Cirque Du Soleil’s Viktor Kee Transforms Ancient Carnival Act Into Sublime Sensation
By FRANK RIZZO, The Hartford Courant, USA
Viktor Kee is getting into the zone.It is moments before he will be on stage as one of the premier artists in Cirque Du Soleil’s “Dralion” in Hartford. After an hour of stretching and warm-ups, he is now trying to be mentally supple as well. He is thinking about his hands, toes and especially his lips, trying to keep them from tensing up. He is also slipping into the confident, daring and charismatic character he needs to be onstage. He listens to the audience as the three clowns are about to finish their routine.
Then, in a moment that only Kee determines, he jumps out onstage and for a second he is perfectly still as the audience of 2,500 takes in this sensual, sinewy creature. His dark eyes glowing, his bald head glistening, he is a man of complete confidence, ambition and passion. He is a self-possessed panther, a superhero for the super-id. He is a juggler like you’ve never seen before.
He quickly zeroes in on a few faces in the first few rows. He will perform for them. Then he begins. A beautiful woman, hanging many feet above, drops a white ball to him, a gift from a goddess, then another, and another. At first he juggles with the delicacy of a miniaturist but then his moves grow bolder, empowered by the rhythmic pulse of the music. His body twists and turns, stretches and contorts, but with finesse, precision and power of a danseur noble. All the while the balls orbit around him, seemingly not even glancing off his fingertips but simply following his will as they dance in space when they’re not gliding over, down and along every path of his body.
Kee is riding the wave now, like an expert surfer who knows he just got a hall pass from Mother Nature. He’s in control, and he can do anything because now the balls are in his court.
For the next 71/2 minutes he performs nearly 100 tricks, just a portion of his repertoire. He is in the moment, but he is slightly ahead of it as well. His left hand decidedly, instinctively, knows what his right hand is doing. (“They may know what they’re doing but sometimes I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do,” he jokes later.) But he can’t think too far ahead, and he stops himself if he does, because that’s a dangerous mindset. He also can’t allow himself to be outside himself because that’s where mistakes are made. Most of all, he is careful not to break character, because once you do that, he says, the spell is broken and people think, “Ah, he’s just performing.”
And Kee wants people not to see him as just another act but as a character as metamorphic, mesmerizing and mysterious as juggling itself.
It’s a new style of juggling, Kee says later, in a downtown Hartford apartment where he is staying for Cirque Du Soleil’s three-week run. It is a style that combines athletic ability, artistry and dance, wrapped around a striking persona of a Cirque sensualist. He wants you to enter this character’s world. He is not performing for you but for himself, he says, and that makes his act more intense, immediate and intimate.
“I think every human being has that creature deep inside,” he says, with a soft accent of his native Ukraine, “that creature who has that confidence, ambition and control. That’s what it’s all about for me.”
And he is like that, too? “I want to be like that,” he says. “I’m a Libra, and they’re perfectionists. They have confidence, ambition and drive but they put it in balance, too. But sometimes they can’t decide who they are or what they want to do. I know what I want in my job. Relationships, however, are different because I never know what I want.”
He knows he wants to make an even greater impact with juggling, and though he won the 2003 Silver Clown Award at the 27th International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo, the juggler has grander dreams – and a grand lifestyle, too, when he isn’t performing 10 shows a week. He has a taste for Dominican cigars, St. Estephe Bordeaux and golf. He recently traded his Corvette for a Lexus. He has a website (www.viktorkee.com). His classic physique makes him a popular subject for photographers, and he is happy to oblige.
Close up, the hands and fingers of the 32-year-old, who first juggled in public at age 6 in a children’s circus in Ukraine, have no special distinction. At 5-foot-10, he weighs 152 pounds and has a 28-inch waist.
“If I gain even a few pounds, I’d be in the gym right now and not talking to you,” he says. But he is careful about how he works out. Building up the muscles incorrectly can block those special spots that assist the balls in traveling along the nooks, crannies and crevices of his body.
Is there any part of his body he hasn’t used for juggling?
“I leave those areas for my girlfriend,” he says, laughing.
The inevitable question: Does he ever drop the balls?
Of course, he says.
“I have a calendar and I mark every day what the show was like, and if I made any mistakes and what I have to work on,” he says. “It’s always a work in progress. About 20 percent of the time I will drop one ball during the act, 5 percent of the time I will drop two balls.”
Kee has never had any interest in juggling anything but balls: no clubs, cutlery or kitchen appliances. “Too specific,” he says of these objects. Besides, odd objects take away from the power of his character. He can do far more with the white, soft, plastic balls, which become abstract expressions for an audience. (He keeps them backstage. He never takes his work home with him.) And he definitely isn’t interested in increasing the number of balls he can juggle. For that, he bows to other masters. (In the act, he juggles seven; he is able to juggle as many as 10.)
But Kee is after something other than the numbers game.
A big part of his life is turning juggling into a healing art, and he says he has personal experience with how juggling helped some disabled members of his audience who tried it. He says because juggling technique is determined by balance, it strengthens the small muscles at the base of the back that are not developed otherwise.
He also says juggling is a psychological tool to motivate, to calm, to make people focus. And for some, it gives them a sense of accomplishment that they otherwise lack in their life. “It’s like another world for these people,” he says. “It shows that there’s something in your life you can control.”
He confesses it is also something that he is striving for. To juggle one’s life, now that’s something, he says.
Written by FRANK RIZZO, The Hartford Courant, USA