What it takes to be a contortionist for Cirque du Soleil
- Aleksei Goloborodko is an award-winning contortionist, named “the most flexible man in the world” by GQ.
- He’s one of 45 performers traveling with the Cirque du Soleil show “Luzia.”
- Goloborodko grew up in Tula, Russia and has been practicing contortionism since he was 4 years old.
- He trains for three to five hours a day to maintain his flexibility, with five stretching and cardio sessions throughout the day.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Aleksei: Many people ask me weird questions, and one of them is, “Aleksei, do you have bones?” and I often say, “Yes, I do have bones, but before I go to work, I leave them at home.”
Narrator: This is Aleksei Goloborodko, the world’s best contortionist.
Aleksei: I train three to five hours per day to maintain my flexibility and my other disciplines that I have in my act. I control my body in all the shapes, all the positions that I want. It feels awesome. It’s like having a superpower.
Narrator: Aleksei is a contortionist for the traveling circus company Cirque du Soleil. He’s one of 45 performers from 19 different nationalities traveling with the show “Luzia.” Aleksei grew up in Tula, Russia, and has been practicing contortionism since he was just 4 years old.
Aleksei: When I was a kid, I asked my parents to take me to circus show, just to watch them perform, and the next day, I asked my mom to take me to circus studio. I told her that I fell in love with circus, and since then, I’ve been doing contortion, and it’s almost 20 years. I started when I was 4. Now I’m 24.
Narrator: Aleksei began performing with Cirque du Soleil’s “Luzia” three years ago. His show celebrates the culture, history, and mythology of Mexico by bringing to life a surreal Mexican-themed dream. It was the first Cirque du Soleil show to incorporate water into the set design. Aleksei has been traveling and contorting with “Luzia” for hundreds of shows across North America, and he quickly gained fame for his mind-bending movements.
Aleksei: It’s a huge responsibility to be the best contortionist in the world, to be the most flexible male in the world, because I have many fans, and it’s a huge responsibility not to drop your level from here to there because if you drop your level, you disappoint them, and I feel like I don’t have rights to disappoint my public. I don’t have rights to disappoint my people.
Narrator: We caught up with Aleksei during his warm-up before the premiere of “Luzia” in New York City.
Aleksei: My genre is called dancing contortion. It’s a mix of different disciplines, and the base is contortion, being bendy and flexible, and other disciplines such as hand balance, elements of rhythmic gymnastics, elements of ballet dance, elements of modern dance are maintained in my act.
Narrator: Aleksei warms up for about 40 to 45 minutes before each show. It’s one of five stretching and cardio sessions he has throughout the day. He has to keep his body limber and loose so he doesn’t hurt himself.
Aleksei: For practice for training, I’m very aware of each movement I do because when I stretch, I have to keep everything under control not to injure myself, but when I perform, I mostly think about my character in the act. I think about my presence on stage.
Narrator: Not only does Aleksei constantly have to strengthen his body, but contortionism also demands a steady mind. It’s similar to yoga, and he has to learn to control his thoughts, be present with his body through each movement.
Aleksei: The hardest part is to maintain the balance between flexibility and strength because if I get too loose, too flexible, and I don’t care about my strength, I cannot control properly what I do. On other hand, if I get too strong, I can start losing flexibility.
Narrator: It’s now about three hours before the show, and Aleksei begins his makeup routine. These 45 minutes help him get into character. Aleksei portrays a mythical creature called an alebrijes.
Aleksei: It’s a Mexican creature that combines in itself many different animals such as swan, panther, scorpion, snake, and all these animals are all in one as alebrijes. And this is me. It’s my interpretation of this creature.
Narrator: He worked with a choreographer for six months to bring the creature to life, and as his skills have developed through the years, so has his act. Once makeup’s done, Aleksei is ready to debut his alebrijes persona to New York City. But before he comes on in act two, other master acrobats take the stage.
There was hoop-diving on treadmills, adagio acrobatics, cyr wheel and trapeze, hand balancing, masts and poles, aerial straps, and juggling. Then finally, a dark form on a platform is rolled out onto a candlelit stage. The crowd goes dead quiet. Slowly, Aleksei unravels. And people shriek.
Aleksei: Many different reactions are received. Sometimes they are just mesmerized, and I can see complete silence in the audience. I can hear almost nothing when I perform besides music. It’s very impressive. You’re just performing in silence. It’s amazing, and the other reaction, when they go crazy and they scream, and sometimes, people scream so hard that I cannot hear accents in the music. My goal is to mesmerize, impress, and to make them go crazy.
Narrator: He twists and flips, and you’re unsure which body part is which. He fluidly contorts into shape after shape. The best contortionist in the world strikes his last pose. Head between his legs, chest on the floor. And the audience erupts.
Aleksei: I really love it because I realize how much I can express myself with my body, and I don’t need anything else. Just body, and that’s it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2019.
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