It’s easy to see why the Kolev sisters have an intense passion for performing for Cirque du Soleil. Born in Italy, Michelle (24) and Nicole (22) are fourth-generation circus performers on their mothers side while their dad was a competitive gymnast who later joined the family business. It’s now wonder their strength and flexibility are something to be marveled.

Undoubtedly, the Kolev’s have physical expression in their DNA, but staying flexible and strong in order to wow audiences night after night takes more than great genes. So, as they prepared to take to the stage at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for another epic outing with Mystère, we wondered how the girls make those lifts and stretches look so easy.

During the course of our chat, the sisters provided some advice for us mere mortals as regards improving our own strength and flexibility.

The eldest of the Kolev sisters, Michelle made her debut in front of an audience when she was 12 years old. “My parents, at the time, were performing in the biggest touring show in Italy,” she says. “That year’s show was based on a fairy tale and all the performers were taking part in the grand opening. They gave me a ballerina costume and taught me some choreography based on simple splits, jumps, and rhythmic movements. It was very simple, but I remember how happy it made me feel to be part of that magical world; to wear a shiny costume and to be able to smile at the audience.” Nicole was younger still, just 8 years old when she caught the magic. “I remember that every day, I couldn’t wait to enter the stage. I really liked the emotion I felt,” she recalls.

The Kolev Sisters performing their act Mystere in Las Vegas
Courtesy of the Kolev sisters

The Kolev Sisters Have Strong Acrobatic Roots

Learning from their parents, the Kolev sisters practiced their handstands so that they could slowly build knowledge of their bodies and how they balanced. By the time Michelle was 17 and Nicole was 14, they were able to work on their “hand to hand” movements. This is a type of acrobatics where one person acts as a base and they lift the “flyer,” hand to hand. The moves are often strung together in sequences that use dynamic catches and throws, creating a spectacular show of strength and balance.

In 2021, the sisters had their dreams turn to reality when they were booked by Cirque du Soleil. “We didn’t have to audition,” says Michelle. “The casting director had seen us perform in the past, at two different circus festival competitions, and they were looking for a hand-to hand-act to integrate into Cirque du Soleil’s “Mystère.” He contacted us to see if we were interested in the position. And obviously we were!”

“Mystère” is a mesmerizing show based around themes such as the origins of life and the beauty of the Universe. The Kolev sisters make it all look so easy on stage, but then those that have mastered their craft always do. “Among the most exciting things we do on the show is to perform our hand-to-hand exercise on a stage in the shape of a planet that spins counter clock wise, with spectacular costumes,” beams Nicole.

Achieve Greater Strength and Flexibility

While it’s unlikely that most of us will ever reach the levels of strength and flexibility that the Kolev sisters have acquired, just how could we go about making our own improvements? “The first step to achieving greater flexibility is to do a lot of stretching and to increase the intensity of stretching every day, because it is important to soften every part and muscle of the body,” says Nicole.

Consistency is key: “I am certainly not the most flexible person, unlike my sister,” admits Michelle. “But despite this, I have always performed flexibility exercises suited to the level that my body allowed me to reach. Try step-by-step splits stretching, back and shoulder extension exercises, taking baby steps. The only way to improve your flexibility would be to engage with daily practice.”

Strength and Flexibility Rely on Each Other For Balance

During each performance, the girls must support each other’s bodyweight without letting the strain show on their faces. “Strength is a key element in our discipline, and like flexibility, strength doesn’t take you far by itself,” says Michelle. “Strength and flexibility both need each other. Being strong is the best basis to be able to reach the goals we set ourselves every day and helps us to have confidence in our body and its infinite capabilities. To improve and maintain a certain level of strength we train 4-5 times each week with exercises that include weights, resistance bands, and abdominal exercises. As for balance, I do the best training with my sister, repeating the basic hand to hand exercises several times to improve our balance skills combined with our strength and endurance.”

Nicole explains that they undertake many traditional strength exercises as part of their everyday training. “We really like pushups, pullups, planks, and various cardio exercises,” she says. “I especially like to train with various handstand exercises such as handstand pushups, to increase my resistance and balance in this position.” The girls have devoted most of their lives to perfecting their art.

“I do classic shoulder strengthening exercises with weights, push-ups, pull-ups, farmers carry, and overhead carrying dumbbells,” adds Michelle. “Then I also train the lower body using kettlebells to strengthen the back. I do dumbbell lunges and squats with weights to strengthen my leg muscles. I also like running and doing yoga. And, when I get the chance, I like to go out in the open air to do some physical exercise because this helps me to connect the mental sphere with the physical.”

Keep Your Diet Light and Healthy

Of course, it would not be possible for the girls to continue to lift each other, if their bodyweights increased too much. While they do not count calories, they do make sure to eat healthily. Breakfast generally consists of oats with fruit. “It helps me start the day with the right energy,” says Michelle. Lunch will consist of pasta or rice. Michelle also likes to top up her protein intake with shakes and almond milk. Nicole has a similar attitude towards food although she is a vegetarian. Their Italian heritage demands that they enjoy their food, but they tend to eat their biggest meal of the day at lunch time, in order to give them the fuel to perform each night. After each show, evening meals are a much lighter affair.

The sisters recently celebrated Mystère’s 13,000th performance. It’s a show that boasts more than 1,000 costume pieces. Then there’s a giant snail called “Alice,” that weighs 2,000 pounds and is pushed around by four carpenters. Michelle and Nicole couldn’t be more excited about how they are continuing the family legacy. “What I like most about the Mystère show is sharing the stage and taking inspiration from our cast members, who are among the best performers I have ever met,” says Michelle. It’s a sentiment that Nicole shares: “Mystère has always been one of my all-time favorite shows and being a part of it is a dream come true.”

For more information on “Mystère” click here!

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