I just met with Yuri Kuklachev of the Moscow Cats Theatre. You can’t see it from the photos, which accentuate the more garish aspects of clowning—quite the tribute to greasepaint and Day-Glo, but Yuri is utterly charming. When he speaks in Russian, it sounds as if he is purring. A cat charmer—not a cat trainer.
He wouldn’t disclose the intermediate steps between observing and playing with his cats to the sudden leap forward to performing tricks in front of a loud, raucous audience. But he did express many an inspired sentiment about the cat. Most striking: “A cat won’t willingly stay with an angry family.”
Inwardly, I cringed. Maybe that is why I am so drawn to cats—I don’t want to be an angry family. I can see how my cats suffer when I lose my temper with the kids. There is altogether too much yelling in our house. But until my conversation with Yuri, I had been stuck focusing on the immense contrast between my cats and my kids.
My Cats: Gentle, quiet, loving, a relaxed relationship with few mutual demands, but much affection.
My Kids: Loud, demanding, in constant motion, rough, obnoxious and just plain exhausting.
My cats have been my respite from my kids.
Yuri says that in his view of the cosmos, cats were sent to soften the human hear. They are a healing presence.
Perhaps if I can’t muster the love and patience to relate to my kids differently out of love for those same children (who push and test this bond until it is stretched to its limit), I could try for the benefit of the cats. Sound whacked?
I am desperate for inspiration these days. I long to live in harmony with my human children, but my time with them makes me wonder about the dirty truths of human nature. How can we hope to stifle the conquerors instinct when my own peacenik daughters can’t sit in the backseat of the car for more than two minutes without erupting into a vocal brawl of whining and screaming that just makes me want to lay in my incredibly comfortable bed with my cats wrapped around me, an occasional paw outstretched as an invitation for affection, followed by a delighted purr.
When I look at my cats I feel the swell of love, when faced with my children (unless they are in the angelic repose of sleep), I just feel exhausted by the daily rituals of forgiveness and brief breakthroughs that characterize our family life.
A cat won’t willingly stay with an angry family.
Are we an angry family? I feel the most powerful surges of anger when my monkey children badger and whine unrelentingly. But we aren’t a violent family—just a loud one.
I am getting lost in my own whining (Oh—its contagious alright!) There was a moment of inspiration here—
Can my children be charmed the way Yuri charms cats?
He uses a lot of gestures, his face terrifically expressive, such a soft voice and touch. He stroked my hair—just as he had the newman from Fox TV. Very light touch.
This man clearly loves cats. He says that cats have taught him the significance of kindness, gentleness and reaching out to those around you with love. Keeping a positive outlook is a big part of his messages.
“Don’t overlook the beauty around you.” He instructs then he shares a parable that illustrates this morale. He found his first cat as a stray kitten in the streets of Moscow. A sickly kitten with pussy eyes, she was so helpless that he could not just walk by. He picked her up, brought her home, rinsed her eyes with medicinal tea, washed and fed her—and there she was revealed, a beautiful cat, who sweetly licked his hand in gratitude. “How could so many walk past her and not see the beauty that was there?” He asks.
I wanted to bring my daughter, April, to this show. I know she would have loved it. But I can’t trust her behavior these days, I was worried that she would launch one of her “I’m a bored eight-year old tantrums” during my interview with Yuri. So she is missing out. I wish that I could trust her more—but I simply can’t. She might have been great (because when she is great, she is an amazing, wonderful kid), but when she sours, she is uncontrollable. No amount of coaxing, warnings or pleading will change her course. Her cat, Ben, is the only quick remedy I know of to alter the course of one of her tantrums. His calming presence pulls her back into her center—but of course, we couldn’t bring him to the Theatre.
I am seated very close to the stage (at this moment, waiting for the show to begin.) I love the priveledges of the press—free tickets to the show and a chance to speak with a world-famous cat guru (through a translator.)
So I have to read his books to extrapolate his lessons about interacting with cats. The books still haven’t been translated from Russian. I truly can’t wait. I am hoping it will be a learning opportunity similar to the catharsis I experienced reading Pam Johnson-Bennett’s cat behaviorist books.
I wanted to learn right there during the interview all that he had to teach about communicating with cats. He mentioned observing the eyes, ears, the complex facial expressions and the tail (whipping his hands in a perfect imitation of an irritated cat tail.)
Clearly the key to ‘training’ cats is keen observation. Communication with cats is facilitated through watching and responding accordingly. “Use your heart,” he says. Very obtuse really.
He wasn’t very specific about anything—but I think the specifics will reveal themselves in the show (I’m hoping!)
I wonder how many of the people in this audience subscribe to Cat Fancy magazine, live with cats, or are just here because they are Russian. It does seem to be ‘bad guys’ night at the theatre. To my right is a recognizable Russian actor, Elya Baskin, who usually plays very, very bad Russians in Bondesque films. To my left, carefully disguised with a trim beard is Vincent Cassel (a French actor who played the very, very bad art thief in Ocean’s Twelve.) I wonder if they are fan’s of the cat—or they are just attending at the insistence of their children?
Yuri says that poor people in Russia have lots of cats, because they need lots of love, and that Russians are devoted to their cats. At his shows he raises money for a cat rescue that he founded in Russia. They catch street cats, spay/neuter them and then give them up for adoption at his shows.
He hopes that his shows help people to really see cats. Not just walk past them…
I have now seen the show. And the cats were wonderful. So was the audiences palpable desire to connect with the cats. The house was packed and I wondered if this was the expression of a deep longing for ways to experience our love for the cat collectively.
The show itself could do with more cirque de soliel and less loosely plotted buffoonery (particularly the glow-in-the-dark aliens with the knitted masks, as well as the ‘live dolls’, which were so absurd that they weren’t even creepy.)
But I was elated to see the audience endure all the nonsense, still elated by each kitties' lithe grace and amazing feats.
Weekly Cat Quote:
I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It's not. Mine had me trained in two days. ~Bill Dana
Preview of Coming Attractions
Over the next several months, I will be traveling across the country in search of cat stories, visiting innovative cat rescues and shelters, interviewing eccentric cat lovers, leading vets and behaviorists and so much more. To view my travel schedule and learn more about my Cat Behaviorist business, please visit http://www.thecatbehaviorist.com/ . If I will be in your area and you feel you have some interesting cat stories to share, please don't hesistate to contact me via my website.