Images: OSA Images, Costumes: Kym Barrett, 2010 Cirque du Soleil.
For those of us who struggle to even touch our toes, it’s impossible to imagine being capable of the kind of mid-air stunts Cirque du Soleil‘s performers pull off every night.
Like her castmates, Alevtyna Titarenko is mind-blowingly strong, flexible and fit. The Ukraine-born athlete has been involved in sport since the age of 5 – and started winning World Championships in acrobatic gymnastics and amateur fitness competitions by the time she hit her teen years.
Since 1997, the mum of one has appeared in four Cirque du Soleil productions. Right now Alevtyna is part of the Rings Trio act and a hand-to-hand routine in the TOTEM production, which is about to reach Australia. The Glow spoke to Alevtyna during the New Zealand leg of the TOTEM tour, to find out exactly what it takes to stay on top of her game.
Can you talk us through what your training routine is like while you’re on tour?
“The act itself doesn’t take much time – it’s only 7 minutes – but there’s a lot of time preparing. Usually I take 45 minutes to warm up – this includes stretching, strength exercises, weights as well as some technical stuff. The actual performance is on the rings, so you really need your upper body strength. It’s very difficult to say hours-wise how much we train, but it’s up to 1-2 hours a day. We also sometimes do yoga training to cool down.”
Do you do any other exercise outside of the show?
“I try to work out three times a week, and I’ll do some cardio. It depends, though – if I’ve got two shows a day I don’t want to do any extra workouts, I’ll just do two lots of warm ups which is already an hour and a half. It’s quite difficult for the body because you’ve got a constant warm up and cool down.”
How else do you like to stay fit?
“I love to play volleyball. I’m not much into hiking or that kind of thing – I do like to just walk outside and go swimming, although not so much in a swimming pool. Basically I’m trying to stay active. Also, when you have a child you don’t have much time to relax because the child is active and she always wants to do something.” [Alevtyna’s daughter is 10 and already into acrobatics like her mum]
What do you eat to fuel your body?
“I have a fast metabolism so I actually eat everything, but I know what I’m eating. I eat a lot of salads, fresh vegetables and fruits and plenty of carbohydrates, and the only thing I take externally would be some vitamins or omega 3 oils. I love ice cream, I love sweets, dark chocolate, but I know if I eat too much I have to walk a bit to use all those calories.
“I eat every 2-3 hours. That’s not because I make myself eat, but because my body is asking for food. If you’re training and you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t have to reduce the amount you eat each day – you actually have to increase the number of meals you have each day and eat in small portions.”
What do you do behind the scenes to prevent injury during your performances?
“We do a lot of work off stage. It depends on what your act is – if you’re doing an aerial act you have to do a lot of work on your core and your upper body; otherwise, you might have to have a strong back and a strong neck. Our physio checks our alignment and how our muscles are doing, and if you have pain you need to fix it as soon as possible. It’s like a Formula 1 car – you don’t fix it when it’s broken, you have to change the tyres and help it run. That’s what’s important to us – trying to stay on top of the game before you reach the point where you break. But of course injuries happen, it’s a part of our job – we work with our bodies, and our bodies are our equipment. And the equipment sometimes gets out of order.”
What about during the performance?
“The main way to prevent injuries is to be focused – even though the acts are short, you cannot take anything for granted. You have to be really focused every second you’re on stage. You’re smiling, you’re playing, that’s what you’re doing; but the mind is always working. You need to be one step ahead of everything you do.”
Do you have any pre-show rituals to keep you focused?
“My ritual is to pull myself together – of course things happen on the day, or you might not feel like performing or you have something else on your mind, but through a ritual you pull your mind and your body together, and you say, ‘If I do this, this and this in this order, I’ll be prepared to perform.’ Unfortunately, I have to say that sometimes I’ll forget to prepare dinner for my daughter and I’m up in the air flying and I’l think, ‘Oh my god, I forgot to prepare dinner – what will she do?’ We have so many things on our minds – it does happen in the air, it’s not the best timing!”
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Cirque du Soleil TOTEM opens in Sydney on October 28 and then tours nationally to Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.For more information go to www.cirquedusoleil.com/totem