When he was six years old, Vladik Miagkostupov came to the United States with his parents, who were with the Moscow Circus. After touring America, they decided to stay, and moved, of course, to Las Vegas.
It's something of a surprise when the juggler, now 27 and looking fairly exotic with all his stage makeup on, opens his mouth and sounds like just another American kid with only faint traces of a Russian ("Actually, I'm from the Ukraine.") accent. Almost as much of a surprise as seeing him drop to the floor at a moment's notice in the Houston Press offices and begin a series of spins and turns while simultaneously flipping white balls all over and around his body.
Cirque du Soleil is returning to the Houston area with its remodeled Dralion show in November -- first at the Berry Center in Cypress and then a few weeks later at the Toyota Center in Houston. The story line -- how the elements of air, water, earth and fire take on human form and learn to live in harmony -- is obviously light on the narrative, but words and story aren't the reason anyone goes to see what acrobats and other performers of the elite troops can achieve.
Miagkostupov's dad, a juggler himself, started teaching him juggling when he was six years old. Miagkostupov had started taking ballet and modern jazz dancing lessons when he was just four. When he first signed on with Cirque in 2003, he performed on a Cirque TV show filmed in Montreal called Solstrom. He was 19 years old.
By 2005, he was appearing at special events for Cirque, and then five years ago in 2006 he joined Dralion. "I've been with it ever since except for when we had a seven- to eight-month transition going from the big top to the arena. They rebuilt the whole sets," he told Art Attack.
His act combines juggling with modern dance and acrobatics, he said. "I love performing. Sometimes you get nervous, but it's exciting. It's actually live. It's the real thing."
"I've been in the circus my whole life. I'm an only child," he said, adding that several of his friends come from outside the circus itself. His mother stopped performing a year or two ago, but his father continues in the act his parents created.
Growing up, the family traveled around a lot, but he was able to graduate from a performing arts high school in Las Vegas ("I had to audition. For dance, not juggling.")
Miagkostupov is married to a former Cirque performer; they had a baby eight months ago named Valeria. Both are traveling with him on tour. Asked if he'd like to see his daughter in the circus, he laughs. "We'll see. Hopefully she'll have an interest."
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In all his travels, Miagkostupov says he takes in other circus acts. "There's a lot of good circus out there. Not as big, though. And this show is completely different from a regular circus."
Cirque du Soleil performances will run November 17 through 20 in Cypress at the Berry Center and November 30 through December 4 in Houston at the Toyota Center. For ticket information go to www.cirquedusoleil.com