So Do You Want to Join the Circus? We Talked to 'Varekai' to Find Out How

click to enlarge Cirque du Soleil's Russian Swing Flyers toss and tumble in Varekai coming to Freeman Coliseum. - PHOTO: MARTIN GIRARD / SHOOTSTUDIO.CA COSTUMES: EIKO ISHIOKA © 2014 CIRQUE DU SOLEIL
Photo: Martin Girard / Costumes: Eiko Ishioka © 2014 Cirque du Soleil
Cirque du Soleil's Russian Swing Flyers toss and tumble in Varekai coming to Freeman Coliseum.

click to enlarge Uladzimir Maliutsin, a member of Cirque du Soleil's Russian Swing Flyers. - COURTESY
Uladzimir Maliutsin, a member of Cirque du Soleil's Russian Swing Flyers.
Do you think you’ve got what it takes to be a circus performer?

We had a chance to chat with Uladzimir "Vlad" Maliutsin about his high-flying experience working as a Cirque du Soleil performer, and I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t make the cut.

Vlad is one of six Russian Swing Flyers in Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai, a fantastical forest-centric reimagining of the myth of Icarus. As a flyer, Vlad stands at the front of the Russian swing which is situated over 20 feet above the stage. His pusher pumps the swing back and forth from the opposite end, using the strength of his or her legs. Then, when his keen muscle memory (sharpened by countless hours of rehearsal) tells him the time is right, Vlad catapults himself from the swing and into the air. He flies across the stage, either to another swing or to a catcher waiting for him atop a platform.

The flyers don’t have safety nets to rely on. Instead, they rely on their own confidence in themselves and in their catchers and pushers. Yep, we’re definitely too wimpy for that.

Vlad began his acrobatic career in Belarus when he was just eight years old. As a young adult, he served six years on the men’s group of the National Acrobatics Team of Belarus which has been awarded medals in championships across the world. The group consists of four people adept at performing pyramids and jumps, among other tricks. Vlad spent hours a day perfecting his jumps by bouncing on a trampoline on his own. Okay, we could probably handle bouncing around on a trampoline for a little while. But for hours? That sounds exhausting.

Vlad believes it was his success on the team that caught the attention of Cirque du Soleil scouts.

No stranger to performance, Vlad was approached by Cirque du Soleil during his time performing with a Russian Circus. In 2005, he was asked to join what Cirque du Soleil-ers refer to as “Formation générale” in Montreal, Canada, a sort of boot camp where potential entertainers get a chance to impress casting directors and choreographers with their skills. If, like Vlad, you have an impressive and flexible skillset then you will be worked into a show. Vlad was in formation for two years before he was officially welcomed into the Varekai family in 2007. He has been a part of the show for eight years now.

Vlad must stay light in order to be easily jettisoned back and forth across the Varekai stage, so he follows a strict diet. Apparently this diet is tough to follow in America because we love our fried foods here, but Vlad tries to eat only fruits, juices, meats, and salads for fuel. That means no carbs. Ugh, how does he do it? We guess poor Vlad won’t get to sample any puffy tacos during his stay in San Antonio.

Working as an acrobat can’t be all diets and strenuous activity though, right? They’ve got to have some downtime, right? Well, when Vlad isn’t on stage he likes to go out and perform even more physical activities, like rock climbing.

We definitely wouldn’t make the cut.

We will, however, ooh and ahh over the exciting tricks that Vlad and the other acrobats, dancers, and clowns have in store for us during next week's show. Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai premieres on February 4 at 7:30 pm at the Freeman Coliseum. There will be six additional showtimes through February 8. Ticket prices range from $40-$100. Click here for more details.