Somewhere between the ‘ooohs’ and the ‘ahhhs,’ the Cirque du Soleil-goer can’t help but wonder: How do the performers get in such great shape? For one Cirque star, the answer is simple: Enjoy the finer things — and treat your body like one of them.
The Ukrainian juggler extraordinaire emerges from the stage floor as seductively as a slithering reptile on the verge of tempting Eve. The subtle movement of each muscle is a slow-motion domino effect that takes the performer from a contoured reclining position to standing; a second-skin, hand-painted body stocking corroborates the evidence of a body in flawless shape.
With seven airborne balls in play, the performer’s muscles respond with precision to his mental commands. A white ball rolls down one arm, stopping midway to rest atop an elbow, teasing momentum with total stillness. The juggler continues to tantalize gravity, sending five balls along the curve of his spine as he rolls and twists. The round objects appear to obey some hypnotic command created by continuous, controlled movements of an authoritative body.
From Our AdvertiserIn the silence of their awe, the audience watches juggler Viktor Kee’s toned, well-defined limbs lift his turning torso off the stage as effortlessly as a leaf holds a butterfly.
But this mesmerizing performance in “Dralion” is not some magic act, and Kee, despite all on-stage appearances, is a thoroughly human creature. He is equal parts world-class athlete and artiste, yet he admits a weakness for cigars; fatty foods and high-calorie sweets hold no appeal to him, but he just can’t pass up a creme caramel. His life is a daily pursuit of the ultimate mind-body connection, but fitness for him is not a regimen. It’s a way of life. And it is the good life.
His affection for the finer things is evident on a recent weekday afternoon when the juggler makes his entrance into the troupe’s performance art tent. Perhaps it is the perfect fit of his Thierry Mugler European-cut size 48 jacket, the triangular silhouette outlining a well-toned torso with a 28-inch waistline — a lean midriff Kee did not obtain by counting calories or weighing in.
“I touch here, and I know,” says Kee, pinching between his thumb and forefinger the flesh around his lean midriff.
Is this 32-year-old performer, who began his circus art at the age of 6 and recently received the Clown d’Argent award from Prince Rainier of Monaco at the Monte Carlo International Circus Festival (the equivalent of the performance artists’ Oscar competition), being coy? Are buff jugglers sworn to the fitness secrets of some fraternal order?
It is evident, even without confession, that an athlete of this caliber doesn’t fall prey to the usual dietary temptations. Let’s just say that Kee would never be putty in the hands of Willy Wonka.
“Black forest,” says Kee, sitting on a Pilates bench in the tent that houses the circus’ costumes, workout equipment and props.
“Black forest” is Kee’s phrase for, “Means nothing to me.” It is a term that in Kee’s vocabulary never precedes the word cake.
Soft drinks and artificial sweeteners have no purpose in Kee’s life. He feels the same way about pork, salmon — and cooked broccoli. Kee prefers most of his vegetables raw because, he says, “I didn’t have a good experience with cooked vegetables.” And raw vegetables are not peeled because, “I learned growing up in Russia that (the skin) is the best part.”
He counts among his favorites raw carrots (loves the crunch), grape tomatoes and Chinese pears (“like apple and pear together with lots of juice inside”).
Kee is 5-foot-10 and weighs in regularly between 153 and 155 pounds, a size he has maintained for the last 10 years.
The discipline of Cirque work gives way not to an indulgence of doughnuts or drive-through burgers, but to cutting-edge style, fast cars (his red Corvette travels with him), fine wine (he prefers Saint-Estephe Bordeaux) and fine cigars (Dominican).
That’s right — cigars. Lighting up is something Kee does for relaxation.
“Bad habit? It is not a bad habit. It is like a hobby,” Kee says. “Cigar smoking has aesthetics, history, and it is an art form the way the cigars are made, and the ritual of making them.”
Kee, as his taste for the fine things in life attests, does not live by bread alone. In fact, he is rather choosy about the breads he eats.
“I like croissants,” says Kee. “And baguettes. Salty breads.” But never toast. “Unless there’s fois gras.”
Breakfast is quite normal — eggs, juice and fruit.
“I eat what I like, but I don’t like a lot of things,” says the man who eats four small meals a day. Forget snacking, America’s favorite pastime: Water is his sustenance between meals.
Perhaps he is led into temptation when it comes to desserts.
Pie? “No.” Cake? “No.” Hmmmm, perhaps he misunderstood. Chocolate cake. “Too heavy.” And, “no whipped cream.”
But yes to creme brulée and creme caramel, the latter with (have we found an Achilles’ heel?) sauce.
Trying to find this juggler’s guilty pleasure is like seeking a reliable stock in a shaky market. But, with last-ditch urging, he confesses: Kee once ate two pieces of cheesecake at a single sitting.
The word “binge” does not compute. Pig out? Overeat?
Kee reels at the sight of American supersized portions.
“I once ordered a sandwich, and it came with 20 slices of meat,” Kee says, stretching his thumb and forefinger as far out as they will go to illustrate. “I threw 15 in the garbage and kept the lettuce and tomato.”
In terms of working out, Kee’s performance requires rehearsals for 10 shows a week. Each performance requires an hour and a half of warm-up; a third of that time is spent stretching.
Dressed in a sleek black tank, black pants and shoes, Kee begins his limbering exercises at the top of his body and moves down, a practical route for a juggler whose hands begin the warm-up — fingers, wrist, arms, neck, with rotations unknown to the common man. By the time he stops at his feet, Anatomy 101 seems terribly outdated. The roles of connective tissue, joints and muscles have been seriously underestimated in textbook descriptions.
Four times a week, Kee works out in the traditional sense. While in New Orleans, where the Dralion cast will be performing at Zephyr Field through March 2, Kee’s gym is at Elmwood Fitness Center. But he starts his workout outdoors.
“I’m a lazy runner; I only run two miles,” says Kee, who prefers his run to be one that acquaints him with whatever city he is in.
Exercise machines do not call to him. Kee prefers free weights and basic gym equipment, and he doesn’t “build up his muscles,” he “works out his muscles.”
And on his days off, he heads to the golf course.
“I broke the 90s once,” says the golfer who finds juggling balls easier to control than golf balls.
Although Kee’s fluid moves are obtained by a body that undergoes a stretching ritual, he says he is not impressed with the growing popularity of yoga. “It’s unnatural. I prefer dance — jazz, classic, ballet, modern.”
The intensity of Kee’s act and his ability to focus on seven balls in the air at once might lead one to believe he practices meditation.
“Self-concentration. Not meditation,” he says.
Forget the “early to bed, early to rise, makes one healthy, wealthy and wise” advice. Kee goes to bed around 3 or 4 in the morning and sleeps until 11.
“Seven hours of sleep. No more, no less,” says the artist whose performances have registered hundreds of comments from all over the world on his Web site (www.viktorkee.com).
But it is in Kee’s waking hours, writes one fan, that the juggler gives more than a lesson in fitness and more than a performance to the children who see him: “I am sure you give them something to dream about. In the crazy world we live in, dreams are more necessary than ever.”
“The Times” Living News, US