By ANGIE CARNATHAN
The idea of a circus family is somewhat foreign to most of us here in the United States. But for many of the performers in Cirque du Soleil’s “Dralion” the show is just that — a family affair.
“Dralion” is a traveling arena show. It typically visits one city a week, but this week the show has performed twice already in Tupelo, the last performance happening tonight, and this weekend it will travel in Huntsville, Ala.
When the show arrives in a town, traveling technicians with join forces with local workers to put the stage together. It normally takes about nine hours to set up the stage.
“We have 26 technicians that are traveling with us that are specialists in rigging, carpentry, lighting and sound,” said Julie Desmarais, the publicist for “Dralion.” “We also have 60-70 local technicians that assist us. The local technicians are a great help to us because they know their local venues the best.”
Once the stage is set up, the rehearsals can begin. The actors have typically have three full days of rehearsal before the show opens.
The first act to rehearse on Tuesday afternoon in Tupelo was the hoop act. Desmarais said the act, which requires the men in it to jump like arrows through spinning hoops, is made up of several acrobats who all came from the Shandong Circus in China.
“The performers in the hoop act have been performing together most of their lives,” Desmarais said. “They’re like a family.”
The arena show travels for 10 weeks at a time, and then each performer is given the opportunity to go home for two weeks. However, they are also given the opportunity to travel during that two weeks as well. Since the majority of the performers are from other countries and their families are typically still in their home country, Desmarais said most of them do take the opportunity to go home.
“With technology being what it is today, it’s not too hard for the performers to stay in touch with their families while we travel,” Desmarais said.
After two weeks away from the show, one might think they would be rusty when they returned, but Desmarais said that is rarely the case.
“It’s not hard for them to get back into the routine after the break,” she said. “They are very well trained, and even when they are away, they work out and train every day on their own. They have to in order to keep up with the show.”
The ages of performers in “Dralion” spans from 18, the minimum age requirement to travel with the show, to 52. However, the oldest acrobatic performer is 35 for this particular show.
“He is from Barcelona and he’s in the trampoline act,” Desmarais said. “The ages they can perform to is all based on how they keep up their shape and training.”
One of the performers in the show is 27-year-old juggler Vladik Myagkostupov. He grew up in a circus family and is living one of his own on the road with “Dralion.”
Myagkostupov is originally from the Ukraine but has lived in America since he was 6.
“Both of my parents went to circus school back in Russia and performed with the Moscow Circus,” he said. “I started a juggling when I was 6 years old. My parents taught me everything I know.”
He began with “Dralion” in 2006. He has since married, and he and his wife have an 8 month old daughter.
“They’re here with me,” Myagkostupov said. “My wife was in the show before, but now they just travel with me.”
He said his wife will eventually go back to performing and he hopes his daughter will one day be part of their performing life as well.
“I would like to see my daughter go into the circus, too, but it will depend on whether or not she likes it,” he said, laughing. “She may not want to do it.”
Myagkostupov’s parents are still performing, and he said he believes it is not the age of the performer but the amount of work they are willing to do that keeps them in the show.
“My father is still performing and he’s 52,” he said. “I could see myself going that long. My father is in really good shape. He’s always practicing; he’s always working out.”
Although the performers see several sold-out audiences every week, most of them still get the butterflies before a performance, and Myagkostupov is no exception.
“It’s exciting to go out and still be a little bit nervous,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good because it makes you have more energy, but sometimes with juggling it’s not good to be a little shaky.”
Myagkostupov said they do over 300 shows a year. He enjoys the traveling, but he said he does still miss the comforts of home sometimes.
“At home you have your car, your favorite store and you know where everything is,” he said. “On the road, you’re always kind of lost. But you’re also always seeing new things, which is really interesting. I love traveling — that’s one of the things that’s best about this show.”
Myagkostupov said his typical show day starts with some free time with his family. He then practices for about two hours and works out for another hour. His juggling act is one of only three solo acts in the entire show, so he pretty much works on his own schedule.
Desmarais said the call time every night for the show is an hour and a half before the show opens. Each performer is responsible for doing their own makeup, which is an hour long process for most.
“It takes me a really long time to get into makeup,” Myagkostupov said. “We do two layers of makeup, lots of cream that is set with powder. It will stay as long as you don’t touch it.”
Desmarais said her work with “Dralion” has been the opportunity of a lifetime and she never gets bored with the show.
“You could see ‘Dralion’ three or four times every week and still see a different show every time,” Desmarais said. “It is always evolving and changing.”
There is still a chance to see the magic of “Dralion” tonight in Tupelo. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show starts an hour later. For more information, visit http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/dralion/tickets/tupelo.aspx .