Balancing Performance Art and Parenthood under KOOZA’s Big Top

Irina Akimova is one of 48 performers in Cirque du Soleil‘s KOOZA, which opens here in Austin on September 2 at the Big Top at the Circuit of the Americas.

Irina KOOZA hoops manipulation
Irina Akimova demonstrates the hoop artistry that she will bring to the Cirque du Soleil’s KOOZA show. Picture credit: OSA Images. Costume credit: Marie-Chantale Vaillancourt © 2010 Cirque du Soleil.

Irina is one of the foremost hoop artists in the world, combining fluid movement, contortion, balance and dexterity as she spins up to seven hoops simultaneously. For the past twenty years, she has traveled the world as a performance artist. This tour, she has someone else along for the ride: her two-year old daughter. While the cast and crew were busy preparing for KOOZA’s run to begin in Austin, we had a chance to talk to Irina about what it’s like to balance performance art and parenthood.

Looking back, Irina says she never imagined she would decide to join a circus. At just 12 years old, she read about a traveling circus coming to her hometown of Moscow. No one in Irina’s family is a performance artist, but she decided to go to learn more. After attending circus school, she found herself drawn to hoops, and has been performing ever since. She continues to learn new tricks with the help of a coach and practices a few hours each day. In addition to practicing her routines for the current show, she spends time running and doing other conditioning exercises to meet the requirements of this physically demanding job.

Irina was performing in London when she learned that she was two months pregnant. She left the company and spent the next six months in Miami, had her baby and was back at work four months after her daughter was born. She admits that it was hard to get back into the physical shape she needed to be in so soon after giving birth.

While Irina works, the wife of one of the show’s technicians babysits her daughter. As you might imagine, her daughter is a big fan of KOOZA. “She knows all about the story”, mentioned Irina. Her daughter has a KOOZA book and, not surprisingly, asks to put on her mom’s makeup and costumes. Irina pointed out a feathered costume which hung from the rafters inside the Big Top. “She really likes that one”, she said.

KOOZA Costumes at Cirque du Soleil
KOOZA Costumes at Cirque du Soleil

Although she enjoys taking her daughter to zoos and other kid-friendly places in the cities she visits (she specifically mentioned liking Austin when asked which cities are her favorite), life on the road with a little one can be difficult at times. “In some cities, our rooms don’t have kitchens,” she pointed out. Although she brings a hot plate on the road, Irina says she spends a lot of time at the grocery store. “Sometimes, I feel like I am at the store every day,” she admitted. Irina has five suitcases she travels with – her life’s possessions – including one suitcase with her daughter’s things. “I have my winter clothes, too, even though it’s warm here,” she acknowledged.

Irina takes time from preparing for Opening Night in Austin to teach me some hoop skills. Check out our Instagram feed for a short video.
Irina takes time from preparing for Opening Night in Austin to teach me some hoop skills. Check out our Instagram feed for a short video.
Although a performing mom’s life can be challenging and a bit isolating as most of her off time is spent with her child rather than her coworkers, there are certainly benefits. “I feel so lucky to be part of the show,” she beamed. Irina enjoys getting to experience new things all the time in her travels across the world. The smiling, happy faces in the audience don’t hurt, either.

Big Top at Circuit of the Americas
Big Top at Circuit of the Americas

KOOZA had its world premeire in April 2007 in Montréal, Canada, and has since played in over 47 cities in 12 countries. The name KOOZA is inspired by the Sanskrit word koza, which means box, chest or treasure and was chosen because one of the underlying concepts of the production is the idea of a “circus in a box”. KOOZA tells the story of The Innocent, a melancholy loner in search of his place in the world. The Innocent’s journey brings him into contact with a range of comic characters, such as the King, the Trickster and the Obnoxious Tourist and his Bad Dog. KOOZA explores themes of fear, identity, recognition and power and is set in an exotic visual world full of surprises, thrills and chills. KOOZA runs from September 2 until October 8, 2015.

Founded by two former street performers, Cirque du Soleil’s theatrical, character-driven approach and the absence of performing animals helped define the touring company as the contemporary circus that it remains today. Each show is a synthesis of circus styles from around the world, with its own central theme and storyline. During an engagement in a city, over 120 people are hired locally to help with ticketing, seating, janitorial services and administration. More than 140 Cirque du Soleil artists, crew and family members will be living in Austin for five weeks, staying in hotels, dining, shopping, enjoying Austin parks and more.

Be sure to check out the KOOZA Facebook page for a taste of the iconic Austin landmarks the crew has visited.

About Nicole Basham 793 Articles
A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her 10-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau's words, her mission is to "suck out all the marrow of life", or in her son's words, to cultivate in him a love of "advenchers".

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