Spinning, twirling and twisting from a small rod that swings high across a circular stage is all in a day’s work for Yulia Korosteleva, a solo trapeze artist at the Cirque du Soleil. In between performances of the troupe’s latest show, Kooza (Sanskrit for “treasure chest”), the Russian-born Korosteleva is in a lively mood, and sits down for a quick chat. “My character is a rebellious young woman, which suits me,” she says in perfect English. “I’m a very fiery, energetic person. I really love what I do and wish I could do it forever.”
Korosteleva was a gymnast from the age of 5 until she turned 20. “I studied sports journalism and PR and had no thought of going into the circus. I had never heard of Cirque du Soleil. One day, I went along with a friend to an audition in Moscow and I thought it might be fun to try it, too.” A few months later, she got a job as an acrobat—even though she had never had any circus training—and toured with the Cirque shows Alegria and Saltimbanco.
With performances almost every day—and sometimes twice a day—Korosteleva says it can be a challenge to stay fresh. “Some artists have more freedom to make subtle changes to their act, but on a trapeze, I don’t have that. About all I can do is an extra twist or wink at the musicians. There are days when I wonder how I’ll get through it, but as soon as I see the audience, I know I can’t let them down. My father, who is a judo instructor, instilled that spirit in me. You give everything you have.”
Korosteleva says Japanese audiences, while different from those in the US and Europe, are starting to become more expressive. “They are still super polite and you don’t hear the whistling and yelling as in other countries. I think it must be hardest for the clowns because you never know what will make people laugh in different cultures.”
When she gets time off, Korosteleva takes her e-reader to a quiet corner in a bar or coffee shop; she loves matcha latte. “I also like wandering around, absorbing energy off the streets in places like Shibuya,” she says. To stay in shape, she does stretching and Pilates.
Korosteleva says when she meets someone for the first time, she tries not to say what she does for a living right away. “I hope people will be interested in me for myself, not my job. Of course, they get excited and have a lot of questions, but once they have used up their knowledge of circus, the conversation peters out. When we go out in a group and the one or two artists get all the attention, [that] isn’t fair. We are a big team—we have cooks, teachers and technicians and what they do is every bit as important as the performers. Still, it can be cool to say you are with Cirque du Soleil. If I were a guy and wanted to hook up with a girl in a bar, I would wear a Cirque du Soleil jacket and sit down in a visible place.”
Korosteleva is starting to look at life beyond the trapeze. “I hope to have a career related to Cirque and would love to have a place I can call home,” she says. Then she’s up to get ready for the next show, cool as a cucumber. No nerves? “Of course, but there’s a Russian saying that even if your eyes or mind are scared, your hands keep working.”
Kooza will be at Harajuku Big Top until July 18. See http://kooza.jp for details.
Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (www.japantoday.com).