Sue Stockdale talks to Maxim Ivanov a multi-skilled circus artist (handstand balancer, aerialist, juggler) about his career in circus performance. He describes what he enjoys about performing and why he loves trying out new things.
Maxim is originally from Kazan, Russia, and was living in Ukraine until recently. Along with his wife Olga, he performs on different stages in Europe and on cruise ships around the world. Maxim loves to create unusual and surrealistic UpsideDown photos and videos. He can fly higher his head and taught himself to play piano. More recently Maxim taught his five-year-old daughter to climb on his shoulders without using hands and legs, and she appeared as part of their stage performance in a festive show.
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‘At circus school the first year is trying everything, and then the second year we choose what we want to do – which skills, which discipline. And then the third and fourth year, we create our act.’
‘In circus school I chose the hand balancing. I really love it, the position – static. But now I really like flying with my wife doing dual straps.’
‘We need a lot of audience appreciation.’
‘Perfect is like when I can play with good lighting, good sound, and good staging. This is my perfect ideal stage.’
‘It’s hard to find the perfect place, but you need to adjust and to be flexible, to be adaptive, to places to people.’
‘That feeling when you’re on stage, it’s indescribable.’
Maxim Ivanov Transcription
Sue: Welcome to the podcast Maxim Ivanov, is that correct? How I pronounced it?
Maxim: Yeah, that’s correct. Thank you very much for having me here with you.
Sue: There’s going to be so much we can dig into today because I’m really fascinated to speak to you having watched you perform live in a show and also these amazing videos that you put out on social media of your amazing skills and flexibility. So, in terms of what you do, how would you describe it?
Maxim: Well, my profession I would call multi-circus performer. Cause I do different disciplines, but I don’t know in traditional circus, they call it circus artists, but I try to put circus in a real life, like not just in a traditional costume and so yes, performer.
Sue: Now when I think of circus in Britain where I was brought up, I think of a traditional big top in a ring and acrobats on trapezes and doing different sorts of tricks. When you were young and growing up, how did you come to learn about circus skills. Were your family circus performers, or was it something you just learned yourself?
Maxim: Yes. So my dad he did it for a short period. He was a hand balancer for a couple of years and he did the acrobatic on horses, like jockey like traditional, but I think I started not because of him because my cousin, he used to go to the circus school in Moscow before me and for the summer break, he came and he encouraged me with the tricks, you know, jumping stuff like that. And of course I wanted to do so. I think I started to do circus because of my cousin.
Sue: And how old were you then?
Maxim: Oh, 15. So I start actually late to do the stretching, the strengthening and learning acrobatic skills was very late. I didn’t go to the gymnastic, but somehow it was flexible. I got prepared for the circus school exam for like, in one, two years, I just stretch my splits by myself, did the handstand next to the wall and some bridges, like basic and they see potentials in me. Maybe. I don’t know.
Sue: And what did you learn at the circus school in Moscow. What did the training involve?
Maxim: Yeah. That’s a great question. the first year we have different disciplines, like a lot of different, like juggling, tightwire, slackwire hand balancing, acrobatic tumbling, trampoline, gymnastic on the bars, on the rings. So first year is trying everything, and then the second year we choose what we want to do, which skills which discipline. And then the third and fourth year, we create our act. Of course, continue learning new skills and getting stronger.
Sue: And when you were learning those physical skills and the different tricks, how did you manage any fear or anxiety that you might have had?
Maxim: Well for tricks for dangerous tricks, for example, for jumping, we have safety rope, with trainer who hold us but we were young and we didn’t see some dangerous stuff like that. We weren’t such a like scaring or anxious about that. we just go and jump into the pillows, with the heads down and stuff, we just playing, we didn’t see any, any danger. Now if there is somebody told me to do, maybe I will think first.
Sue: it makes me think that when any of us think about something in a playful context, when it’s fun, when we’re enjoying.
Sue: That’s a whole different mindset than going in and feeling nervous and anxious and scared.
Maxim: Yeah, exactly. Like for example, even now jumping into the water in the swimming pool, you think before to do that. But before we just did it, you know?
Sue: And how did you then come up with your act? You said in the final year, at circus school, you have to create your act. How did you decide that?
Maxim: Second year a teacher taught us like specific tricks, third and fourth year, we choosing the most favourite tricks we want to do. And then they help us to do some kind of sequences. And we put in different music. We like this music, we see the video. We don’t like this music. And then also in the Moscow circle school we have choreographers sometimes we can choose them. We can talk to them. Sometimes they choose us. So yeah, in they provide everything Moscow circus school.
Sue: And what’s your favorite discipline?
Maxim: yeah, in circus school, I chose the hand balancing. I really love it, the position. Static. But now I really liked flying with my wife doing dual straps. I really enjoy flying. Easy way to explain. For example, you learn some tricks and for example, one trick, you learn two years, which is really hard, but people don’t see how hard it is. And you don’t get back the applause and year by year, you realize you cut something, you do the tricks, which people more appreciate. But in the air you fly in, people enjoy and everybody enjoy.
Sue: What I’m hearing from you is it’s as much about the audience appreciation.
Maxim: yeah, we need a lot of audience appreciation. If you don’t get that, I think people stopped to do that. But yeah, so we have that fortunately.
Sue: and is that why you do what you do or is it the scale of, of the tricks and the abilities that you have?
Maxim: I think, more yes than no, because I’m creating also some new skills. I see how people react, but yeah, mostly people feedbacks and people enjoying that it’s really encouraging us to do more.
Sue: When you were learning, how much of the learning was actually doing the skill versus any of the theory of balancing and what the body can accomplish, or is it just purely practice, go out there and discover what your body can do?
Maxim: Well, it’s both. Yeah, but mostly you need to feel your body. You need to know how it will be,
Sue: and my sense is you really love learning things. I know that you taught yourself to play the piano. You you’ve taught your daughter to begin with being part of your act. What is it you love about learning?
Maxim: For example, piano I love, specifics song, and it’s given me energy. It’s given me it goose bumps and like oh, I want to learn this song. Of course I don’t choose the super hard songs, but when it’s given me a goose bumps, I want to do that. And any stuff like that, like with my daughter and we love it first of all. And then we see people reacting and wowing them, so we enjoy it more. It’s more about people giving us feedbacks and they reaction, something like this.
Sue: So you’re describing to me that wonderful sense of following your curiosity. I wonder what would happen if I tried to replicate that tune, I want to find out how my daughter can do these tricks. So that curiosity about what’s possible is, is perhaps part of what you’re describing
Maxim: for me. Yes. I just find my area, my sphere, my place, what I like to do, what I like to do and when I like to do so, just, I think everybody’s different.
Sue: And you’re a part of a double act. You mentioned you’re with your wife, Olga in terms of flying. How did you come to work with her or meet her?
Maxim: So in 2006, I was working in a dinner show in Germany with my solo hand balancing act. And there was a ballet with I think three girls, three boys. So there was Olga. So of course I always sits in the corner, you find your half and in work, so yeah. We love each other. And after finishing contract, I move to Ukraine and we start to create acts, different acts. We have a lot of acts like cook changing costume, flying, partnering acrobatic, we have full 45 minutes two of us, and we really enjoyed to perform our own show. Like what we like, we directing, not somebody tell us, put this music, which you don’t like to put, put this costume which you didn’t like. So this is exactly what we like to do. And we really enjoy that.
Sue: And how do you make it work together then between the two of you? Cause there’s very much a close connection in terms of you working with somebody else I’m imagining that requires quite a degree of trust then rather than just doing your own hand balancing act, for example,
Maxim: of course we have fighting and laughing. Everyone is adult everybody know what he must to do, what he love to do. If we don’t like anything we discussing that sometimes with pain, somebody she take off my favorite tricks sometimes like we agree to do, but it’s a life. Yeah. It’s normal.
Sue: How do you find venues to perform it in? Is there a directory of circuses or theaters worldwide? How do you go about selling or marketing your act?
Maxim: Yeah, it’s very interesting question. So from beginning, we trying to get to some circus festivals. But some of them were fine. Some of them, we didn’t like much because they have their own politics as well. Even everybody say it’s not, but still so there is a few ways we sending right now we sending material by internet uploading the videos, it’s mostly worked with internet right now, before we have like lots of agencies for cruise ships. For example, we have agency because cruise ships working only with agency, they don’t work direct to the artists. So some places work, we work with agency, some places we find ourselves. So like last circus in Geneva we found ourselves.
Sue: What’s the sort of size of venue or event to give the listener a sense of the types of venues that you perform at. Is it only big spaces that have proper theaters? Or are there other events or spaces that you have performed at?
Maxim: I don’t have perfect ideal venue. I don’t know, for me. Perfect. Is like when I can play with a good lighting, good sound, a good staging. This is my perfect ideal stage. And like also venues or stages, which encouraged me is of course it’s a big stages because they have a lot of possibilities there, you know, if you go to small circuses you don’t have much apparatus and flying. And for example, the motor winch, which lift you up is only one slow speed. So you, you cannot play with it or on a cruise ships, like a lot of possibilities, but a lot of restrictions to do something new you have to approve it with three different people from the office. So there is no perfect place, we like to perform in different venues.
Sue: so there is a risk, of course, in terms of what you’re doing. And there are for safety has to be given consideration in all of these locations where you’re performing to ensure the safety of everybody. I’m also hearing you like that freedom to be in control the staging, the lighting, the sound to make every condition optimal for you to perform at your best.
Maxim: Yeah, it’s hard to find the perfect place by you need to adjust it and to be flexible, to be adaptive, to places to people.
Sue: So just turning to your keeping fit, what is it that you’re doing on a daily basis to maintain your flexibility and fitness.
Maxim: Well, right now I would describe myself lazy, but normally yes, we workout, three times a week just to be in shape running everything. Pull-ups. I have the loops in my apartment, low ceiling apartment, but still I need not to forget the knots and the rolling up and down and stretching like every other day. We’re just working, even if we don’t have any performances, we still have to work to be in shape. In 2, 3 months. You need to change career.
If you’re enjoying this episode, you might also want to listen to other episodes featuring guests with unique talents. Last time In episode 66, I spoke to Vicki Tough who spent her life climbing buildings and trees. And then episode 22, I spoke to chef Andrew Scott, who talked to me about what it takes to achieve a Michelin star. Go on over to access to inspiration.org And you can listen there or read the transcriptions.
Sue: You also mentioned you’re a parent now Maxim. You’ve got a daughter. How are you encouraging her?
Maxim: right now it’s very hard before she was playing. Now she’s five, but before two, three, she was playful and she wanted to do so so we change every training into the playing game and like climbing she’s climbing on me and she really enjoyed it. Normal people are riding like a horse, pretending parents, his horse and kids are jockey but we do standing on the head, the shoulders upside down. But right now. She’s getting tougher. And like, for example, she doesn’t want stretch because she understand it’s painful. But we use candies.
Maxim: So sometimes it doesn’t work as well, but like last time in Geneva in Switzerland, she really wanted to create act with me we did the partner acrobatic for a couple of minutes. She was scared at some point, but she really enjoyed the process. And unfortunately after that, she, she probably forgot some tricks and she say, no, I don’t want to do this anymore. But now after two, three weeks, she said, I want to do another new act. So she had some good moments on stage as well. We don’t push her to work hard if she doesn’t want to just change the game and change the stuff we do. But I think she’ll really like, and she liked to create with me. Yeah, I don’t want to push her, but I want to give her that what I love to do, and we’ll see what she could do. She could change at 16 to her own stuff I really want to give her that. And I don’t want to be telling by her that why you didn’t stretch me. Why I didn’t put me acrobatic? Like, for example, now I’m kind of jealous to the gymnastic that’s really flexible. And why didn’t I go to any gym? But it was far for me, so yeah, I’m trying to give her a lot.
Sue: Well, it’s, it says it’s lovely. I’ve seen that little video clip of the performance, both of you did in Geneve. And it’s very wonderful to watch the two of you working together.
Sue: If you were just reflecting on why you do what you do, what is it that you really enjoy about the work that.
Maxim: Right now I probably don’t have exact explanation, but that feeling when you’re on stage, it’s undescribable, When you just do, like before entrance, your fearness and when you are on stage, you forget about everything. And I don’t know that that’s feeling really hard to describe. And, but at the end, when you get the audience appreciation, This is unbelievable. This is so hard to describe. And of course we love travel. We really love traveling. Well my daughter, she visited more than 100 different ports we just counted. We pencil it in the notebook. So she has visited more than 100 ports on the cruise ships and different places we work. Yeah, so we really enjoy traveling. My daughter visited Antarctica crossing Atlantic ocean twice, so we had travelling.
Sue: What’s the place that you have visited that you liked the most.
Maxim: That is now perfect place. There’s a few like, like 10 places, but there is no one place like you want to be,
Sue: What would be in your top 10 then?
Maxim: I don’t know – France, many ports many different places, Spain or Italy. I really love Italy, like Cinque Terre and its coast. I really want to drive one day on around Italy and I love Norway. Iceland, north America, south America. There is no place. Every place there’s no one city you want to be,
Sue: but it seems, it seems like your, your daughter going to have a lot of stamps in her passport
Maxim: oh yeah,
Sue: old to, in terms of places she’s visited.
Maxim: It really does. And I’m jealous because when I was a crew with that, we don’t get much stamps and she was on a guest manifest and she has every country stamps. And I’m like, why I want this passport. So she a lot of stamps, but unfortunately she doesn’t remember more than half of them, cause she was two he and now she remembered. Like maybe 30 places from 100, but still it’s fine.
Sue: Well, you’re, you’re setting her off to a great start giving her a sense of the world and what’s in it. And, the sheer joy and pleasure of doing things that you love. That’s the sense I get from talking to you today, Maxim, and, I think that is a message for people. In all walks of life is think about it as play, do what you love, and if you can do it and get a smile on other people’s faces, then that’s even better.
Maxim: I’m really happy to do this chat with you. It’s really enjoying and yeah. Thank you for having me.
Sue: I will encourage our listener to get right on over to the internet and find out more about your act. How might they be able to do that? Is there a website or a YouTube or something that you would recommend them have a look at?
Maxim: Mostly we just now using the Instagram
Sue: What’s your Instagram name that people can go look up.
Maxim: MaxIvanovHandstand so yeah, I put a lot of short videos in there.
Sue: well, it’s been brilliant speaking to you today. Maxim you’ve made me want to go out and try a handstand.
Maxim: Yeah, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure for me to have a chat with you. It’s very interesting. It’s first chat. I never had an interview, so I’m like, yeah. Why shouldnt I do that. It’s really, it’s making me getting out of. Comfort zone and yeah, it’s very interesting. First time.
Sue: Well, I think over half the guests we’ve had on the podcast so far, it’s been their first ever time to do a podcast. So you’re in good company from some of our previous guests who are also testing themselves out. But I think it does speak to your interest in just trying out new things so I’m really grateful that you’ve had this conversation with us
Maxim: Yeah. Thank you very much. Thank you. I really enjoyed it. Thank you.
Sound Editor: Matias de Ezcurra (he/him)
Producer: Sue Stockdale (she/her)