“I always want to show the audience something new”
At the age of 19, Anastasia Makeeva decided to become an acrobat. Although this decision was made late and her first teacher did not predict that the young Russian woman would have a brilliant career, she managed to become an elite circus performer – with a great deal of courage, passion, perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit. In this interview, she talks about her nomadic and artistic life in the circus rings of this world, and about the beginning – and the imminent end – of her extraordinary career.
We met the Russian artiste in Berne in July, about two hours before her first performance in the federal capital. She has clocked up about half of her more than 300 appearances scheduled in the 100th anniversary year of the Swiss National Circus Knie in 33 Swiss cities. Anastasia Makeeva immediately impressed us with her friendly, uncomplicated and open manner. It quickly becomes clear that we are dealing with a strong personality who has realised her professional dream and is actively and consciously shaping her life.
Anastasia – can you tell us how your career began?
I was already 19 when I began my career, so the start was harder than for younger artistes. My teacher didn’t believe that I would be successful. But I had a lot of strength, tenacity and motivation, which was very important if I was to progress – despite pain, setbacks and disappointments. It was my own decision; nobody told me to get up early, train hard, do this and do that.
“My teacher didn’t believe I would be successful. But I had a lot of strength, tenacity and motivation.”
How did you manage to be successful so quickly?
The first three years as an artiste were terrible. I didn’t know anything about this business. To gain experience, I started working for a very simple circus. I quickly realised that I needed support, so I went to Ukraine, where I performed for several years at the National Circus. Then I started to participate in international competitions and festivals. I wasn’t always successful, but these experiences allowed me to develop as an artiste. What also helped me was my entrepreneurial spirit. I realised that I had to distinguish myself from other artistes and come up with something unique and creative. At some point in my career I found my way. Then I got the chance to perform at the Circus Festival in Monte Carlo. This festival has the same value for us artistes as the Oscars have for actors or the Olympics for athletes. If you can perform in Monte Carlo, you gain new access to the job market – it’s like an elite club for circus artistes. After Monte Carlo, my life as an artiste became much easier.
What do you like best about your life as a circus artiste?
Undoubtedly the opportunity to travel around the world, get to know different cultures, discover new places and stunning landscapes, visit the most beautiful cities and museums in the world. My dream has always been to work internationally and to take on various commitments. In my 13-year career I have had engagements in China, Japan, Ukraine, France, Italy, Germany and Switzerland. I particularly like Switzerland, among other things because of its beautiful landscapes. I have been on many wonderful hikes here this year.
What I like about my job is that I get to meet a lot of people. I have experienced many a fascinating encounter in recent years.
How would you define your art?
My art is special – a kind of gymnastic performance in the air. Accompanied by music, I perform risky tricks and choreographically arranged movements. It’s a kind of dance in the air, high up under the chapiteau, live and without any safety devices.
How do you create your show?
I try to create something new for each engagement. It is important to me that I constantly develop and am able to show the audience something new. I also enjoy working with other artists, such as singers, DJs, etc. Music plays an important part in my performances, and it isn’t easy to find something suitable. Last year in China, I was able to record a song by a very talented singer. This song gave me a special power and inspiration that enabled me to touch the audience with my performance.
Another important source of inspiration for me is art, which is very close to my heart. Certain elements of my current show are based on the sculptures of the French artist François-Auguste-René Rodin.
Do you want to express something with your art – with your performance at Circus Knie, for example?
At Circus Knie, I show a strong female character, which develops from an embryo into a strong woman. The act is accompanied by tango music, because emotions can be transported with it. It is divided into fast as well as very lyrical slow scenes, expressing the fact that a woman can also be gentle despite being strong, that she can encounter problems and will sometimes fall and make mistakes, but that she always picks herself up and carries on. In this performance, I share my innermost convictions with the audience.
“It’s important for me to have a base, a place where I can go at any time – a place of refuge.”»
As a circus artiste, you lead a nomadic life – how do you feel about that?
I like to get to know different countries, cultures and people. But I don’t want to lead a nomadic life for ever. It’s important for me to have a base, a place where I can go at any time – a place of refuge, so to speak.
Are there things that are particularly important to you on tour?
Yes – the Internet, my mobile phone, my car and coffee. The car is important because I can go to lots of different places in it.
Is it true, or rather a cliché, that circus employees are a kind of family?
It’s usually true, because in the circus it’s a basic principle, an unwritten law, that you must be able to trust and rely on each other. We have to form a team and create a pleasant atmosphere together. It’s lovely here at Circus Knie, because everyone is very professional and helpful. During the eight-month tour, the atmosphere is very familiar – close, but also open. Everyone is very relaxed.
What are your plans for the future?
I will finish my career as an artiste at the end of the year to embark on a second career. I’d like to study for a master of Business Administration and have applied to several universities.
Why now, when you’re so successful?
I’ve reached the top. I’m convinced that it’s precisely at this point that one should have the strength to stop. I also believe that I can achieve even more. I want to discover something new, and who knows, maybe I can bring my artistic skills to bear in a new career in the world of business.