The motto for Dmitry Orel and Svetlana Kashevarova might as well be "the family that Cirques together stays together."
The two aerial acrobats, who perform the butterfly love duet in Cirque du Soleil's "Ovo" at the Mall of America through June 19, mark their lives through the circus. They have spent much of their 16 years of marriage in the air -- both performing onstage and traveling to circuses in Europe, Asia and, since last year, the United States.
The Ukrainian natives bring their two children -- Andrey, 15, and Anna, 4 -- along for the ride, instilling in them the same values and preparing them, if they should choose, for a life under big tents. Cool teen Andrey, who trains with his father, hopes to join the circus in two years. Anna is teething.
The kids keep up with their studies in English and their native Ukrainian via onsite and online tutoring, the parents explained last week in an interview in the tent city behind Cirque's grand chapiteau in Bloomington.
If it were up to Kashevarova, who grew up in the circus, she would never settle down in any one spot. The apartment they keep in Kiev is a touchstone that they return to during longer layoffs from the circus. But the two-week break they have from "Ovo" -- the show goes to Chicago in 50 trailers after it closes at the Mall of America -- is not enough time to make the long trip home, so they explore wherever they are.
This is the most exciting life she knows, Kashevarova said through an interpreter. Things are constantly changing. They get to have new experiences and encounters everywhere they go, including Switzerland, which they described as a fairy tale with cute houses and kind people. Why would she want to do anything else?
Kids in the circus
Kashevarova, 35, and Orel, 39, met as youngsters at circus school in Ukraine, when it was the breadbasket of the Soviet Union. The son of workers, he trained to be a gymnast, hoping for the Olympics. He got as far as the Ukrainian team.
Her parents and grandparents were circus performers. When Kashevarova met her future husband, she was perfecting a solo rope act of aerial swoops and dizzying spins.
They expanded and developed that act into a duet, and have won many solo and couples awards in the European circus world. She was named "La Dame du Cirque" at the European Circus Festival in Belgium in 2005, for example, and together they won the Silver Clown at the International Circus Festival in Warsaw in 2008.
Quick to laugh, Orel and Kashevarova spoke during pre-show warmups as a contortionist stretched behind them and as an acrobat bounced on a trampoline. They have the flexibility of the contortionist, though their talent is not as extreme. They have the strength of the acrobats, and routinely hold each other by a single limb high above the stage.
Kashevarova and Orel developed their aerial love-duo act in 1997, and worked with the Cirque du Soleil creative team to integrate it into the show, which they joined last fall.
In the act, they display feats of strength, stamina and balance high above the floor. For long moments, she hangs upside-down by an ankle while he glides with her through the air. Their act, far from clowny, has a great deal of artistic flair.
It's about love, so it's easy to do, they said, adding that they give more when they feel the audience is fully with them.
The biggest challenge of a life on the road, they said, is packing up and leaving, and even that can be funny.
"In Ukraine, we have two dogs who want to get into the suitcase," Kashevarova said.
"Packing our bags is one of the funniest moments for us," she said. "If someone filmed us when we pack, it's the same thing every time. You know, I once watched the film 'Home Alone' and couldn't understand how anyone could forget their child. Now I know."
And what would they be doing if they weren't in the circus?
"I've always entertained the idea of being a police officer," she said.
"If not Cirque, then I would find another circus," Orel said.