Cirque du Soleil is the largest theatrical producer in the world. Most of us are familiar with this company and, the luckiest among us, have attended at least a show or two.
I'm completely mystified with visually stimulating shows that CDS performers spoil us with. But, most importantly, I'm curious about what happens after the show. What's their "secret" life like? I got a chance to speak to Nikolai Liubezny, an established Cirque du Soleil performer, who was kind enough to offer me a sneak peek into the circus life.
How did you become a circus performer?
I did acrosport for almost 15 years. First, my brother started performing for CDS. When he came back home after one year of tour and showed me a video tape of his performance, I said to myself, "I want be there!"
It took me about 3 years to get to my goal. First, I visited my brother in Houston,TX with my mom. I did an audition there for Big Top. My mom spent 10 days shopping and sight seeing while I was training non stop. My 10 day discipline was called "Russian Bars.” After 10 days, I did a video and sent it to casting in Montreal. After waiting for some time, I got another audition in Vitebsk, Belarus. I passed that one too. Finally, after 3 years, they invited me to General Formation, where they teach us acting classes, discipline, choreography, clown classes, doing make up, etc. And after 3 months of General Formation I got my first contract with Alegria show!
Describe your typical day
When I am on tour, working days look like this: I wake up around 10 or 11 am, have breakfast, run some errands, answer emails, etc. After, I go have lunch to Cirque. We have a kitchen there. Then I go and do my own training. After that, I do my make up for the show (we do our own makeup), warm up and start the first show. A show lasts for about two hours and that’s when everything becomes a jungle: costume changes, running everywhere, going on stage...
After the show, we get a break for about an hour. I try to have some snacks and then warm up for the next show. Some people prefer to rest and take a nap. Once the second show is done, I remove make up and go back home to have dinner, rest, sleep... my day normally finishes around 3 a.m., because I can’t go straight to bed, my body stays awake and full of adrenaline from the performance.
Do you follow a special diet and/or work out regimen?
Diet and regimen... some people do, some don’t. I, personally, do try to eat healthy, less sugar, less fat… And I try to eat 5 times a day. So my answer is - yes, I do follow a diet, but it's a personal decision. Circus wants us to look good on stage and that’s it. It's your personal responsibility how you’re going to go about it...
Is there a strict weight limit for performers?
Limits? Not really… but depends on the act. For example, in my act, we have flyers (people who do tricks in the air) and porters (people who throw and catch flyers), I am a porter. For flyers, it’s obviously better to be in appropriate weight in order to make sure everyone feels comfortable performing. For porters, it’s better to be in good physical shape and strong.
Rumor has it, circus performers are often romantically involved with other circus performers within their group, is that true?
Most of the time, yes, because the Circus world is really big, it takes over your life. Our days are pretty much full and we need a lot of rest… so most of our time is spent at work and a lot of performers end up dating other performers.
It's not just common at CDS, it's like that at a lot of circus companies around the world. It's another “world", “land”… People from the industry understand each other easily, meet each other on different stages or even work in same act. It's a lot of family dynasties too. But we also have some people who’ve never been in circus. I’d say 70% of performers are actual families and 30% new comers.
Does the average salary rate change depending on the act or every performer is roughly making the same amount of money?
Yes, salary changes in a couple of ways. It can depend on the act: solo, group act, musicians, clowns, main character in the show... all have different “starting” salaries. It also depends on how long you’ve been performing or how popular you are as a performer. The more professional you are - the more you get paid. If you’re very popular and acclaimed - you get a bigger salary from the start. After you sign a contract, for your next one, your salary is going up by 2%. I believe all big companies have this policy.
Where do you live when Cirque du Soleil moves from country to country?
We live in good conditions. Sometimes it's inside the cities, other times it's outside of the cities, but we live in good hotels and apartments. Cirque tries to arrange the best stay for us.
What happens when you get injured during practice or during the actual show?
If someone gets injured, first they have to see a doctor wherever we are working at the moment. After that, they normally send them to Montreal to recover.
A couple of years ago, if we needed surgery, they would let us go home (where we’re from or where we’re located) and do all the necessary procedures there, until the doctor would consider us ready to go back to Montreal, where we would finish recovery and smoothly transition into training process again.
How long is your vacation and what do you do in your spare time?
Vacations… sounds amazing... we have an official break for 2 weeks per year. But between cities or countries where we get to work, we have one additional week off. You can decide if you want go to the next city to perform or you can go anywhere else in the world. But you need to be back at work on a specific date.
Normally, we try to take advantage and explore the country where we are performing in. We’re very lucky and it’s a lot of fun. After working for CDS for almost 13 years, I actually can’t imagine having to stay in one place and not travel every two months.