The Strange Story of Russia’s Cat Theater

Nestled in the heart of the historic city of Moscow, resides a tiny, most magical place: The Moscow Cat Theater. A small venue which seats 240 patrons, this theater is one of the most famous attractions in the area. Surrounded by fabulous eateries, such as the Vasilchuki Chaihona, Fratello, Pion, and a host of other Moscow tourist sites, the small theater has managed to stand out, to make a name for itself solely on the quality of its showmanship, it’s ability to take around 200 cats, and deliver a show worth traveling for. So, if the idea of bunches of happy cats atop sparkling, mirrored balls, leaping from ledge to ledge, or even taking a piggy back ride on a pups back is something that you find intriguing, then perhaps a visit to this mysterious, colorful kingdom of performing cats, is someplace you’ll enjoy.

Yuri Kuklachev and His Fabulous Theater of Cats

The Moscow Cats Theater is the brainchild of one, Yuri Kuklachev. The son of working class parents, Yuri studied to be a professional clown, who then went on to perform at the Moscow Circus. One day, in 1971, Yuri came across a stray cat begging for food on the streets of Moscow. The stray cat seemed to realize that the more she ‘performed’, the more she would be fed. Was this stray once a cat who performed tricks with its owner, but was now without a home? No one knows, but one thing was for certain, watching that cat go through its motions inspired Yuri to take action. Yuri looked at that stray cat, and right then and there, decided that he and the cat would make a pretty good team. He scooped her up in his arms, named her Strelka, and added her to his act at the Moscow Circus. In 1990 he left the Moscow Circus, and decided that the Universe needed something special, and that was a theater packed to the brim with cats!

Yuri believes that cats are magical beings, cosmic to be exact, and are a gift to the human race. To hear Yuri tell it, each cat has their own purpose. For instance, cats with a light colored coat give off positive energy, while black cats remove negative energy. No matter what the cat, or what color their coat, Yuri believes that they are here to do good. He points this out in the performance entitled “Cats of the Universe”. Here, a cat arrives on earth in a UFO, and proceeds to bring peace to humanity, freeing them from all manner of chaos and violence.

Today, the Moscow Cat Theater is lead by Yuri’s son, Dmitri Kuklachev, who took over the helm when his father retired. Dmitri considers this theater part of his families legacy, as he states that the cat theater is “…our family tradition…I’m continuing a dynasty”. Dmitri isn’t only the artistic director of the theater, but he performs as well by guiding the cats through their routines, Believing that comedy is the essence of what he does. Dmitri strives to have the Moscow Cat Theater be a place where audience members of all ages can enjoy the show, not just children. The mere fact that Dmitri has an allergy to cats, reaffirms his dedication to this theater!

How the Cats are Trained

We’re dealing with cats here, so maybe “trained” isn’t the correct word. For, as we all well know, cats do what they wish to do, not what they are told to do. In fact, that’s part of their charm. As such, it’s difficult to teach them tricks like a dog. So these performing cats are initially carefully observed, so the trainer can see what they enjoy the most. As Vladimir states, “We can tell upon meeting a cat if it has the potential to be a good performer…We can tell by looking at their faces.” So, if a cat is a good climber, then they’ll devise an activity that involves climbing, and so on.

Those who train the cats for the theater don’t rely on the techniques used on dogs and other animals. They’ve found that simply rewarding cats with a treat is not as effective as being affectionate with them, and using their voice. After all, they’re cats and if they don’t wish to do a thing, they will not do a thing. As Dmitri puts it, “The most important thing is that the animal is comfortable on stage. We prepare them for that. After all, if they are not comfortable, then they won’t perform well. ”

Performances at the theater, involve around 200 or so cats, who act alongside colorfully dressed performers, who guide the cats through their routines. Both cat and human team up to create a well-received show that has entertained thousands in its mother country, as well as all throughout the globe. That’s right, they also tour. So far, the traveling version of the Moscow Cat Circus has visited over 80 countries and counting, with the tours only having around 35 feline performers instead of 200.

The theater building itself is utterly devoted to the magic of all things cats, and it all starts with the outside of the theater. Upon entering the building, you are met with two fanciful, large bronze cat statues. it’s customary to rub the noses of each of the statues three times, make a wish and it will come true. However, It’s when you pass through the doors of this most magical place, that you realize you’ve just entered a kingdom devoted to, and ruled by cats. Looking around, you’d notice the 120 bronze cat figures gazing upon you, as well as cat paintings, and stained glass windows of Egyptian cats, Even the door handles are in the image and shape of cats!

Visitors to the Moscow Cat Circus state that before the performances begin, those who arrive to the theater early enough, are taken on an upstairs tour. Here, they get to see the cats pre-showtime, all in their nice, clean sanctuary where they spend their time relaxing until performances begin. Patrons describe the area as spotlessly clean. The cats are well fed, and groomed. In fact, theater hired 7 ladies whose job it is to keep the cats in tip-top condition. All tolled, the show runs around 90 minutes, and that includes the intermission.

Final Thoughts

If you’re concerned about the treatment of the cats, so have others. In fact, several groups were concerned that cruelty might be involved in making the cats perform. Fortunately, that was not the case. Those who run the theater ensure that everything is as transparent as possible, from training methods to where they live. Keep in mind the nature of the house cat. They can’t be bribed or bullied into doing anything they don’t want to do. If they don’t like it, they turn away and leave. All things considered, this is a fabulous place to spend an afternoon or evening for both young and old. For more information about their local performances and tours, contact them at Moscow Cat Theater, Kutuzovskiy Ave., 25, Moscow 121151 Russia, +7 499 243-40-05.

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