Leonid Leykin can’t remember a time when he didn’t want to be a circus performer and right from the start he knew he wanted to be a clown. He studied at the famous Licedei, a Leningrad theatre school that specialized in the art of clowning. His teacher there was Slava Polunin, who is widely regarded as the best clown in the world – and who has appeared in Cirque du Soleil productions as well as his own renowned solo shows.
For many years Leonid traveled the world as a member of Licedei’s touring company, and his first visit to North America was with the troupe. At that stage of his career he was also directing theatre in Russia , acting in Russian films, starring in his own television show which featured comedy routines and Russian celebrities as guests, and appearing regularly with the Moscow Circus.
For Leonid, the whole idea of clowning goes a lot deeper than simply making people laugh with a pratfall. “The clown has a lot of freedom,” he says. “Even in the days of the Soviet Union the clown could stand apart from society and offer a sometimes funny, sometimes sad commentary on the human condition.”
Leonid was first approached by Cirque du Soleil in 1993 but the success of Licedei kept him from accepting the company’s invitation until 1997. In 1998 he joined the European tour of Alegría. He went on to join the cast of “O” in Las Vegas in 2000, creating a highly memorable and much-loved clown act. He stayed with the show until 2007.
“My approach to clowning is lyrical and poetic rather than slapstick. I prefer to work with the eyes rather than the body,” says Leonid. “I can stand on the stage and do nothing, and everybody understands what I want to say.”
ZAIA marks the first time Leonid has created a clown act for any performer other than himself. “It’s very difficult to find really good clowns,” he says. “But we found two wonderful performers for the show, one is from Italy and the other is a Canadian originally from France . When we see really good clowns like these two, we can see some part of ourselves.“
Leonid Leykin was born in 1961 in Leningrad (now known as St. Petersburg ).