Training And Trust: Partners On The Flying Trapeze When your job is to soar and somersault 45 feet above the ground, you really have to trust your co-workers. As part of NPR's series on creative partnerships, Elizabeth Blair talked with "flier" Andrey Shapin and "catcher" Sergei Philippenko, two trapeze artists in Cirque du Soleil.
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Training And Trust: Partners On The Flying Trapeze

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Training And Trust: Partners On The Flying Trapeze

Training And Trust: Partners On The Flying Trapeze

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

We end this hour with the final story in our series on creative partnerships in the arts. We've explored how clashing personalities produce great music and how translators collaborate with long-dead authors. Today, developing trust when the stakes are high.

NPR's Elizabeth Blair introduces us to a flyer and a catcher in a trapeze act in Cirque du Soleil.

ELIZABETH BLAIR: Cecil B. DeMille once described them like this: The daredevil performers who slap death in the face. A little over-the-top but watching the Cirque du Soleil trapeze artists soaring and somersaulting nearly 46 feet up in the air is heart-stopping.

Ms. MARJON VAN GRUNSVEN (Artistic Director, Cirque du Soleil): It's an incredibly difficult act to do. Even just jumping, it takes courage to do that.

BLAIR: Marjon van Grunsven is the artistic director for Cirque du Soleil's current touring show OVO. She says a flying act is built on trust. But first, she says, each artist needs to be strong individually.

Take flyer Andrey Shapin. He was a gymnast in Russia before he joined Cirque du Soleil two years ago. But he'd never flown before.

Ms. VAN GRUNSVEN: He had to learn how to fly. So he did maybe two flights in the beginning, and now he does most of the flights in the act. So he has developed a tremendous amount. This guy to me is like a rock star.

BLAIR: Andrey Shapin's main catcher is Sergei Phillipenko. And the two men could not be more different in body type and temperament. Phillipenko is tall, 6'1", in his late-20s and easygoing. Shapin is much smaller and younger, and he admits he gets nervous.

Mr. ANDREY SHAPIN (Trapeze Artist): When I do my act, my heart always knocks so fast, you know. I have a lot of adrenaline every day.

BLAIR: Phillipenko, on the other hand, is like the laid back older brother. Do you get nervous?

Mr. SERGEI PHILLIPENKO (Trapeze Artist): Not really.

BLAIR: And he says that's important because another part of his job is to help the flyer relax, especially before a jump.

Mr. PHILLIPENKO: To be calm, to listen, and I think that's a very important part of the catcher.

BLAIR: Cirque du Soleil's show Ovo has an insect theme. The flyers and catchers are scarabs. It's like the heavy metal part of the show.

(Soundbite of music)

BLAIR: Even wearing thick costumes that look like armor, Andrey Shapin does flips, lay-outs and twists with astonishing grace. And Phillipenko says he is there to protect him.

Mr. PHILLIPENKO: My job is to save him all the time.

BLAIR: My job is to save him all the time. Imagine saving someone while swinging by your legs, upside down on a bar, while your partner is diving towards you at high speed.

Mr. SHAPIN: I just know he will catch me, that's it, and this is for sure.

BLAIR: Shapin and Phillipenko do this eight, sometimes 10 times a week. What Shapin and Phillipenko do have in common is the hours and hours of training it takes to be in the exceptionally adventurous Cirque du Soleil. Ovo artistic director Marjon Van Grunsven.

Ms. VAN GRUNSVEN: Their life, literally, is in each other's hands. So if they don't trust each other, we have a big problem.

BLAIR: Sergei Phillipenko and Andrey Shapin say the trust they've developed comes from talking to each other a lot, whether they're on the ground or way up there.

Mr. SHAPIN: On the practice, we always speak. We have fun, jokes. Sometimes if I heard one good song, I give it to him, and we're singing together even there, up there.

BLAIR: Sergei Phillipenko says, when they're up there it's privileged time. Touring the country with Cirque du Soleil, they're constantly surrounded by the other 66 artists, since they live together in pretty close quarters.

Mr. PHILLIPENKO: Here we have a lot of people all the time around us, and up there, we are like only us. It's kind of - I like this moment. Nobody can touch us.

BLAIR: Nobody can hear them when they're talking up there, either. Andrey Shapin says his partner Sergei Phillipenko knows more about him than anyone else.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

NORRIS: And at npr.org you can watch video of the somersaulting and soaring Cirque du Soleil trapeze artists.

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