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12 Going On 38: Reprising A Role by Elena Lev

Elena Lev
By Martin Frenette

It is in that child’s fascination that makes her eyes sparkle, as well as the maturity of a woman that each of her words is laced with. It is how these two distinct personality traits intertwine as Elena Lev talks about reprising her hula hoops act in Cirque du Soleil’s new production of Alegria that explains why an artist would rather reprise a role instead of investing in an original project. Every year brings its share of revivals on Broadway stages, TV shows and music artists from the ’90s. Why is it that audiences and artists are thrilled to go back to what they’ve already experienced? “Because these are classics! Because reminiscing the joy a show has brought to the world and allowing a new generation to feel it is wonderful!”

Elena’s light hands often move from side to side and her graceful fingers seem to punctuate each of her sentences as she explains that going back to a show for the same reasons which initially drew you into it is, not only okay, but very valid on numerous levels. “Everything is bound to be different the second time around! Even if you get to work with people who have previously been with you on that journey, keep in mind that it is a brand new experience where everything is different. We’ve all changed: the show, the people on and off stage. I’m a very different person today than that little girl who first introduced hula hoops as a featured act in a circus show in 1994! In fact, when I performed my solo for the show’s reunion a year ago, I realized, looking at myself in my old costume, that I no longer was this character, my younger self.”

“Thankfully, the story and the show’s new direction are allowing me to evolve on a stage, where I can be a 37 year old woman and not a smiling 12 year old!”

Elena Lev

For the accomplished Russian circus artist, coming in with an open mind, ready to start from scratch is the only attitude to adopt when accepting to reprise a role. “Don’t look back, do not compare nor refer to the previous incarnation. Look past what you know and think you know. Even the slightest changes will make this an entirely new production. Hence, comparing or trying to compete with your former self is pointless. People will, of course, come with expectations, but it is a different show, a different cast, whether or not you’ve done it before. I was clear from day 1 in rehearsals that my act will never be exactly the same night after night…”

At that moment, her neck extends and, looking somewhat taller, the contortionist shares that an artist’s feelings should always influence their performance in order to stay truthful, to be in the moment, and remain connected. “You can’t let them dominate your actions, but these emotions inspire me to give a fresh performance each time I come in with my hoops.”

“Feelings inevitably change as you grow and so does your performance as you gain maturity. Those changes are far more interesting to me than being told that my act was exactly as can be seen on the Internet or in the show the night before.”

This important personal and artistic evolution in Elena’s life is underlined in her description of this important life chapter: “Like many original cast members, I was very young when I originally joined Alegria in Montreal, the second city I had ever been to outside of Russia. I spent seven years traveling the world and completed my high school studies between shows and training sessions with my mom. I chose to leave this world in my late teens, but returned for the show’s DVD under the condition that they would change my costume: I loved performing this act, but no longer felt like that innocent young girl in yellow. A simple change that gave me so much confidence and made me feel that I could really be myself on that particular stage. I felt much freer and stronger as a young woman, even if I knew that my mom, the coach who sees every little detail, would see it someday! Today, with 25 years of hoops behind me, it’s also clear that the older I get, the more nervous I am on stage, which is why I still am performing. The day I’ll stop caring and won’t feel that nervousness, I’ll stop. Coming back to where it all started also gives me this full circle feeling as I get to relive wonderful memories while creating new ones, what more could I ask for?”

As for artists out there who are hesitant about reprising a role, worry about the comparison they might face or are afraid of stepping back in old shoes, Elena shakes her head and tells them to look forward. Instead of looking back at what it all used to be and feel like:

“Believe in yourself, in your talents, keep your head held high, don’t see it as stepping in old shoes, wear them as new, shiny ones!”

Enthusiasm fills her voice when she mentions telling her new colleagues that no matter how much people will try to compare a show’s original cast to its new one, these are the artists who are making it happen today and making it even better for new spectators. “And, as my mother taught me, just keep the level high, be proud, be confident!”

Elena Lev

Despite Elena’s excitement about the upcoming premiere, she confesses that it took her several months to process the offer to come back before agreeing to dive in. “I also believe that it is important for an actor to try on new roles, to take risks. Getting to play new parts and perform different cues can challenge artists and allow them to evolve and find new inspiration, even within a show that they’ve joined months or years ago. By performing in other shows like Quidam, Empire or Zumanity, I was able to develop new characters and explore unfamiliar territories. These other roles have helped me explore the woman I’ve become throughout the years.”

“Zumanity was a very different experience from the original Alegria for instance, but it was the right one, as I am now able to bring all this experience with me. This has to be the greatest assets that I’m bringing to this young new cast. In return, is feeding me with fresh energy. It is my responsibility to share my experience and energy with them, to show this team how amazing performing this show is, while keeping in mind that it is a new show, a new incarnation. We should not focus on what it once was. Let’s use this fresh, creative energy to make it an even better show!”

Elena Lev

As she’s getting ready for another rehearsal, Elena gives a final piece of advice when it comes to reprising a role: “Every run and every show feels different, can move you in new ways. It is important to deliver a different performance each day while staying true to your character’s spirit and the show’s soul. The audience won’t be the same as the previous performance, the light will hit you in new ways, the music might sound different.”

“I always try to look for new accents, little moves and new ways to connect with cast members and spectators, even if the choreography remains the same. A show will be in constant creation if you’re always trying to look at it differently.”

“The more experience you have, the better, in life and on stage! At 37, I am far more aware of what my body needs and how to use it in the best of ways. I can no longer just rush into tricks, but on the other hand, I now really feel what I need most to be at my very best, to reach the audience.”

 

 

Also by Martin Frenette:

The Role of Artistic Director: Creating, Connecting and Hosting

Broadway Dress: It Ain’t All Snapping and Sewing

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