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Cirque du Soleil

Alexandra Apjarová, Juraj Benčík,

Silvia Vršková, Ján Petrovič

Slovaks active in Cirque du Soleil

Story of Alexandra Apjarová

Alexandra Apjarova was born and raised in strawberry town called Presov/Slovakia. In her childhood she started to actively train rhythmic gymnastics at the age of 8 and later in her carrier she became all around National Champion. Shortly after her gymnastics carrier she started to dance. She was accepted to attend the weekend school of Choreography by in Kosice/Bratistava and led kids and adults dance groups, which won multiple National festivals.

 Alexandra is always a dreamer and had a desire to come to USA since she was 15 years old. She finally immigrated in 1994 and started as everyone else. Hostess in a few different restaurants, later became bartender, she danced with Russian troupe in Brooklyn’s showcase, later in American modern dance company, called Rod Rodgers Dance Group and made it to a performance at Lincoln Center in New York City. Later, she found an opportunity as rhythmic gymnastics coach for Wendy Hilliard Foundation in Harlem for intercity kids gymnastics program. She also joined a company called Antigravity where she started to perform as an aerial dancer/acrobat and choreographed an original aerial hammock routine. She got used to NYC life very quickly and never looked back. It was hard, it was fast, it was a challenge, but it was everything she hoped for from the USA.

Alexandra went to audition for Cirque du Soleil in 2003 and got offered job with her original aerial silk hammock routine and dancer in production of “Delirium” the first arena concert show in 2005. She was the first Slovakian citizen hired with the company at that time. Alex traveled with the show around the world for 3 years and even came to Prague in 2008 as the first Cirque du Soleil show. After this production she continued working for Cirque du Soleil for special events, teaching dance and is looking forward to the next opportunity in the future.

 The life of the aerial artist/dancer is much different then 9am-5pm type of profession.  It is a very exciting but not always stable.  It is always good to expend and have other versatility like in acting and singing or character work, and even a second job as a coach, instructor or dance teacher for example where you can have flexibility to leave for performing jobs.  So I can say that for this type of profession you have to be always in good shape and flexible to take risks and be willing to compromise and improvise in life. It is always a challenge but if you are cut out for it you get to experience life in more exciting way, travel the world and even get paid for it.

As a kid from small town and small country I had lots of passion for performing and unknown, I always like to inspire people, especially Slovakian citizens and I make sure to point out how important is to work hard, believe in your dreams and never give up on them. My family takes me as I am and is for sure proud of my achievements including my rhythmic gymnastics coaches Maria and Ingrid Chalupova. I am just normal kid doing what she loves.

I am a very lucky and I thank God for it and I would love to continue to perform with Cirque du Soleil or other productions until I can and expend my experience and knowledge. I also love teaching kids and adults. I recently started my small online boutique and would love to continue building my small side business and eventually find products to help heal people with natural products and sell comfortable fusion clothes between dance/casual. Now my dream is to perform in my home country of Slovakia and be able to share my art with all generations.

On February/08/2011 I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and his name is Leonard Alexander. I am a mom and looking forward to a future with my son in many ways. My husband Etienne Deneault is going on the road as a head coach with Cirque du Soleil show OVO and we will have another interesting traveling the world and life adventures.  

I must say again that the biggest highlight of my carrier besides member of Cirque du Soleil I was extremely honored to be a part of Michael Jackson’s “This is it” concert tour and actually meet the icon and see his last days on stage. I was also a very blessed to be performing with Antigravity at the first Obama’s Inauguration Ball in January 2009, Grammy Awards 2003 with No Doubt and Gwen Stephanie, Winter Olympic Games 2002 in Salt Lake City, George Lukas Christmas Show 2001, Bill Gates private event. I was so lucky to meet many interesting icons including Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Jodie Foster, and many more.

Looking to the future Alexandra says. “I like to keep my wings wide spread and opened.“

Photos: Archive of Alexandra Apjarová, Cirque de Solei

Juraj Benčík

White Clown Main Character in Corteo Show

Where do you come from?

For a long time I have felt as a Central Slovak, because I have grown up in Banska Bystrica and I have had a permanent residence in Martin for twenty-two years (both Central Slovakia towns), but after fifteen years of travelling and after two years spent with Cirque du Soleil, and with respect to my Austrio-Hungarian ancestry as well, I have to say that I feel to be more of a Central European today.

How did you get into doing this kind of art and how did you end up in Cirque du Soleil?

I have been doing both sports and arts since early childhood. The arts have eventually taken over. I have

been drawing, dancing, playing the flute and the guitar; however, theatre enticed me most. I have graduated at a drama school, became a professional actor, and I have gradually become more and more involved with dramatic arts dominantly based in expressive media other than spoken word – puppetry, dance, mime – at last, I have ended up in a circus as a clown.

How many Slovaks are, or have been, actually working for Cirque du Soleil?

As far as I know, there are two Slovaks directly involved in the administrative work for Cirque - Maria and Juraj Slovak. In the internal database of associated artists, there can be found three other names of Slovaks who have been participating in Cirque’s projects as artists: Alexandra Apjarová, Ján Petrovi, and Juraj Beník. Also Ms Daniela Arendášová, former competitor in gymnastics for Slovakia, has a close connection to Cirque du Soleil, as she is currently a Director of Studies at the National Circus School in Montreal, where she also teaches Contortion.

What is the atmosphere and life in such an environment?

Similar to the one we see in Sci-Fi movies about interplanetary flights of the great cosmic vessels. Everyone has the same goal, the organisation is very strict, there is a single work language – English – and in private, everyone is using his native language and conforming to his own cultural traditions; everyone must conform to very strict rules and be widely tolerant in the end. The main engine for everybody is performance. In marketing the financial one, in acting the artistic one. One can say that only the performance of the highest quality is accepted and it is of no importance to anybody who comes from where, has what education, or previous experience. In this regard, it is the most just and most effective working atmosphere I have ever worked in in my whole life. However, the life itself is very difficult. Especially when you have a family and are working in a travelling show. Incessant shifts of location, culture, or language are actually creating a permanent stress that is hard to sustain over a longer time period than a few months.

Where have you been performing at?

I have begun with a two-months training in Montreal, then I have entered the Corteo show in St Petersburg, and continued into Kazan and into Moscow. There, my family have joined me and we travelled together out of Russia into Europe and have visited Brussels, Vienna, Madrid, Valencia, Alicante, and Seville. Finally, we have spent a quarter of a year in Paris.

What is the artist’s pay in Cirque?

In fact, I have been given the same amount of money for a single show which is given to the freelance actors in Slovak theatres; however, I had many more other benefits: accommodation, travel and lunches, very fine health insurance for myself and for the whole family, and an English school for my children, all free; Cirque has been paying for all this. Most importantly, I have had guaranteed a pay for forty performances a month.

Which shows have you been performing in?

I have played the White Clown character eight times a week for eighteen months and I have performed twice a week as the Dreamer Clown character back-up in a Corteo show. Altogether, I have been part of six hundred reprises of this two and half an hour long production.

How can one join Cirque du Soleil?

One has to show one’s interest through Cirque’s web pages. Cirque gets about 10 000 such applications from artist all over the world per year. Circa 500 of these are annually invited to a few-days-long audition organised two to four times a year in Paris, London, Montreal, Buenos Aires, and occasionally elsewhere. Around 50 auditioned artists become “potential corporates.” These are registered as artists, which meet the requirements for collaboration with Cirque. There are around 3000 of such potential corporates in Cirque’s database and they are regularly invited to castings for particular roles in particular shows, according to Cirque’s current needs. In such a “videocasting,” which is usually conducted via Internet, there participate around two to five artists and the chosen one gets a contract which is usually for two years. After six months of successful performing (since not everybody is able to bear such stress), an artist is allowed to use a title “The Artist of Cirque du Soleil” for the rest of his life. My contract has been twenty months long and as of now, I am already back in Slovakia.

Your present life and the goals you want to achieve.

I want to teach. I accept invitations. Recently, I have led workshops at the University of Saint Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra, where also a mime textbook that I have written has been conceived and internally published there. I am also beginning a search for another publisher, so that the general public could be acquainted with the publication. I have also led various workshops for both amateur and professional theatre practitioners in Slovakia and Czech Republic. And in August I have led a workshop at an international festival of theatre in Monaco. I am prepared to teach at conservatoires and universities, if there is a university or a project, which approaches me with an offer, that would be interesting for me. Meanwhile, I am dedicating my time to what is most important in Slovakia – education of children. I have an endorsed project of a performance/workshop for children and their parents eager to act: Captain Pantho and a Parrot Mimo that I have successfully presented at an international festival Eurokids in Washington DC and my career in the circus has inspired me to do a similar acted workshop about circus techniques, aimed again at children, which I present under the name Circus School. I have also a project about non-verbal communication for high schools and universities named Pantomimarium and I participate in the organisation of an important and internationally acclaimed educatory project for pupils and students of primary, secondary and high schools: SUPERTRIEDA /SUPERCLASS, ninth year of which I am preparing with its authors Lubos Zatko and Martina Bodnarova just now. I am eagerly looking forward to collaborate with the first new circus school in Slovakia, recently established Cirkus-Kus, which is active from October in Karlova Ves in Bratislava and I have also entered into collaboration with the department of mime at Academy of Music Arts in Prague. I am of the opinion that education is the only way to achieve the goal of better, wiser, nicer and happier world.

photo: George Velebír, archive of Cirque de Soleil



Where are you from?

I was born and raised in Slovakia (Bratislava), but I feel such a New Yorker! I moved there at the age of 20, and the first moment I laid my eyes on this city, I fell in love!!! Everything about the city fascinated me and still does after 16 years living there on and off.

How did you get into doing this kind of art and into Cirque du Soleil?

My parents got me into dance I guess, not cause they pushed me into it. I just watched them everyday perform on stage with the folklore dance company SLUK, and always felt so alive seeing them sharing their talent, passion and love for dance, so how could I not follow their foot steps.

So at 10 I went to our only one dance school in Bratislava, master in folk dance, not knowing then how much I was going to fall in love with contemporary dance in NYC!!!

Cirque du Soleil came much later in my carrier, after dancing in dance companies in NYC, I auditioned randomly for some cirque company, not knowing that it was for Celine Dion show, directed by the most talented person Franco Dragone, who has been working with Cirque du Soleil for years, and this show was going to be his first on his own.

Those were the best 5 years of my life dancing with amazing 60 dancers around the world.

After that I got my first Cirque du Soleil contract in China, still as a dancer! So I moved to China (Macau), I thought It was gonna be fun, since I love to travel, meet new people, cultures. I was at that crazy about the show, was missing the real dance, so there was not much to do in Macau, I was bored, so after work I stayed and trained with acrobats every night on silk! It was not easy, I could not even climb 2 times on that silk, but with time I got my strength, and found love for it and that was it.

Then after one year I just could not stay there any longer, wanted to stay true to my artistry, and was missing dancing. So I quit (under good relation with the company), and moved back to my NYC to start all over again as a poor contemporary dancer. It was not easy, I have not been there for 5 years, things change, so I had to get my connections back. I worked for Met opera in NYC, but after a year started missing cirque life again, for the show and of course the stability of life - better money!

Then I got with a lot of effort and trying a new show called Iris that was at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles! My dream job, working with Philippe Decouflé! I was in heaven, this show was the best for me. I got to dance, became an acrobat doing bungee trapeze act, (which was so hard to learn, like 6 months), and I was also understudying and performing one of the clowns from the show. So I felt so happy to be learning all those new skills. I thought this is it, found my happiness, living in Los Angeles, it can‘t get better. Well the show closed in January 2013, and it was so sad! The show was amazing!

So I was lost for about and thought moving back to NYC, but I got a call from cirque if I would like to be part of a new creation as an aerialist.

So I am now officially doing aerial hoop, silk, pole, double hoops in the show on and off and I love it. It‘s very challenging, and I train everyday to keep up the skills and I have the best cast in the world. They are so talented, and I am learning so much from them. So when I thought my carrier is coming to an end very soon at the age of 36, I think it‘s just a start of something amazing as an aerialist. The show is at Mandalay bay at the night club called The Light!

How sense your family your activity at the Cirque du Soleil?

I think my parents are scared, and when I did bungee in Iris, my dad closed his eyes, and after said “babuľka, nechceš robiť nieco ľahšie???” (Babuľka , won‘t you to do something easier? )

So I think they are proud, but it‘s a different generation and they just go with me, cause I change all the time so it‘s not that easy too keep up with my ideas and choices.

What goals you want to achieve?

My goal is always growing in life as an artist, person, no matter what age I am. I will take my last breath on this planet learning something new for sure. Maybe not an aerial trick, but something else!!!

Interview by Martin Greenwald

Photo: George Velebír

Ján Petrovič

Where do you come from?

I come from Bratislava, from the city quarter Petržalka.

How did you get into doing this kind of art and how did you end up in Cirque du Soleil?

I was a member of the Slovak national gymnastics team and a member of the gymnastics club Slavia UK Bratislava. At the World Cham-pionships in Anaheim‘03 I was seen competing by the Cirque du Soleil‘s talent scouts and invited to Montreal for the General Training Formation in 2004. It all started over there.

How do you perceive the atmosphere / life at Cirque du Soleil?

In the shows of CDS there are so many artists of many different nationalities and cultures, that have to learn to cooperate and respect each other which is truly very interesting, exciting and also challenging. It‘s a “teamwork”, but everyone is unique. Reaction of the audience is what gives us energy and a meaning to our hard and dangerous, but beautiful work. I have to say that having a chance in my life to be a part of the world‘s most famous Cirque du Soleil and share the stage with so many talented people is something indescribable. I take it as a privilege and a result of the hard work from the years of gymnastics and a great opportunity to continue developing my skills, staying in a good physical shape, meeting interesting people and representing our country in the world. This way I‘d like to express my gratitude to my long-time coaches Martin Zvalo and Jozef Konecny and to my parents for their care and support.

Where and in what programs you performed?

At first I was training and getting ready for the aquatic show called ”O” (Las Vegas), but later I was touring around North America (USA, Canada) with the production of Saltimbanco. Before CDS I worked also in a traditional circus in Japan.

The accident happen in such a perfect body like Cirque du Soleil. How did you feel about this event?

It‘s a horrible tragedy that has touched the whole circus world and that just reminds us how fragile our health and life is, that everything we do, brings some amount of risk. What happened is very very sad.

How is your present life and the goals you want to achieve?

Since 2009 I work in Franco Dragone‘s aquatic show in Macao (China) called “The House of Dancing Water” and I participated on its creation. Franco Dragone is the same person that created many CDS shows like for example Alegria and Saltimbanco... Besides performing on stage I am holding a position of artist-coach which means to me little by little a transition from performing to coaching. After all, it‘s what I studied. So let‘s see! :)

photo: George Velebír, archive of Cirque de Soleil