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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 14, 2001

Veteran clowns hypnotize with winter fantasy

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor

Send in the clowns. "Slava's Snowshow," opening Wednesday at the Hawai'i Theatre, offers a surreal landscape of mimes and clowns ... and "snow." This blizzard of artistry will give the audience an experience that feels cozily Christmasy.

'Slava's Snowshow'

Premieres at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, repeats at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 20-24, 26-29, and 1:30 p.m. matinees Dec. 22, 26 and 29-30

Hawai'i Theatre

$25 for all seats on opening night, benefiting Hawaii Foodbank; $55, $40 thereafter, with discounts ($20 off $55 tickets, $15 off $40 tickets) for students, military and seniors 62 and older

528-0506 (Hawai'i Theatre) or 526-4400 (Ticket Plus)

Maui shows: Jan. 3-4, 7:30 p.m. Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center. (808) 242-7469

Mimes are clowns who speak an international language.

So says Dmitro Bogatirev, a Ukranian performer who has a significant role in "Slava's Snowshow," the holiday fantasy opening Wednesday at the Hawai'i Theatre. Folks, he said, go to see mimes for different reasons, but the bottom line is to have a good time.

"Kids go to see the clown," said Dmitro, who also has been called Dmitri. (Let him explain: "Dmitro is Ukranian, which is what my passport says. Dmitri is Russian.") "Adults go to experience the story, the philosophy. Both laugh. There's comedy. There's drama. There's fun."

There's also the "snow," where an oversized fan will blow billows of white confetti — the snow in "Snowshow" — throughout the house, even reaching the uppermost tiers of the Hawai'i Theatre. It's ecstacy to be part of this blizzard of artistry, and an experience that will make you feel cozily Christmasy.

But the show's creator and usual star, Slava Polunin, won't be here as he was in his 1999 debut. He has purchased an old millhouse in Paris, where he is establishing his new International School of Clowning, which will have studios and accommodations for visiting artists and students. So he's sending in three clowns — veterans who specialize in the new-age clowning style of "Cirque du Soleil," "Alegria" and "O" — to fill his shoes. One is Dmitro, and the others are Onofrio Colucci, an Italian-born clown, and Robert Saralpo, a "Snowshow" regular since 1996.

Dmitro, 38, has been clowning for 20 years. Though now a Las Vegas resident, where he had performed with his wife for the past three seasons in the "O" show at the Bellagio Hotel ("I quit to move on to do different things; got tired of doing the same routine"), he has had ties with several Russian clown shows over the years.

"When you go on stage and people watch you, start clapping, and understand the language of the clown or the mime, it's almost like hypnotizing them," he said in a telephone interview from Mannheim, Germany, where he was doing a show last week. It was 3 a.m. his time — and he had not yet gone to bed after a night of work. "I don't have my clown face (makeup) here, so they recognize you when you're finished working; they like to talk," he said.

"Sometimes, it's narcotic — you give power to the audience, because when they leave, they remember and take something with them home," Dmitro said of the addictive nature of his work.

One of Slava's hallmarks, Dmitro said, is that the clowns don't look like ordinary folks. "American clowns are at a low level," he said, unafraid of putting down the stereotypical circus variety, with the fake noses and big shoes.

"Just being funny isn't clowning," he said. "You have to create a character that people will like, one that grows to an audience through the heart, not the jokes. To me, clowning is what Charlie Chaplin did: He always had drama, and a beginning and an ending. Sometimes it was sad, sometimes funny. But in the end, you remember him mostly because he was a funny guy with a sad story. Well, that is exactly the same format in Slava's show, spoken in a different language."

Dmitro established a reputation as a mime in this country through his work in Cirque's water-wonder "O," where he was the creative mastermind behind a clown duo act since the show's inception. He also appeared in the film version of "Alegria."

Previously, he had worked with Polunin in the Academy of Fools' production of "Snow Show," which has been marketed in this country as "Slava's Snowshow." And about three weeks ago, he was tapped by Slava to do the snow show in Europe.

"In Slava's show, there are two characters, one Green, one Yellow. I play Green, who is the shadow of Yellow, so I follow him," Dmitro said. "Yellow sees something he wants to catch for his friend; Green, the shadow, has the same friend. He tries to do things without me, but can't. It's so typical of Slava, so theatrical."

Dmitro said Slava's Russian-style clowning was derived from pantomime. "It was his idea, when he created a festival, with all mimes from Russia," he said. "From the mimes, he was able to create different characters. It's kind of a paradox; it's the idea of theater, but not a circus."

Dmitro is married to Iryna Ivanytska, with whom he has worked in a clown duo act. They have been featured in "Cirque," "O" and "Alegria," and are known for their zesty blend of slapstick with physical comedy, theatrical expressionism with avant-garde Russian elements.

They have a son, 5, who aspires to be a clown, too.

"He has worked with us in the shows (in 'Alegria'), so maybe he will do this later (as a career)," Dmitro said.

Besides their shows for adults and family audiences, Dmitro and Iryna have created a show expressly for children and have played hosts to a Russian TV show called "Rost."

In 1986, he won first place as a clown soloist in the USSR's Festival of Pantomime and Clowning in Kiev and since has earned numerous other laurels.

While he favors big shows such as "Cirque" and "O," and even "Snowshow," he still does the occasional smaller performance, such as his Mannheim booking, because of the intimacy with the lunacy. He was playing a cook who winds up with flames on his chest — illusionary stuff that has become his clowning glory, too.

Reach Wayne Harada at 525-8067, e-mail wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com or fax 525-8055.