Slava Polunin: The Monologue of a Clown – 5: Carnival


Carnival is an ideal formula of existence when everything is a theatrical performance and life is a festive occasion. All my performances are easy to arrange by the level of carnival in blood. I love a lot this type of art that I consider unjustly forgotten. It is a powerful tradition. It could provide immense nourishment to the clownery, but nobody is interested in it. I was horrified when I found it out, and jerked to it. Now I have hundreds of books on carnival, now I know all about it. Once I’ve come through a plenty of manipulations to pay a fee to represent Russia at the world’s carnival fund to attend one of their meetings. I wasn’t invited, of course. But when I came to the banquet of this association wearing sandals and shorts, they did not let me in. They didn’t let me attend the carnival tie-less! It proved symptomatic to me: modern carnival tradition came to its end. That association became senseless to me. They make money on keeping their trousers on the waist. It was then that I began studying the real roots of carnival and started looking for those who’ve done the same. I found Misha Shemyakin, his carnival sketches; I came to him and persuaded to work on the play together, basically, to revive the carnival. (Their play ‘Il Diabolo’ about Devil and Fool is almost finished. Polunin showed it in Holland and Poland. Perhaps, one day it’ll reach Russia. – N.K.).

Today there is no place on Earth where you would see a real carnival. Save for one, that is Trinidad and Tobago, a small island not far from Cuba. The world-known artists come there, they create unbelievable costumes, they realize mad projects and just spend their time away from the rest of the world. My attendance of the Venetian carnival was hazardous; I came there together with Misha who twice was an artist-general of it. February at the Venetian carnival is his favorite time in life. At last he finds himself in that very place where he had to be born to live, in the 17th century. Granted, by his own initiative, he erected a statue of Casanova in Venice. It was supposed to stay there for a limited time, but it just made the place look complete, and I am sure, there is no way of getting rid of it now. Everyone has a feeling that it has been there all the time. It is the main ‘course’ of the carnival: people barge there to session, to take photos. Unfortunately, Shemyakin’s presence as an artist-general did barely affect the carnival. It’s impossible to push it anywhere, whatever he did. The Italians are very stingy. Finally Misha said: “Fine, damn it! I’ll find money myself. How much? 5 millions? Okay!” He got in touch with different companies, showed them his sketches and books, they made him an order for advertisement ‘with these your little devils’ and paid him 5 millions. He gave money to the Italians: “There are your five millions, please, spend them on the carnival”. – “No”, the Italians answered, “we have 5 millions ourselves”. Then, for god’s sake, why didn’t you change anything in your carnival; and instead your 5 millions had come to grief? The Italians and Russians are but all the same! Nobody has money, but everyone is absolutely happy.

Of course, the Venetian carnival, tender, aesthetic and showing-off as it is, is the remains of the late splendour. The laces turn to ashes, there is no flame, but mere sparks. It is dying, but this death is so beautiful! There are people who visit the carnival every year; they’re waiting for the day when they wear their costumes on which they’ve probably spent their last penny. It’s a star hour for them. They walk out into the square, and other people, star-eyed, give them loud applauses. There you’ve got a feeling of a life’s festivity, of a second reality. There’s such architecture all around, and nobody will throw a sidelong glance on you. The audience is colossal, all staring! It’s running for a marvel, you do “Ops!” and it says: “WOW ?!” Anywhere in Europe for your ‘Ops’ you’d get: “What ?! You want a punch in the mouth?” Meanwhile, this is a perfect place for provocation. Here I love playing up with usual things. I observe the environment, take a notice of the system and bring it to the top. People in the café make the perfect pit. Once I took a notice ofpigeons, bought a pocket-full of seeds and began throwing them around. All Venetian pigeons rushed to San-Marco. Hell! People covered their heads, the pigeons hustled and bustled, tables fell over. The waiters applauded me. The carnival in Venice is a good place to try your ideas. Your have a personage, you dress him up and walk about with him for hours: there’s always the audience, always joy, irresponsible atmosphere… Irresponsibility is a very important word for the theatre.

Translated from Russian by Julia Shuvalova.



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