In the (Russian) Swing: Behind the Scenes at Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai

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cirque4It was about 3 p.m. at Royal Farms Arena, and 10 Cirque du Soleil performers were onstage. They weren’t in costume, and a chummy vibe prevailed as two guns sat on a giant swing chatting, and another two worked on a lift into handstand for a few minutes. Several languages seemed to be spoken. But every few minutes, the attention focused Stage Left.

Two men stood on a giant swing, and it began to move. The swing rocked back and forth until the man on the front leaped toward the top of the arena, flipping, twirling and finally landing on the arms of two others on a giant platform. After starting the sequence facing forward on the swing several times, the man who would flip switched backward. All in an afternoon’s work.

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The feat is just one of the many tricks in Cirque du Soleil’s Varekai show, which runs through Sunday at the Arena. But the Russian Swing, as the giant contraption that launched the flipping man is known, holds a special place in a Cirque du Soleil universe. It’s the only show that features the Russian Swing so prominently, and features performers jumping from swing to swing.

“It’s the craziest thing. The Russian swing here, I love this,” said Uladzimir Mailutsin, one of the men who would fly through the air. “It’s the most dangerous act in the circus, I think.”

Mailutsin didn’t just wake up one day and decide to run off and join the Cirque. The native of Belarus began competing in sports acrobatics when he was eight years old. He competed throughout his youth, and eventually joined the Russian circus. Eight years ago, a Cirque du Soleil scout found him, and he’s been performing in Varekai ever since.

 

True to the amount of reverence it’s given, Mailutsin said the Russian Swing takes a while to pick up.

“In the beginning it takes a lot of time because you don’t what to do, how to survive,” he said. Over time, however, he said he was able to pick it up. It continues to be demanding, however. Mailutsin performs in the first act, then he’s offstage for a while. That’s because warm-ups just for the Russian Swing take about an hour before he gets fully loosened up and in proper flipping form. To enable those warm-ups, Cirque du Soleil keeps a weight room and stationary bikes backstage just a group of training the mats.

In all, 50 performers are involved in the production, while another 50 people work behind the scenes.

While Mailutsin was flying through the air, the four-person costume crew was making alterations backstage.

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With female performers making 4-5 costume changes each show and men making 2-3, they need to have a lot of colors to choose from.

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And if you really want to think about the scope, make sure to factor in that this same type of scene is being repeated at 18 other Cirque du Soleil shows around the globe.

 



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