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Family Values: Wonderland in Westwood

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By Ajay Singh

Published Jan 1, 2007 8:00 AM


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Copyright © Veronique Vail


For the sheer thrill of winter, there's nothing like being in the midst of new-fallen snow. This holiday season, you needn't drive to the mountains for the experience. A fantasia of falling snow — not to mention blinding fog, bubbles and balloons so big they look like planets — is unfolding right here in Westwood.

"Slava's Snowshow," an Off-Broadway, Olivier Award-winning theatrical extravaganza, is playing at Royce Hall — a limited engagement of 31 performances that concludes Jan. 7. Organized by UCLA Live and created and performed by Slava Polunin, considered the world's greatest clown, this is the show's Los Angeles debut — and it will leave you and your family dizzy with delight.

Hailed as "flat-out spectacular" by Entertainment Weekly, this tragicomic masterpiece of clowning and visual theater has won the hearts of more than a million spectators in some 80 cities worldwide. In fact, its magical imagery, whimsical music and amusement park thrills could easily give Disneyland a complex.

The show's surreal beauty defies description — and it's not hard to understand why. "If you try to retell one of your dreams, that's very difficult to do," explains Slava. But here's a tantalizing glimpse of the performance's mystery and allure, in its creator's words: "The snow is from Russia, the stars are from the sky! Where does the wind come from? There's a great plane, cut in half behind the stage, but you can't see it because the lights are so bright."

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Born in a remote Russian village, Slava spent his childhood in forests, fields and by rivers. Every winter was a world of snow, at once magnificent and fearful, like life itself. As Slava puts it: "Snow is beautiful and light, but it's also cold and can represent death."

Trained as a mime, Slava was influenced by such comic legends as Charlie Chaplin and Marcel Marceau. But clowning was his true love. In 1979, he formed a theater company and took clowning onto the streets. In 1988, he performed at London's famed Hackney Empire theater, becoming an overnight sensation. Critics have raved that Slava's work is to clowning what Cirque du Soleil is to circus.

Snowshow is an incomparable, unforgettable visual feast with a remarkable finale in which Slava summons a heart-stopping snowstorm — a white chaos of confetti that engulfs the entire hall. Long after the curtain has fallen, spectators are still there, thrilled by the wonder of this climactic coup. It can be summed up in Slava's description of what his theater is all about: "A kind of wedding cavalcade where I try to marry everyone to everyone."

Slava's Snowshow. Dec. 12–Jan. 7. Royce Hall. Weekday and matinee tickets: $63, $53, $42; Friday–Saturday evening tickets: $68, $58, $47. For more information, call (310) 825-2101 or log on to www.uclalive.org.

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