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Friday Cat Reading

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No, this will not be a regular feature, and I really shouldn’t be posting this at all, but The New York Times has an instructive feline-related article today for your reading pleasure. Salient paragraphs:


Later, several American cat lineages returned to Asia. With each migration, evolutionary forces morphed the pantherlike patriarch of all cats into a rainbow of species, from ocelots and lynxes to leopards, lions and the lineage that led to the most successful cat of all, even though it has mostly forsaken its predatory heritage: the cat that has induced people to pay for its board and lodging in return for frugal displays of affection.

Italics mine. I feel certain that Nicholas Wade is a snarky dog person who should not have been assigned this piece. Also, he should meet my friend’s cat Ginger, who naps on your shoulder like a baby.

Despite their evolutionary success, most of the large cats are in peril because their broad hunting ranges have brought them into collision with people. "With the exception of the house cat and a few other small cat species, nearly every one of the 37 species is considered endangered or threatened," Dr. Johnson and Dr. O'Brien write in the current Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics.

Fewer than 15,000 tigers, cheetahs and snow leopards remain in the wild, they estimate, and pumas and jaguar populations have been reduced to about 50,000 each.

I fear it is only a matter of time before big cats and other animals that needs lots of space are confined to parks and zoos. Very sad.

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Thanks for the post, dirac. As to relevance, our cat Basil has the most beautiful ballet walk, toes first -- not to mention incredible elevation, lovely epaulement, elegant positioning of the head, and numerous other attributes of the most legendary dancers. Balanchine admired the balletic quality of cats. That alone should justify the inclusion of your post here at Ballet Talk.

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Thank you for the kind words, bart. I have a copy of Tanaquil Le Clercq’s children’s book about Mourka, with Martha Swope’s photographs, and of course I’ve seen the famous photos of Balanchine with his kitty.

Although I confess the latter always reminded me of an incident in a Monty Python sketch. Briefly, Graham Chapman appears as a guest on a television show. He explains that his cat can fly across the room into a bucket. The host asks how she accomplishes this feat and Chapman says matter of factly, “I fling her.” He then takes his cat by the tail, twirling her over his head like a lasso, and boom, off she goes. But I digress.

Edwin Denby also pays tribute to the balletic quality of cats.

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It looks like the folks who did the study ("Warren Johnson of the National Cancer Institute in Frederick, Maryland, US, led the study.") issued a press release that the papers and other services have picked up. The BBC has a similar article: http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/em/fr/-/1/hi/sci/tech/4585766.stm .

I agree that any news about cats is relevant to news of and thoughts about ballet, and am sure Mr. B. would concur. I saw the recently-closed "Moscow Cat Circus" in Manhattan, and thought they were all most graceful and disciplined.

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I feel certain that Nicholas Wade is a snarky dog person who should not have been assigned this piece.

Oh, I don't know. I think he appreciates the domestic cat's resourcefulness and exceptional salesmanship.
Edwin Denby also pays tribute to the balletic quality of cats.


I wonder if perhaps the estimable Mr. Denby has it backwards. I think it's the feline quality of ballet dancers. Would a cat deign to mimic a human?

You think?

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I too read that article cover to cover and have gone afield doing further research....

My cat Ziggy could jump 5 feet from the floor and land on an embroidered cloth covering a hard-topped turntable without skidding even a fraction of an inch.

It thrilled me no end to discover that the cheetah comes from a family of cats that evolved in the Americas and migrated BACK to Asia and thence into Africa.... Cheetahs are the most beautiful things to watch run there ever was -- They're THE fastest land animals, can run 65 miles an hour, can get 0-30 in 3 seconds, in full career their backbones look like ropes with waves up and down them and actually dislocate in the process. (Saw it on the Animal Channel.)

Yes, Denby compared a good pas de deux to meeting a cat on the street at night -- she comes up to you, you offer your hand, maybe she rubs it, maybe not, but if she does, you rub one cheek, then the other, and then she walks away for a moment, comes around behind you and approaches from the other side, you stroke her back, she takes three steps, turns round comes back, you do it again, but now it's the other way...

Very simple rules for how to construct a good pas de deux, it's amazing how many bad choreographers don't follow them....

Ziggy taught me a dance for the moon roof. One year -- around 1997 -- I went swing dancing every other night, and would get home often around one in the morning. Ziggy knew the characteristic sound of my car -- a 1981 Datsun SX -- and would be out at the street to greet me and would jump onto the hood just as I'd park. If I was listening to a song on the radio I wouldn’t necessarily get out of the car right away – so she took to walking up the windshield onto the roof. So I'd open the moon roof a crack and wave and she’d put her nose out and I’d stroke her whiskers, whereupon she'd walk back down the windshield and come round to the driver’s side window, which had an electrical control and I'd glide it down, at which point she'd usually step onto the shoulder of the bucket seat and walk round the back as I’d reach over the top of my head and scratch between her ears. She'd sometimes step down onto the gear-shift and let me stroke her back, but if she did, it never lasted long before she was back onto the seatback and onto the window ledge again. She did not like getting into cars, even if they weren't rolling, except for this ritual greeting, and it was clear at this point that it was time for me to stroke her back, let her jump down, and then for ME to get out of the car and walk her to the door and let her into the house.

It was never the same twice -- one night I hit the remote and lowered the window on the passenger's side, so she obligingly stepped up onto that ledge and looked out, but she wasn't interested in any developments of that motif. Another, very special night it became a pas de trois as a cop car rolled quietly by, stopped about 15 feet ahead, slowly backed up, rolled down its window, and the driver asked “is everything all right?” Ziggy obligingly popped her head out the moon roof and I was able to explain, and he drove off again about his rounds.

Oh, GOd, how I loved that cat. She was so good to me.

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Thanks for all those lovely memories, Paul.

Our cat Venise doesn't seem to be a pas de deux person, but she definitely loves to jump (she loves flying things), however she often isn't especially careful about her landings (as some plants painfully remember).

I came across the following quote by Bernard Taper:

"Balanchine has trained his cat to perform brilliant jetes, and tours en l'air; he says that at last he has a body worth choreographing for." -- Bernard Taper"

and the following photographs:



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I suspect it was Mourkha who trained Mr B rather than the reverse.

There was the Great Natasha (no prizes for guessing whom she was named after) who delighted in setting off the burglar alarm. & her brother Fernando (no prizes either) who delighted in setting off the fire alarm.

& Buster who thought I would drown in the shower & would fasten his teeth into any available body part to drag me out & save my life. Every day.

& Tara who loved pound cake but would only eat it if it was on top of the refrigerator.

& Seamus who was always smiling.

Cats are definitely one of the proofs of the existence of God, along with Suzanne, Mr. B, Mozart, Vermeer, Dikembe Mutombo ..

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koshka _likes_ this thread.

Cats, of course, provide us with perfect examples of how to jump and land, and of how to react to a stage error or problem (problem? I see no problem...)

The Kuklachev Cat Theater of Moscow, by the way, reportedly did The Nutcracker as one of its recent shows in Moscow.

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I really wonder how cats are trained to perform in a circus.

Recently my husband and I tried to imagine what a corps de ballet of cats would look like. "Oh, that left ear does itch, doesn't it ?" "I really MUST catch that fly- OOPS, the orchestra pit!" "What about stopping here and licking the most private parts of my anatomy?" "The conductor always agitates that little stick, that must be a new game, let's try to catch it" "I'd like to have a little walk on the piano" "Perhaps if I sit down right at center stage and look cute enough, someone will give me a bit of tuna fish" "I'm fed up with the entrance of the Shades, what about playing with the tail of the cat before me" "I've climbed on the stage curtain and now I have no idea how to get down, could someone help pleeease ?"and so on... :cool:

By the way, are there some feline roles in ballet, besides Puss in Boots and his partner in "The Sleeping Beauty" ?

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Estelle wrote:

"I'm fed up with the entrance of the Shades, what about playing with the tail of the cat before me"

I like that one, it fits perfect (or purrfectly) with the idea of The Shades scene.

By the way, are there some feline roles in ballet, besides Puss in Boots and his partner in "The Sleeping Beauty" ?

Balanchine's La Chatte.

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This thread is very entertaining and enjoyable. I love cats but since my family has never been able to afford purebreeds, my cats are either rescue cats or have been found on the street or countryside. My first cat was given me by my father, she was called Tabitha and my Pa found her in a garbage can( can you believe it?), put her inside his raincoat and brought her home. She was white and ginger and had a most elaborate hunting style, an amazing leap with her paws spread out and tail flying, and was very fastidious about her grooming, which she always did in the sun. My second cat, Nilsson, I found when we were on vacation in the countryside. We would always leave milk out for local cats and he would be there every night, miawing at our kitchen door for more food. We decided to take him in, lots of Aww, he's so cute and he'll die if we just leave him :cool: His ear was chewed of and he had lost an eye in a fight but in spite of his humble background and pathetic appearance he was the gentlest, sweetest, loyal cat I have ever had. He loved music, we have an old vinyl record player and when we placed a record on, or were changing records he'd sit next to it, wagging his tail and purring.When the music sounded he'd miaow along with the tune.

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By the way, are there some feline roles in ballet, besides Puss in Boots and his partner in "The Sleeping Beauty" ?

For those of you who did not have the pleasure of seeing "Musagete" at NYCB, a ballet that dredged Balanchine's life in "tribute," there was a role for Mourka herself, played by Wendy Whelan.

As I mentioned earlier, I did see the Cat Theater/Circus, just before it closed. It was quite an experience. The cats seemed to enjoy themselves very much, and, as you all seem to be quite intimate with felines, you know that it is very easy to see if they are or are not happy with what they are doing.

Some of their tricks involved (and all, of course, perfectly timed)

jumping out of a little bird house to a specific spot. Climbing quickly up a rope-covered pole to return into the little house,

pushing a little carriage with one, two or three of their buddies in it (including a small dog),

doing a HANDSTAND in the palm of Mr. Kuklachev's outstretched hand,

crossing the stage multiple times on a "tightrope" (a pole) on their feet, or just hanging from their front legs,

jumping from box to box,

popping out of a box,

feigning anger and attempting to scratch,

accompanying the clowns into the audience, to be petted by many delighted audience members, yours truly included.

Had I known this was going to be a topic of discussion, I would have taken notes!

I tried to get people to come with -- but no one wanted to. Their loss! It was lots of fun.

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Purebreds...hmph. I could afford them, I gues, but why? My rescue/shelter cats are quite magnificent and give me all the ballet tips I need.

About other cat roles: word had it that the Washington Ballet's Nutcracker had a cat in Mirliton. The WB Mirlitons are cardinals. The cat was not in the show last year and <heavy sigh> I did not get to see it this year.

Now, about the Kuklachev Cat Theater...Sadly, I was not able to actually _see_ the Nutcracker, nor did anyone I know. I can't remember if I spotted a poster about it or saw it listed on their website or what. In any case, according to the info on their website now (English part exists but isn't working), the music is Tchaikovsky and viewers see how cats save the prince and princess from the Rat King.

Kuklachev was trained as a clown and starting training cats by chance, it seems. Apparently they're not all that hard to train once they see that there are treats and attention in it for them.

As for what the cats do: I can't say they do much in unison. But they do walk on tightropes, crawl along tightropes, ride on little perches on a bicycle with Kuklachev, etc. One cat does a most impressive handstand (pawstand?) on Kuklachev's palm.

I highly recommend the show either here or in Moscow. The theater in Moscow is great--there are portraits of the leading cats in the lobby just as other theaters have portraits of the actors/singers/dancers.

The website's main page gives an accurate flavor of the zaniness of the place:

Main page

The Repertoire page lists the Nutcracker show

Cat Theatre Repertoire page--note cat in handstand

The "Artists" page has a part for those without tails and those with tails...

Page about the artists with tails

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After reading Koshka's note about the website, I checked my link (on "Favorites") and lo! A MIRACLE:


After an extended sold-out run at Tribeca Performing Arts Centre, Gelfman International, the producers of MOSCOW CATS THEATRE, announced today that the international family smash hit from Russia will transfer to the Lamb's Theatre (130 W 44th St) for an open-ended run beginning February 3. Tickets are available now through Telecharge.com, 212-239-6200. "

I recommend against Ticketron.

Here's the link - in English: http://www.moscowcatstheatre.com/

have fun! :cool::yahoo:

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You recommend against Ticketron? The add suggests ordering through Telecharge. Is that what you mean, ViolinConcerto?

My experience with this kind of service is extremely limited, so I really don't know.

But thanks for posting about the extended run. Sounds well worth seeing!

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Wow, the things one learns here! Thanks to all.

Estelle, you and your husband are deeply, even mystically, attuned to cat mentallity. Your imagined cats corps is perfect -- which is probably why the Cat Theater doesn't do much "in unison," as koshka says.

It's wonderful that their site links to ASPCA animal rescue and a NYC cat rescue organization.

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All of my cats have been rescue cats or strays, and I wouldn’t have a purebred in the house, thanks very much.

Regarding the Moscow Cat Circus, below is a link to an article that ran in the NY Times when it came to town, profiling Yuri Kuklachev and how the circus was founded.

Another item, with a picture of Kuklachev and Marusa:

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I was just looking at the main page that Koshka has a link to, and my girl cat was on the chair behind me. On the page, when you "roll over" certain spots, you hear a cat's "meow."

Suddenly, my cat jumped down off the chair and started looking and sniffing around! Every time I repeated the action, she got all excited and looked for the "other cat!"

And I didn't think that meow sounded real. But then, who am I to judge?

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