Flying high: Discover what it takes to be a CDS Performer

Ahead of Cirque du Soleil’s arrival in Adelaide, three performers share their unique journeys from athlete to acrobat

Q. How did your acrobatic career begin?

Helena Merten: I began my professional acrobatic career at 18 years old when I got into a world renowned resident show in Macau. I was very fortunate to have been accepted with such little experience but I grew immensely over those years. How grateful I was for that opportunity – it allowed me to be a sponge for learning and to take every opportunity I had to learn and grow.

Krzysztof Holowenko: I started training Acro Sport as a kid at my local club in Warsaw, Poland. After finishing my career as an athlete, I decided to move further into the performing world, beginning with corporate gigs, theatre and film extra/stunt and then I moved on to circus.

Melvin Diggs: I was a youth in St Louis (USA), I wasn’t heading down the right path so my school recommended I get a big brother/big sister, which is the program used for youth to have some sort of guidance. My big brother they assigned me recommended I get a summer job because in St Louis that’s the worst time to find yourself doing bad things or falling in with the wrong group of people. The summer job I chose was to work at a news station but it cancelled the date I was supposed to begin so I thought it was over and I wouldn’t get a summer job at all but my big brother called me back and told me he had found me a back-up job working for a local circus inside a museum in St Louis. That circus was called Circus Harmony and the museum was City Museum. My job was to work with the summer camp kids and I would take them to and from the bathroom, to put their shoes on to meet their parents at the end of the day, give them water and snacks etc. One day I was walking past the ring and there was one of my close friends named Sidney. I saw him do a backflip and I was like, “Wow, I’ve never really seen that, I’ve always wanted to learn one.” I asked the director if I could learn to do a backflip and that’s how it all started.

Q. What attracted you to join the circus?

HM: I began with a circus class where I was competing Acrobatic Gymnastics at the time. I loved the way I could do all of the tricks that I loved, but not be judged so specifically on them.

KH: The freedom of expression it gives you, over the strict rules sport imposes. The effect it has on the audiences. The brief moments of emotions, laughter and happiness it gives to spectators.

MD: Initially it was because I found a great group of people at Circus Harmony, I found some of my best friends who are now family members to me. There’s never a ceiling to hit because you never stop learning.

Q. What training do you need to perform and hone your skills?

HM: The show itself certainly keeps us in shape as we do it often, but personally I love to still learn and train new skills. We have a few mandatory trainings a week, then I will do one to three hours on top of that each day for body maintenance/injury prevention and my own disciplines that I enjoy exploring on the side.

KH: Apart from my background and the years I have spent training sport, as an athlete, performing in Luzia requires daily maintenance and conditioning trainings. Also, group training sessions, to perfect the acts’ specific skills, build trust, understanding and connection with my stage partners.

MD:There’s a lot of training required, especially with the level of performance required of us on stage at Cirque du Soleil level. I train probably four times a day in different areas to ensure I can maintain the levels I need and stay healthy for as long as I possibly can.

Q. What’s the best thing about your job?

HM: The best thing about my job is being a part of a production that literally changes people’s lives.

KH: The ability to travel the world, experience different cultures, and entertain people, while having fun myself.

MD: There are multiple things, it’s honestly hard to pick one, but one that comes to mind immediately is the people you meet all over the world – different cultures and languages and ways of looking at the world that you get to interact with on a day-to-day basis is one of my favourite things.

Q. And what’s the biggest challenge?

HM: Not being in one place so that I can adopt a dog but I love travelling so it will have to wait.

KH: Staying away from home, being constantly on the move, not being able to “grow roots” anywhere.

MD: The travelling, but not because it’s a bad thing. It’s one of the things I love but it’s also difficult because you’re away from the people you love the most and you miss a lot of first and beautiful moments in your family because of our demanding schedule. But for me it has been 100 per cent worth it because this is what I chose to do with my life and I’m enjoying it.

Q. What scares you most about performing?

HM: What scares me most about performing acrobatically is that I may not be able to do it forever.

KH: That one day I’ll have to give it up.

MD: I’m an artist who likes to work within a group so stepping in front of a crowd of thousands of people or doing a trick I’ve never performed before scare me the least because of how long I’ve been doing this.

Q. What has been your biggest career highlight?

HM: My biggest career highlight would be joining Luzia. It was a dream since I saw my first Cirque du Soleil show at seven years old.

KH: Performing my Luzia act in the Royal Albert Hall during the BAFTA awards ceremony.

MD: Performing some of the top skills I’ve ever done in my career with the biggest company on the planet for what I love to do, while performing alongside some of the most talented people who I respect and appreciate, all in one bubble which is like me having a smoothie with the best ingredients in the world and getting to have that as often as I possibly could.

Q. What do you enjoy most about Luzia?

HM: What I love the most about Luzia is the people. There are so many incredible people from all kinds of backgrounds and specialties that I have been able to meet and learn from.

KH: That it’s a universal show, touching and moving people all over the world. No matter the country, culture, language spoken.

MD: The people. I really love the show, it’s absolutely beautiful.

Q. How does the audience help to spur you on during a performance?

HM: The audience is why we do what we do. Their reaction certainly puts the fire in our belly during a performance and touches us too.

KH: Performing in the Big Top gives an artist the chance to be very close to the audience members. The energy in the crowd is very contagious.

MD: The interaction between artist and audience is incredibly important. We present a show eight to 10 times a week that can get awfully repetitive but the people who come to see us are the difference. So to be able to interact with them and see the smiles on their faces and the feedback they give us inspires us to keep it fresh and fun, to keep us excited and inspired to perform to the best of our abilities. There’s no us without them.

Q. How are you enjoying performing to Australian audiences?

HM: After 11 years performing all around the world, it is my first time performing for a large Australian audience. So far Australian audiences are engaged as well as open and true to their emotions. I can see that they are absorbed and respectful of what we are doing. I love how they are letting themselves be taken into our world of Luzia.

KH: I feel like the Australian audience knows how to have fun and enjoy the spectacle. It’s always nice to feel, that what you do on stage is appreciated.

MD: I love Australia so far, I’ve always wanted to come here and enjoy the cities. I have a lot of friends at circus school who are from Australia and they are some of the most honest and straightforward people I have ever met. Australia has a 10 out of 10 for me so far. Also no scary animals or insects so far but I know that’s to come very soon. But I’ve seen a kangaroo! I’ve wanted to see one for a very long time.

{ SOURCE: The Advertiser” }