Cirque du Soleil: Amaluna in the Grand Chapiteau (Big Top) at Concord Pacific Place to Jan. 20, 2013. Tickets available at CirqueduSoleil.com.
IULIIA Mykhailova and Cirque du Soleil were made for each other.
Whether she knew it or not the young Ukrainian contortionist extraordinaire has been working her entire life towards playing the role of Miranda in Amaluna.
The production, which premiered earlier this year in Montreal, is now in Vancouver for an extended run through Christmas and the new year under the Grand Chapiteau at Concord Pacific Place.
At 17, Mykhailova trained at the Kyiv Municipal Academy of Circus and Variety Arts specializing in contortion and hand to hand balancing. As well as learning the physical circus arts she also studied theatre as part of her training.
Established in 1961 through an order of the Minister of Culture of the Ukrainian SSR, the academy was originally housed in the same premises as the Kyiv Circus. Since 2002 it has been in its own four-storey building and has established itself as one of the world's leading circus schools, regularly winning medals in competitions such as the Festival Mondial du Cirque de Demain in Paris.
The academy gave Mykhailova the tools to perform anywhere in the circus world. Moving to Montreal was a culture shock for the young Ukrainian performer but circus as an art form gave her a common goal with everyone she met in her new Cirque surroundings.
"At first it was difficult," she says. "You are always training. Every day you are trying something new."
For Amaluna she has added a new specialty to her repertoire of talents - working with water. At the end of last year she was asked if she would be interested in learning to perform in a giant waterbowl. "It was something new, different and challenging so I gave it a try," she says.
"It's really tough staying in the water doing the contortions," Mykhailova says. "Everything is very hard."
She began working with Amaluna in January preparing for the April world premiere in Montreal.
The character of Miranda is central to Amaluna's storyline and Mykhailova rarely leaves the stage during the performance.
The production is a tribute to women and everything about Amaluna revolves around that conceptual framework. With nods to Shakespeare's The Tempest and other classical works director Diane Paulus, up until now associated mainly with musical theatre and opera, has created a dramatic world where 75 per cent of the cast are women - including two clowns (Pepa Plana and Nathalie Claude) who weave in and out of the story like a Marx Brothers Greek chorus adding their own comically surreal touch to the proceedings.
Instead of Prospero, Queen Prospera rules over an island of women governed by goddesses and cycles of the moon. Romeo washes up with a boatload of stranded sailors and falls in love with Miranda. Their budding romance is the plotline around which Cirque builds Amaluna's set pieces featuring the amazing acrobatic feats the company has become famous for.
The music composed by the Quebec songwriting duo Guy Dubuc and Marc Lessard (under the very unfrancophone name of Bob and Bill) includes everything from rock rave-ups to classical to electronic to Jon Hassell-like world funk jazz. The all-female band performing the material features two guitarists dressed in baroque finery a la Prince's Purple Rain period.
New York City choreographer Karole Armitage, known for pushing the boundaries of dance, music and art in her own work, is a perfect choice to put Cirque's highly aesthetic world in motion.