The return of Slava’s Snow Show to Toronto, staged at the Bluma Appel Theatre, is a resounding success. The show is everything it promises to be – truly a night of wonder, magic, and childlike joy. Although there were many families with happily giggling children in the audience, Slava’s Snowshow is by no means a kids’ show. If you’re looking for slapstick comedy, you must look elsewhere. If you are looking for a subtle and serious homage to the art of clowning, enter this magical world, brainchild of famed Russian clown Slava Polunin.
Clowning can be a difficult art to appreciate for many. Finding a true and talented performer between garish birthday clowns and terrifying It renditions is such a gift.
Polunin’s skill is undeniable on the stage – you cannot tear your eyes away from him. His clown is subtle, touching, sad, gentle, honest, and funny. Humour is definitely an aspect of the show, but it’s not the pinnacle. The audience at opening night was so eager to laugh, it seemed that they were missing some of the most beautiful moments of subtle artistry. The way Polunin can move a foot, finger, or eyebrow so encapsulates the whole of his character. I was delighted with his skill and the way each tiny movement helped to create his full vision. All the performers were wonderful throughout the evening, but it was a treat, a gift, each time Polunin appeared onstage.
Knowing the vast fame and appreciation of Slava Polunin made the evening a delightful cultural event as well. The playbill sported a wonderful history of the Russian artist, and how his work has moved so many. His specific clown is part of the cultural zeitgeist in Russia, referenced and known in so many places. A large portion of the audience was Russian as well, and seeing a show like this in Toronto must have been so wonderful and moving. A centerpiece of Russian theatre, Polunin’s impact is now worldwide.
The show is structured in a series of vignettes of which each act is nearly stand-alone. While each bite-size piece is full of wonder, I would have preferred a little more of a connecting through-line. Watching the show felt like wading through someone’s dreams. Interesting, touching, and lovely, but a little disorienting and confusing at times.
I was pleased and excited to be finally seeing Slava’s Snowshow, a performance I had heard so much about and waited to see for a long time. I sighed at tender moments, laughed out loud, and jumped in, red-nose first, to an evening of whimsy. I left wanting more, and while I wished for some buried gem to shed some light on the performance as a whole, I appreciate and applaud each individual moment of the show in their complexity and sincerity. Bring your kids to Slava’s Snowshow, but be prepared for a well of emotional honesty, and wonder of an entirely mature nature. Spasibo, Slava Polunin.