Boris Verkhovsky

Early on, as an elite athlete part of the Russian Men’s National Team in Sport Acrobatics, Boris Verkhovsky discovered a bigger passion for coaching than performing. Having graduated from the Byelorussian State University with a degree in Physical Education and Sports specializing in coaching, he immigrated to Canada in 1978 where he had to quickly adapt his coaching style to the Canadian amateur sport environment. Having succeeded in that, he worked his way through the ranks to become the Head Coach of the Canadian National Trampoline and Tumbling team when, in 1993, he was approached by Cirque du Soleil to consult on a proposed tumbling act for the Las Vegas resident show Mystère.

Boris’ great expertise in the acrobatic field soon made it clear to all involved at Cirque that they needed to secure his expertise. First hired as Head Coach for the Acrobatic Training Department, his role through the years grew to the point where, as current Director of Acrobatic Performance and Coaching, he directs the assignment, development and management of teams of coaches, guiding them to select strategies and to design interventions and coaching methodologies to support Cirque ’s current and future needs. Making full use of his knowledge and expertise, he also contributes directly to the design of acrobatic acts for shows in creation.

  • Boris Verkhovsky
  • Montreal
  • Director of Acrobatics and Coaching

How do you guide an athlete in this transition from the sports world to becoming an artist on stage?
The most important element is to make sure that the person is very comfortable with the concept that we will be capitalizing on what they’ve already accomplished. We tell them, you’ve achieved wonderful results, you’ve developed a phenomenal range of skills, now let’s use those skills but in a very different way and in a very different environment.

The modern thinking in complex model learning is that expediency in learning should not become the goal. Therefore, we begin right away the process of introducing the complex environment: the acrobatic and artistic elements are both present in learning. When the artists arrive here in Montreal, we begin intensive artistic workshops right from the start. Of course, we also introduce right from the start the acrobatic elements. As soon as there is an opportunity, we merge the two. In an ideal training environment, both elements should always be present.

The psycho-professional development is also very important to us. As Cirque is a very different environment, the performance psychologist helps reshape the attitude, the focus and the commitment of artists. In the sport world, you are used to doing a phenomenal amount of training and very few performances. In our environment, the reverse is true; training is limited as you cannot physically afford it but there is a lot of performance. In that regard, performing becomes a form of training. At the same time, you have a responsibility to the public: your performance cannot be perceived as “just” training.”

What is the biggest challenge an athlete should expect to face when arriving at Cirque du Soleil?
When you are an athlete coming from a fairly elite level – which is the majority of people who come to us – you are used to an environment where you know every aspect – inside and outside. At that stage of the game, discovery is limited. You are a master at what you do. You have developed the capacity to deliver the performances in those few peak moments throughout the year called competitions.

When you arrive at Cirque, the element of discovery is enormous. We put athletes in a different environment. They get to perform 9 to 10 times a week. They perform on equipments that they’ve never seen or tried before. Gradually, the artistic element allows them to learn that performing is not about doing tricks; performing is for the public. The acrobatics skills are one of the tools used to evoke emotions. That element of discovery is exciting to be part of.

How would you describe your creative philosophy?
You have to begin with the notion that “everything is possible”. It is at the base of every creation process whether it be in terms of training environment, development of an act or development of a skill, to name but a few. If you begin by thinking “It’s impossible” you are thwarting innovation and creation.

In a strange duality is the fact that we have to be intelligent and reasonable. When we create, the risk of being overwhelmed by the passion for the new and exciting is fairly high. What we create has to be sustainable and delivered consistently, about 350 times a year in a touring show and 450 times a year in a resident show.

Acrobatics are a mean of expression, not an end in themselves. They help generate the wow effect and that’s what people want to see when they come to Cirque du Soleil. But the wow can come in many different forms. Acrobatics are part of the vocabulary, as opposed to tricks but they are not the only form of wow.

What role do you think acrobatics play in Cirque du Soleil? How do they fit into the mix?
Acrobatics are an essential part of Cirque. The human performance is the central point of Guy Laliberté’s vision when we create a show. That physical aspect of human performance and ability remains a very critical element. It’s a central element. Without beautiful choreography, intriguing costumes, wonderful makeup, phenomenal music, superb theatrical lighting and stunning scenography, acrobatics cannot speak. However, without acrobatics, something is lost. That is why at Cirque , every acrobatic element, or intention of an acrobatic element, has to be world-class.

What advice would you give to a future Cirque du Soleil artist?
It’s not easy. It’s exciting. It’s an opportunity of joining a profession. It will take phenomenal amount of physical, mental and emotional effort. But it will reward you in ways that you haven’t experienced in a sport. Working for the public rather than for the judges is another world, and it’s a wonderful world.