Children of the Sun

Interviewed: Elena Olkhovskaya

The legendary Canadian Cirque du Soleil ("Circus of the Sun") was created in 1984. Today it is the most powerful circus corporation in the world, whose activities span five continents.

Cirque du Soleil cannot be called just a circus, it is a whole international empire of entertainment, which, however, is based on circus art. The Circus of the Sun employs more than 3,000 people, a quarter of whom are artists employed in 25 circus shows traveling around the world. Among the most famous performances: Saltimbanco, Quidam, Alegria, Corteo, Dralion, Varekai, O, mystere, Ka extreme, La nouba, Zumanity, Delirium, Love. The first six are the so-called “tour shows”, which are touring in different countries, the other seven are “resident shows”, which are held at stationary circuses in Las Vegas, Macau and Tokyo. In just a quarter of a century, Cirque du Soleil has become a new cultural phenomenon, a kind of “dream factory” for circus artists from around the world who dream of joining the star troupe, just like aspiring actors dream of getting to Hollywood.

In 2007, Cirque du Soleil first conducted a successful tour in Dubai with the Quidam program. Over a month of performances, more than one hundred thousand people visited the show. At the beginning of March 2009, the new tour of the Circus of the Sun begins in the UAE. This time, the Alegria show will be shown in Dubai. As it turned out, more than half of the artists employed in this show come from Russia or the CIS countries. On the eve of the Dubai tour of Cirque du Soleil, we managed to interview one of them. An interesting detail. This circus was born in 1983, just a year before Guy Laliberte, a young artist of French-Canadian origin, registered a company called the Circus of the Sun in the capital of his hometown of Quebec, Montreal, which was destined to glorify Canada. Meet my interlocutor - Denis Tolstov, 25 years old, acrobateke-Librarian. The conversation format is a telephone interview.

Denis, please tell us where you come from and how did you get into the Cirque du Soleil troupe?

I was born and raised in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. Our family is creative. My father is a composer and pianist, and my mother used to perform in a circus and trained my younger sister. I’ve been in a circus since I was eight. He graduated from the circus variety school in Kiev. In 2001, I ended up in Brussels, where we were invited to perform under the student exchange program at the Belgian Circus School. Apparently there, at these shows, I was noticed by people involved in casting for Cirque du Soleil. I was only 17 years old when I was invited to work in this world famous circus. In 2002, I first arrived in the city of Montreal (Canada), where the headquarters of the Circus of the Sun is located. There, I and other newcomers were taught basic things - acting and choreography, taught how to put on stage makeup, and also sewed costumes for the show. In the same year, I was accepted into the Alegria program, in which I speak to this day.

What number, if not secret?

It's no secret, of course. I have a solo number in the genre, which in Russian is called manual balance, and in English - handbalansing. This is a technically very complex number that requires serious physical preparation and certain skills.

What was the most difficult at first in the "Circus of the Sun"?

The main difficulty was the lack of knowledge of English. Arriving in Montreal, I did not know a word in English. But the circus management provided us with teachers, with whom we studied in between rehearsals and performances. Today I can rate my level of English as very good. It was also very difficult for me to apply stage makeup, since it is very special and very laborious. Probably, girls can do it much faster, because in life they have to deal with makeup every day. My process of applying makeup before each performance at first took about two hours, now I can cope with this task in about 40 - 45 minutes. But it’s not easy anyway.

Denis, where are you on tour at the moment, and how many countries over the years have you been able to go around with the Alegria show?

Now, on the eve of the tour in Dubai, we are performing in the city of Taipei in Taiwan. In general, it’s easier for me to say in which countries of the world I have not been. With the Alegria show, we performed in all major US cities - from New York to Miami, then toured Japan for a whole year, spent two years in Europe - Germany, Belgium, France, Austria and other countries. The whole year of the Alegria show was shown in South America - Brazil and Argentina. Now here we are going to the United Arab Emirates.

Will this be your first trip to the UAE?

Yes, I heard a lot about the Emirates from my friends, but have never been to this country. Therefore, I look forward to when I can be in Dubai to take a look at the UAE with my own eyes. Is it true that many artists from Russia and the CIS countries work at Cirque du Soleil? Yes. In our Alegria show alone, there are more than forty of the sixty artists employed in it, guys from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and other CIS countries. Other circus shows also feature many artists from countries of the former Soviet Union.

Why, in your opinion, do Cirque du Soleil casting experts often give preference to artists from Russia and the CIS countries?

It seems to me that they are attracted by the highest quality of training for our children, because in the "Circus of the Sun" work either professional athletes - gymnasts, acrobats, or like me circus performers who graduated from circus and pop schools in their countries. The second point is the incredible ability to work of our artists. We are all workaholics, which means that we will work until the seventh sweat so that the result is stunning.

Having worked for so many years in the circus of the Sun troupe, you can certainly tell what is its phenomenon. Why are millions of viewers around the world so eager to get on these shows?

It seems to me that the secret is that Cirque du Soleil is a special circus. There are no animals in it, people play them, and there is no familiar circus arena with a diameter of 13 meters. A special stage is built for each show of our circus. For example, in the Alegria show, it is rectangular and sliding, with many special devices and appliances. Therefore, it seems to me that Cirque du Soleil is more a theater, where, along with unique circus numbers, the original plot of theatrical action is clearly traced, great music sounds, the audience admire amazing costumes.

Do you think that a circus of this scale can survive in the conditions of the global financial crisis, because in such times people think more about bread, not about spectacles?

I think the circus, of course, will be affected by the negative consequences of the crisis. But I am convinced that artists will not be reduced, because it is very difficult to assemble a troupe for each show. Each of our artists is unique, although it has numerous and diverse skills.

Typically, young artists work in the circus, who then create their own families, and only later their children enter the arena, thereby creating circus dynasties. How is things going in Cirque du Soleil? And where do older artists go if this happens?

The Circus of the Sun has many family artists. Their children go to school, which operates at the circus, and receive secondary education in the Canadian system. They practically do not perform together with their parents, there are several guys, but there are not many of them. As for the circus age, it all depends on the genre in which you perform. In Cirque du Soleil we have one world-famous clown who is over 60 years old, there are artists aged 40 and 50 years. It all depends on the artists themselves, but still, many, not being young, prefer to stay, because "The Circus of the Sun is a solid and well-functioning system in which everything is thought out, people are socially protected and earn decent money, according to the terms of the contracts. Therefore, leave the troupe the artists are in no hurry, despite the fact that it is very hard work, hours of training, difficult numbers, physical overload, injuries.

That is, you also will not soon part with Cirque du Soleil?

I think that I still have a lot to come. And in the near future I am not going to leave Cirque du Soleil, which became my second home. Moreover, my numerous colleagues, immigrants from Russia and the CIS countries, do not let me miss homeland. We are friends, and our foreign friends are now learning the Russian language so as not to "fall out" of communication.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I am a fan of outdoor activities. Therefore, if there is a free minute, I like to play volleyball or soccer. I also love traveling, so I look forward to starting a tour in every new country.

Then, we are waiting for you and your colleagues in Dubai. See you soon on the Alegria show.

Thank you, be sure to see you.

Such they are, "children of the Sun" - gifted, hardworking, beautiful. The troupe of the Alegria show will not wait for the start of the tour in Dubai, where many fans from around the world are waiting for them with the same impatience. A blue-yellow big top Cirque du Soleil has already been installed near the Ibn Battuta Mall, and tickets went on sale in mid-January. I don’t know if there will be full houses, but I don’t doubt that the hall will always be full of spectators. The name Cirque du Soleil has long been synonymous with success. Each new program in the production of this great circus, "wandering" in different countries and continents, is doomed to success. Therefore, it will be very cool when the Circus of the Sun will have another permanent address in a couple of years. This time in Dubai.