The Kolev sisters clarify tips on how to prepare like Cirque du Soleil acrobats

It's easy to see why the Kolev sisters have such a passion for performing for Cirque du Soleil. Italian-born Michelle (24) and Nicole (22) are fourth-generation circus performers on their mother's side, while their father was a competitive gymnast and later joined the family business. It's a wonder now that their strength and flexibility are something to admire.

There's no doubt that the Kolevs have physical expression in their DNA, but to stay flexible and strong, to wow audiences night after night, it takes more than just great genes. As they prepared to take the stage at Las Vegas' Treasure Island Hotel and Casino for another epic outing with Mystère, we wondered how the girls make those lifts and stretches look so easy.

During our conversation, the sisters gave us mere mortals some advice on improving our own strength and flexibility.

Michelle, the eldest of the Kolev sisters, debuted in front of audiences at the age of 12. "My parents were performing on the biggest touring show in Italy at the time," she says. “This year's show was based on a fairy tale and all the cast attended the grand opening. They gave me a ballerina costume and taught me some choreography based on simple splits, jumps and rhythmic movements. It was very simple, but I remember how happy I was to be part of this magical world; wearing a shiny costume and being able to smile at the audience.” Nicole was even younger, just 8 years old, when she caught the magic. “I remember every day I couldn't wait to get on stage. I really liked the emotions I felt,” she recalls.

Courtesy of the Kolev sisters

The Kolev sisters have strong acrobatic roots

Learning from their parents, the Kolev sisters practiced their handstands so they could slowly build up knowledge of their bodies and how to balance them. When Michelle was 17 and Nicole was 14, they were able to work on their hand-to-hand moves. This is a kind of acrobatics, in which one person acts as a base and raises the “flyer” hand in hand. The moves are often strung together in sequences that utilize dynamic catches and throws, creating a spectacular display of strength and balance.

In 2021, the sisters' dreams became a reality when they were booked by Cirque du Soleil. "We didn't have to audition," says Michelle. “The casting director had seen us at two different circus festival competitions in the past and was looking for a hand-to-hand show to incorporate into Cirque du Soleil's Mystère. He contacted us to see if we were interested in the position. And obviously we were!”

"Mystère" is a fascinating show that revolves around themes such as the origin of life and the beauty of the universe. The Kolev sisters make everything look so easy on stage, but those who know their craft always do. "One of the most exciting things we do on the show is our hand-to-hand exercise on a planet-shaped stage that spins counter-clockwise, with spectacular costumes," beams Nicole.

Achieve more strength and flexibility

While it's unlikely that most of us will ever match the level of strength and flexibility acquired by the Kolev sisters, how can we make our own improvements? "The first step to becoming more flexible is to stretch a lot and increase the intensity of the stretching each day, as it's important to soften every part and muscle of the body," says Nicole.

Consistency is key: "Unlike my sister, I'm certainly not the most flexible person," admits Michelle. “Nevertheless, I have always performed flexibility exercises adapted to the level that my body has allowed me to reach. Try step-by-step split stretches, back and shoulder stretches, and take baby steps. The only way to improve your flexibility is to engage in daily practice.”

Strength and flexibility rely on each other for balance

In each performance, the girls must support each other with their body weight without showing the tension in each other's faces. "Strength is a key element in our discipline, and like flexibility, strength alone won't get you far," says Michelle. “Strength and flexibility need each other. Being strong is the best base to achieve the goals we set ourselves every day and helps us to have confidence in our body and its infinite abilities. To improve and maintain a certain level of strength, we train 4-5 times a week with exercises that include weights, resistance bands, and abdominal exercises. As far as balance goes, the best way for me to train is with my sister, repeating the basic hand-to-hand exercises multiple times to improve our balance skills combined with our strength and endurance.”

Nicole explains that they do a lot of traditional strength exercises as part of their daily workout routine. "We're really into push-ups, pull-ups, planks, and various cardio exercises," she says. "I especially like to train with different handstand exercises like handstand push-ups to increase my resistance and balance in this position." The girls have devoted most of their lives to perfecting their art.

"I do classic shoulder-strengthening exercises with weights, push-ups, pull-ups, farmer's carry, and overhead dumbbells," adds Michelle. “Then I also train the lower body with kettlebells to strengthen the back. I do dumbbell lunges and weight squats to strengthen my leg muscles. I also like to run and do yoga. And if I have the opportunity, I like to go out into the fresh air to exercise, because that helps me to connect the mental sphere with the physical.”

Keep your diet light and healthy

Of course, the girls would not be able to continue lifting each other if their body weight increased too much. You don't count calories, but make sure you eat healthy. Breakfast generally consists of oatmeal with fruit. "It helps me start the day with the right energy," says Michelle. Lunch consists of noodles or rice. Michelle also likes to supplement her protein intake with shakes and almond milk. Nicole has a similar attitude towards food despite being a vegetarian. Their Italian heritage demands that they enjoy their food, but they tend to eat their largest meal of the day at lunchtime to give them the fuel they need to perform each night. After each show, dinner is a much lighter affair.

The sisters recently celebrated 13,000. Performance of Mystère. It's a show with more than 1,000 pieces of costume. Then there's a giant snail named "Alice" that weighs 2,000 pounds and is pushed around by four carpenters. Michelle and Nicole couldn't be more excited about continuing the family legacy. "What I like best about the Mystère show is sharing the stage and being inspired by our performers, who are some of the best performers I've ever met," says Michelle. It's a sentiment Nicole shares: "Mystère has always been one of my absolute favorite shows and to be a part of it is a dream come true."

You can find more information about “Mystère” here!

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