Dizzying tricks

Cirque du Soleil was founded in 1984 and made a name for itself in the 1990s with its brand of animal-free circus. The Canadian troupe proved its worth in its own country, and was soon touring the world with its unique performances.

There are 21 Cirque du Soleil shows around the world. ZAIA, which opened in Macau in 2008, was the first permanent show in Asia and took two years to create. It was followed by Zed in Tokyo. ZAIA has an international cast of 75 artists from 22 countries. The story follows Zaia, a young girl, as she journeys though space.

Roman Tomanov plays Romeo, the young man who falls in love with Zaia. The 21-year-old is an internationally renowned strap artist from Moscow, with half a dozen prestigious awards under his belt. He has been with Cirque du Soleil for three years and is one of the youngest in a cast which has an average age of 26.

Tomanov explains that, although Romeo falls for Zaia right at the beginning of the show, they only actually meet during his aerial straps scene, the 'most exciting act'. Originally from China, strap features acrobatics at dizzying heights. Two lengths of rope dangle from the ceiling, which the artist clings to. As the rope is lifted up, he is suspended in the air and performs all sorts of exciting twists and flips.

For Tomanov, what sets Cirque du Soleil apart from other circuses is the variety of routines. He describes it as 'big - more acrobats and all different shows, with a huge variety of acts'. With everything from clowns to fire dancers, ZAIA 'combines dancing, acrobatics, everything into one. ZAIA is constantly improving, it's a bit different all the time'.

Tomanov started doing gymnastics when he was six. He says this led naturally to the aerial straps. 'My dad taught me,' he explains. 'I did strap in the morning, gymnastics in the evening.' Tomanov's father is a flying trapeze artist - performing runs in their blood.

Tomanov's act is physically demanding, and his daily routine is rigorous. He tries to put in 'a lot of training' every day, doing at least an hour after performing in the show. He also has to set aside time to put on his own make-up: this takes more than an hour. 'I do it myself,' he explains, 'even the gold hair.'

When asked what he wants to do in the future, Tomanov says he hopes to have his own show one day. 'But I'm not sure if that will happen,' he laughs. Still, the young performer has overcome many challenges to get where he is today. Tomanov says he used to have stage fright, and was 'sometimes afraid of heights. But not anymore'.

If you have dreams of following in Tomanov's footsteps, he recommends you start practising now. 'The earlier you start,' he says, 'the easier it will be in the future.'

The winners of our Summer Visions visual arts competition will get to meet other stars from the show. Send us your artwork on the theme of 'Freedom' by Sunday for a chance to take part in a workshop with the artists, a backstage tour and then watch the show. Visit for details.

Rachel and Christopher are YP interns