the fourth stage was the avant-garde of Artaud and Tina Bausch and Robert Wilson.”

Underlying the whole gestalt is, he said, the ancient Slavic skoromokhi, a performance broth of clowns, minstrels, mummers, buffoons, dancers, puppeteers, magicians, songmakers, tale-tellers, and animal acts.

Slava founded his first mime troupe, Litsedei, in 1978; would lead it around Europe in what he called the Mir (Peace Caravan) for six months in 1989. By the 1990s he felt the need of a refresher course in up-to-date clowning, so he spent two years touring with Cirque du Soleil, including a hitch in New York.

“Slava’s Snowshow” came out of all that with a hit London booking in 1993.

His travels have left him, he says, “well versed in global show culture,” not least the culture of the Blue Man Group and the brilliant fool-mooning of Bill Irwin and David Shiner, witnessed three years ago in Moscow.

Now about that rope — the one sad-eyed Slava loops around his neck at the beginning of the show, only to haul a fellow mime in by it from the wings. More than a little touch of “Waiting for Godot,” it might be thought.

“Well,” says Slava Polunin, “I adore Beckett, but I do not subscribe to his philosophy, which is that of impasse. Mine is of joy and happiness, even if tragedy is also a crucial element. A lot of my shows are actually conceived as counter-Beckett.”

Counter-Beckett and counter-disaster. He has entertained in Kiev during and just after the Chernobyl nuclear wipeout, when all other theaters in the vicinity were closed; in Moscow, during the Czechen takeover of the Dubrovka Theater that left 129 people dead; in Berlin, outdoors, at the Wall, when the Wall was coming down.

If, at Union Square, someone a bit smaller than Slava comes out on stage holding a fish in her hand, that’ll be his wife Lena Ushakova. Their son Ivan is an actor; their son Dmitri is a technician. It’s all in the family, or, as they say in Novosil, snow news is good news."

Blue Canary is the main theme in SnowShow. Then and now.

Fiorino - Blue canary.mp3
Jorge Ben - Mas Que Nada



Крокодил Гена said...

The links just aren't working for me. You should really use www.rapidupload.com

tm said...


Anonymous said...

i went to see the show last night and i was both mentally and literally blown away by it! it's the most beautiful and thought provoking thing i have ever seen and probably will ever see...
do you know any of the other tracks in the show or possibley a link to find them?

tm said...

it's great if you like it
i have the whole album)

Yaz Al-Shaater said...

Thanks for the downloads!
Any chance you could post a track listing for the album? I can't find one anywhere!
...or perhaps you could point us towards more downloads?
The track I am trying to source is the one where he's holding a net and the two other guys are playing the accordianand 'singing' - here is a bad photo of the bit i mean
Thanks again for the downloads!

Yaz Al-Shaater said...

hey forgive me being an idiot - i just listened to the rest of your track and realised that was it...

cs said...

It was the most amazing show i've ever seen! What is the name of the album, and more specifically, what is the name of the song that you just hear for a few seconds at the start of Blue Canary?
Please e-mail me @ thefrenchcanadian.email@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I have seen this show twice. The Hackney Empire was magical and I agree with Simon Callow when he says it is the most wonderful thing he has ever seen on a stage. However, the performance in Birmingham last evening (without Slava) was cut short, each piece was also shortened and all the most etherial pieces were cut and so the deeper mystery and wonder of the Hackney experience was lost. Still a good (but short) show but nowheer as fabulous as the original. Bring back the full show!

Rob from Brighton said...

Hi terless,

Could you tell me where i can get the full 'album' of music for Slava Snowshow? There is one particularly haunting piece that i would love to hear again.

Many thanks,


tm said...

when i have some free time i'll put it on one of free host such as sendspace

Rob from Brighton said...

Hello Terless, i got to thinking that if you could just give me a list of the tracks/artist on the album for the show, i can most likely find them on-line without putting you to any more trouble.

Would that be ok?

Best wishes,


tm said...

68 kb

Unknown said...

heyy terless!!

sorry to bother you
I went to see Slava's Snowshow like a year and a half ago but never got a hold of the music except for Blue Cannary. I would buy the soundtrack but they dont sell it anywhere. It had such beautifull music one in particular which is all sort of calm and mysterious... any chance u can upload the sendspace thingy again???

id apreciate it sooooooooooo muuucchhh


Unknown said...

pleeeaseeeeeeeeeeee:D thank yuu

tm said...

if i don't forget i'll upload this.
but give me your email, Jose Carlos

Dean S said...

Hey so could someone upload the soundtrack again? I can't seem to find it anywhere and I love she show.

Maybe someone can email it to me or something?


SkyBlack said...

The links arent working for me either, which is a shame.
I saw this show on halloween, it was amazing to watch, there was such amazing visual content!
Slava is amazing!
I loved the soundtrack and wanted some of it to reanact in one of my theatre pieces at university, but sadly none of the links work.
If you could email me the music I would be so grateful.
Many Thanks

PAB said...

We saw the show in Manchester on Saturday and were blown away by the performance, literally.............
the music was so dramatic so much so i cant get it out of my head. I wonder.......is there any way of getting hold of the sound track?

tm said...


sofi said...

i think i have been searching for this music for 9 years. i have seen the show several times, and i am always trying to remember if they sold a cd at the show.
anyway, i have a couple of the tracks, but really would love all the music - could you post the link again - its since gone dead!
thanks so much

AnonIsLegion said...

do you have the music from the snowstorm scene?