The Puppet Speaks! An interview with Svetlana

Svetlana Perekhodova has a truly lovely voice,  sweet and melodious. It can,however, like her appearance, sometimes fool you: behind that charming doll-like demeanor is a wry wit and drop dead comic timing.

An original  Teatro ZinZanni cast member, Svetlana is famous throughout the world as a contortionist performance artist, performing alongside her husband,  the Russian illusionist Voronin.  With her two charming children, Svetlana balances the roles of wife, mother, and performer effortlessly, with grace, strength and humor.

We caught up with her for a series of interviews, backstage and at her kitchen table, to learn more about her career and the development of her current act. You can catch her act in Maestro’s Menagerie now through August 29, 2010.

When did you start performing?

Svetlana: At age 9 in the third grade, I began my training in my hometown in Russia in the House of Culture. It was then the Soviet Union.

Why did you choose to become a contortionist?

S: I really liked it, and it was a natural choice for me; I always knew I would be a performer.

Tell us about your training.

S: I was trained as an artist, not as an athlete or a competitor. In each studio at the House of Culture, each discipline – Dance, Circus, Voice –  would perform on a big holiday. I first performed on the Day of Victory. Circus arts are treated as a classic art form, like dancing or singing or costume design. Every big city had it.

What do you like most about it?

S: It was never about the big tricks for me, I perform for the applause.

When did you learn the most?

S: I learned more from performing in front of an audience than I did by instruction.

How did you manage attending school and performing at such a young age?

S: I combined regular school with a daily schedule where I would have to work out for two hours a before school and two hours afterward.

Where did you go to college?

S: I went to Kiev State Circus School and studied art and circus performance.

How do you stay in shape?

S: It’s hard to stay in shape! I have started Pilates/SFX classes to make sure that my body is healthy so I can continue to perform the way I do. It’s really tough. I ask my family to help me make sure I get to class.

You are married to the illusionist Voronin. Do you have any children?

S: Yes, we have two children, Max and Anastacia. Max will be 8 in September (he was born in San Francisco) and Anastacia is 11 (she was born here in Seattle). Both of them are studying Aikido. Anastacia is studying ballet at the International School of Ballet in Kirkland. Voronin and I were married in 1998 here in Seattle.

It must be really challenging to raise a family when you’re on the road so much.

S: We tend to book contracts where we perform for a fairly lengthy run – months at a time. So we really become part of the community. When my children were younger, I tried to have the same nanny with us from city to city and sometimes it worked really well. We have friends all over the world. Now I welcome the changes, it teaches my children to be resilient and to learn different ways of thinking.

How many languages do your children speak?

S: Russian, English, German, French. Anastacia is learning to speak Dutch.

When did you develop your famous candle act?

S: I learned to do this act while I was still in college. Most performers develop their act in their 3rd and 4th years. I like it because it tells a story – the candle starts up high with the tricks and then starts to melt.

How long did it take you to learn the paper act?

S: It took me around 12 years to learn! Voronin always joked that I’d have to learn the paper act before he’d marry me!

How old were you when you met Voronin?

S: Voronin and I met when I was 17. He had created his own theatre company, the Theatre of Caliostro. We developed an act together, and we were the first to combine performance and contortion. My candle act was his idea.  It took us a long time to find the right kind of oil and to design the lamp and the fabric so that I could move freely without catching anything on fire.

In “Maestro’s Menagerie,” your character is a puppet the Maestro and leader of the circus comes to collect at Teatro ZinZanni. When did you develop the puppet act?

S: The puppet act was created here, in Seattle, in 2006. Again, the idea was Voronin’s. We worked closely with Louise to design her costume. Louise likes to describe her look as “Tim Burton’s idea of Barbie gone Goth.”

Why a puppet?

S: She’s a character that can be put into any situation. She is the Maestro’s puppet. It’s a combination of styles to create something completely new.

When did you first come to America?

S: In 1990 or 1991, The Theatre of Colistro sent me here to participate in a magic show, it was the beginning of Peristroika and the idea was “peace through magic,” It was a big deal to be able to leave the country. Then I was an exchange student living with a family in South Dakota. I learned English very quickly. I am still very close with that family.

Where do you consider “home?”

S: My Grandmother’s house in Russia will always be my true home. We also have a house in Berlin and one here in Seattle. We have many friends all over the world, in San Francisco, Seattle, in Germany.  We know everyone!

– Interview by Beth Brooks, Director of Communications, Teatro ZinZanni – Seattle

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