Cirque du Soleil's 'Quidam' comes from Russia, with grace

Looking impossibly young, Olga Pikhienko is proud to state she’s been with Cirque du Soleil for more than 15 years of her already-two-decade career.

The Canadian company brings its production of “Quidam” to San Jose’s HP Pavilion this weekend, and to the Cow Palace in Daly City in April.

The 31-year-old athlete is a child of the big top, and it remains a family affair.

“Since I was young, it is what I have always wanted to do,” Pikhienko says.

Her father, Sasha, was an acrobat with the Nikulin Circus in Moscow and now serves as head coach for several Cirque productions, including “Ovo” where Olga’s mother, Elena, works in the wardrobe department.

A native of Volgograd, Russia, Pikhienko has been performing her hand-balancing and contortion in “Quidam” off and on from its inception in 1996. She even developed her own routine for the show.

“I dreamed about doing the different tricks, so I think it is possible. You try, over and over. You fall. You get up and try again,” Pikhienko says.

She recalls working with former Cirque Director Franco Dragone.

“The way he works is to have all 54 artists together and then he picks you and says, ‘Do something!’” Pikhienko says. “So you try and he says, ‘No. That doesn’t work. Do something else. Something crazy.’”

Dragone welcomed the unexpected.

“One day you’ll do something,” Pikhienko says. “You’ll trip or mess up and he’ll say, ‘I want that in the show! Keep it! Keep it!’ So it is very improvisational, and he keeps only the pieces he loves.” Pikhienko prides herself on the originality in her work.

“Everything I do hasn’t been done by somebody else before,” she says. “I didn’t get to copy somebody. The creation came from my head.”

She videotapes her rehearsals, then refines her moves. Her tenure with Cirque has added many stamps to her passport.

“I thought it was really interesting to be in Dubai and see that culture,” Pikhienko says. “I loved Korea. Every part of the world has something interesting.”

Home now is Las Vegas, though she keeps an apartment in Russia “just in case we want to go visit.” Pikhienko’s hoping to move to Los Angeles with her husband and has an abiding interest in sports medicine as a possible second career, along with further following in her father’s footsteps and becoming a coach.

“I don’t know if I would still do it, but for me it is still a very special subject. I try to keep my options open,” she says, laughing.

IF YOU GO

Quidam

Presented by Cirque du Soleil

Where: HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday
Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
When: Opens April 6; 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays; 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays; closes April 17
Tickets: $36 to $115
Contact: (866) 448-7849, (800) 745-3000, www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam

artsbooksCirque du Soleil ]entertainmentSan Francisco

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