Pros:

  • Incredible production values and props
  • Nuanced nostalgia you can’t fight (unless you’re really young and can’t go back that far)
  • Masterful physical performances
  • Polysemous, make what you want of it
  • Deep, resonant, experiential
  • More classic than traditional
  • Kind of worth the 6 movies in the cinema you didn’t watch and the 75 minutes you would have wasted reading reviews wondering whether it’s worth your time

Cons:

  • Clowns are creepy
  • Heavy reliance on audio: bad balance/acoustics of MBS theatre could be better
  • Too deep, too resonant, too experiential
  • Superficially interactive
  • What do tropical Southeast-Asian islanders know (or care) of Soviet snow-stalgia?

Overview

It’s been running for close to two decades, yet it’s still touted as a uniquely interactive and beautiful production. Either Slava’s competitors are too busy clowning around, or Slava’s Snow Show is giving something special and getting that ‘special’ right.

After attending the opening night with absolutely no knowledge of the show and its heritage whatsoever – I have concluded that for me, the answer is the latter.

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Artem Zhimolokhov has taken over the mantle (i think it might technically be “Snowshow by Slava” now?) of the eponymous “Slava” and continues the noble mission to send viewers back into the memorialized past and a future made from childlike imagination more than adult desires. A little reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker rendition, Slava II and gang “do or do not, there is no [why]”, seeking attention and exploring beyond the stage, reflecting a familiar but ineffable neurosis that plagues most people. They take control by losing it, turning that control over to the spectators who have the freedom to fill the spectacle with personal meaning (Derrida-ish). Whenever you get scared or sad, they’ll be there asking, “why so serious,” but in a non-murderous fun-loving interpretive dance.

Slava Polunin‘s pantomimic virtuosity is declared at the opening through a physical discipline (great cast, also read somewhere that some of the clowns are women who present as men) and complex choreography that largely persists throughout the show. This technical excellence is not a feature of the show but its solid foundation.

The immediate apparentness of that professionalism demonstrates for me, the disparity between local theatrical productions and what some might describe as “mature cultures” of “traditional Western theater” – and as an aside validates an argument for defining a new contextual, composite performance tradition (retaining essential features to accommodate non-local appreciation) rather than reaching for a foreign measure that is constantly shifting anyway.

Everyone (reviews, press releases and so forth) keeps mentioning how “interactive” SSS is for some reason. The “interactivity” of the Tony Award winning performance may feel underwhelming or even misleadingly worded if one were expecting some stochastic, audience-initiated conventional narrative.

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In fact, the innovative use of the (beautiful though frequently 2-dimensional) soundscape prevents the audience from returning to the relaxed, rowdy, informal and convivial atmosphere of classical theaters. Excited children were routinely shushed by their civic-minded parents during the more quiet stretches (damn you, Courtesy Lion -depicted here accepting this woman’s humble sacrifice-, enemy of fun and ruiner of childhood mammaries).

Instead, Slava’s Snowshow reminds us why, in the internet age, we still pay to attend live performances. Entertainment is expensive because boredom can be fatal. Slava does a great job of battling it on your behalf, giving your mind the rare opportunity to just be, to travel backwards and forwards: floating giddily with nostalgia like a balloon at times, and at others, grinding into the future with Sisyphean optimism (ie, none).

When this thing starts, you’re gonna be thinking, great this is some Waiting for Godot, absurdist, ultimately depressing Western-intellectual-existentialist esoteric artsy fartsy blah – they really need to include some complimentary booze or happy pills with the ticket. OK, well that’s what _I_ was thinking, but thankfully I was mistaken: (a) it’s more like F*ck that @$$hat, Godot, I’m not waiting he’s boring let’s start a riot instead, (b) it’s dynamically paced, and (c) there are times where you are actually looking forward to a calm and silent lull especially when the psycho-penguin-clowns wreak havoc in the stands (Episode II: Attack of the Clowns – in a moistly good way).

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I would like to emphasize that this isn’t, as some might have you believe, a dark, suicide-inducing tragicomedy you should prevent your kids from seeing. The benefit of bragging rights (“yeah, I’m cool cos I’m 10 but I go to the theater“) and some chortles should far outweigh the super remote possibility of sending your child into a life-changing vortex of intellectual depression.

And by “child”, I mean your inner one, you know, the one that sings along and bobs its head when no one’s looking, the one that is probably going to enjoy the show, and then stay on after it ends to prod giant crowd-surfing balloons, ignoring protests from real, really sleepy kids. In fact, I saw a couple instances of psychological child abuse of this nature, like kids who were reaching impossibly high for a chance to touch the ball, only for their parents to swat it away. Aww, adults will be adults!

Also for those who have coulrophobia – I hear you. However having returned from my intrepid expedition alive and mentally sound, I think you should be safe. These clowns shouldn’t trigger any traumatic experiences cos they’re special. They’re sort of zoomorphic, which mitigates the evil (crimes of fashion) killing-aura that all clowns are imbued with when they are summoned from their parallel dimension.

TL;DR – So from my pov: the main clown guy’s a lil bit like a Pikachu while the green guys are like Soviet penguin troopers. I know this is all somewhat anachronistic (Pokemon was created in 1996 and the top-secret Soviet penguin trooper program will only be successful in 2020) – but that’s Slava’s Snow Show yo, it’s like a trippy time-machine, just don’t think too hard or you might get hurt.

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Date: 28 August – 9 September
Venue: Marina Bay Sands Theatre
Time: Tues – Fri: 8pm, Sat & Sun: 2pm & 8pm
Duration: 75 Minutes (including 10 minutes intermission)

Get your tickets from the MBS Website
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(Think imma write a part ii. itll involve my totally legit, musically substantiated fortuna-cult conspiracy theories, credible sources that say you are actually Slava in a trippy Memento way, and parallel texts you can find on project gutenberg if you’re not the program-buying sort — kinda like how I used Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen to figure out what was going on in Star Wars way back when i only communicated in operatic German before I learned English. The secret passphrase is “Dostoyevsky, Notes from the Underground”. Wear a red clown nose and knock on the door in this rhythm: -.- )