Saturday, November 10, 2012

Totem artist profiles - Aliaksei Buiniakou

Aliaksei Buiniakou, age 33, from Belarus, is part of the Russian Bar act in Totem.  He is a "porter", supporting the bar with a partner, while the flyers perform flips in the air and land back on the bar.  Unsurprisingly, Aliaksei is an incredibly strong and steady person, both on and offstage.  He is the husband of my friend Nastia, and father of two boys (Yahor, age 10, and Ilya, age 6).

Aliaksei grew up in Vitebsk, the 4th-largest city in Belarus, with a population of around 350,000 people.  As an energetic child, he was the first in his family to pursue any kind of athletics.  In their town there was a sports center, where coaches recruited kids to participate in various sports (all city-sponsored) - Aliaksei was invited to learn sport acrobatics, and began regular training while still in elementary school.  By the time he was 14 he was part of a team, which traveled to different cities for competitions.

Around that time (mid-highschool) he met Nastia and began their relationship.  They got married in 2001.

He finished highschool at age 16, and wanted to go to a university, but his grades weren't good enough.  So he spent a year in a technical college, and then went to the university the following year, to study physical education.

Throughout all this, his acrobatic team was growing in success and prestige, and by the time he was 21 he was part of the Belarusian national team, with a very demanding international travel schedule.  He had to give up his university studies, and for several more years, competitive sport acrobatics was his sole pursuit.

Due to some changes in the competition schedule, Aliaksei and his teammates left competitions for alternate work opportunities.  They were recruited by a coach to perform a teeterboard act, which they did on and off for a while.  But at the end of 2003, when Aliaksei was 24, Cirque du Soleil held acrobatic auditions in Vitebsk.  A few months later, he was invited to come to Montreal for training (he wasn't told what exactly he would be training to do, and had only tried Russian Bar a few times before.)

It is common practice for Cirque, when developing group acts, to bring together 7 or 8 people to train for 3 or 4 roles.  They train everyone equally for several months, and then the coach selects the artists most suitable for the act.  This was the case with Aliaksei, and he was fortunately offered, in April 2004, a temporary contract with Alegria's Russian Bar act in North America.  By the end of the year this had evolved into a regular contract, the tour was going to Japan, and Aliaksei could bring Nastia and Yahor (then 2 years old) to join him.

Aliaksei and his family stayed with Alegria for 5 years, in Asia, Europe, and South America.  Ilya was born in Madrid in 2006.  But in 2009, Alegria closed its chapiteau to become an arena show.  In arena shows, families aren't allowed to accompany the artists - they stay in each city for very short amounts of time, and in individual housing. So most of the Russian Bar artists, who by that time had wives and children, chose to train new artists for the Alegria act and to accept Cirque's offer of joining the new show in creation, Totem.  It was a tumultuous year for their family - Yahor, who had started 1st grade with Alegria, went home to Belarus to study there for a year, and then eventually switched to a public school in Montreal for the rest of Totem's creation time.  Everyone was relieved when Totem's tour was finally underway in 2010, and schooling could become consistent for the children.

As many of the artists have said in their interviews, Aliaksei greatly values his work with Totem, and the opportunities it gives him to travel, see the world with his family, and save money.  But he also says that he still appreciates the great feeling of being onstage.  He might have tightness or pain in his body on a given day, but the audience is seeing the show for the first time, and he tries to never forget that.

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