Alya Titarenko is one of three artists, the Rings Trio, who tell a love story in an aerial performance during Cirque du Soleil’s Totem, which just kicked off its Canadian tour in Toronto. While the 34-year-old from Nikolayev, Ukraine, works out constantly, being a performer at such a high level can be physically punishing.
“Be fit for the show and feel good in my body and mind.”
“I do the aerial rings, which is a combination of straps and gymnast rings. The act lasts seven minutes and I do 10 shows a week with one day off. The rings is a very male apparatus. There are no girls who do the rings, and it requires a lot of upper body and core strength – not so much legs.
“Strength takes a long time to build and I’ve been in sport since I was five years old. My body maintains strength performing every day. But before every show, I warm up for 30 to 45 minutes with chin-ups, pull-ups, and specific small-muscle exercises for the rings: shoulder, elbow, wrist and chest. I stretch and do splits.
“After the act, I do the same exercises, but with more quantity. If I want to train the lower body with squats, I do it after [work] because then I don’t have to preserve myself for the show.
“I also bike ride to and from work; that’s 60 minutes a day. Because I need stamina I do cardio – I hate it, but I do it.”
“On a day off I do a little as possible or get a massage.”
“I eat five meals a day, small ones, because then my body uses what it needs and doesn’t store fat. I eat two hours before a show so my body starts to digest and I can feel light.
“After the show at 11:30 p.m., after I remove makeup and shower, I have a meal, whatever’s in the kitchen there.
“I’m home at midnight, but I have stuff to do and more training so I don’t go to bed until 1 or 2 in the morning. I sleep until 10 a.m., then I have sausage, cheese, bread and coffee for breakfast.
“When I do two shows on Sunday, I eat at work. Show call is an hour and a half before [performance] to give me time for makeup, costume, hair and warm-up, so I’m spending all day at Cirque.”
“My mother wanted to be a trapeze artist, which never happened. Now it’s 12 years I’ve been with Cirque and I love it. My daughter, who’s 7, loves it; she dances and hangs on the rings, she’s not afraid of heights – I get scared.”
“We cheer each other before we go on stage.”
“Pain, sore muscles. Your body gets used to moves and you deceive your body to make other muscles work, not the ones you always use. And I want to continue performing as long as I want.”
This interview has been condensed and edited.
Calgary native Kyle Shewfelt, Olympic gold medal gymnast in the men’s floor exercise of the 2004 Athens games, offers his advice.
Rebuild with food
“Alya should eat even before she takes off her makeup, this will ease pain and reduce soreness the next day. A banana and a handful of almonds could move her body into recovery mode quicker.”
Recovery from exercise is as important as a warm-up and it is a product of good habits well timed, Mr. Shewfelt says.
Learn to stretch
He also recommends Ms. Titarenko make time for herself doing yin-style yoga three mornings a week, in a class or at home following along with a video.
“Not only is yoga excellent for flexibility,” says Mr. Shewfelt, “but it is also a great tool for longevity and injury prevention, as it allows for internal body awareness. The meditative aspect helps Alya overcome her fear of heights, although something tells me she likes living on the edge.”