Haven’t you wondered…About the life of a circus contortionist?

BALANCING ACT: Pictured above from left to right, Arturo Pivaral, Meda Dorin, and Nelson Pivaral pose in their performing outfits. Photo taken from Ringling Brothers Program 1992

Most people go to the circus or read about it but never give any thought to the performers’ lives.  Most people could not even name a single circus performer, though most people could name plenty of athletes, musicians and actors.

Nelson Pivaral isn’t most people. He performs the hand to hand act in Cirque Bezerk, a circus show that recently finished a month-long run at the Nokia Theater in Downtown LA.

How does one even become involved in the circus? Pivaral was practically born into the circus life and was only twelve when he began his rigorous training. Since Pivaral’s stepfather was in a local circus, pitching up tents and preparing popcorn were everyday tasks during his childhood.

When he was 19, Ringling Brothers Circus Company discovered Pivaral and invited him and his late brother, Arturo, to come perform with them. The two brothers performed the Living Statues act and eventually brought the act to Princess Cruise tours, performing together until Arturo passed away due to colon cancer at age 33.

Back at Ringling Brothers, Pivaral met his future wife, Goulia Rozyeva, a gymnast. The couple now performs the hand to hand act together: a feat of careful balancing, contorting and displaying the art of the body all in one. Pivaral hoists his wife up into the air using only one hand and later only the top of his head while she contorts her body into tiny configurations and he never breaks his smile and eye contact with the audience. The act, which does not require any particular props or stage setup, can be performed almost anywhere and was recently seen in Cirque Bezerk and Cirque Montage.

I was completely in awe after watching Pivaral’s act, especially because the idea of having any sort of balance seems completely foreign to me and balancing another person while contorting your own body seems not only risky but insane. His wife’s gymnastics training shines through, as together they put on a jaw-dropping show.  It’s no wonder the duo has been doing this for most of their lives; they’re talented, and they love it. Pivaral performs with careful dexterity, so precise that you almost can forget that he has another person’s life in his hands—literally.

They say that talent runs in the family, and Pivaral’s daughter, Sacha, certainly has her parents’ gifts. She is also a part of the family business, specializing in balancing acts and contorting.

Pivaral recalls looking back at circus acts on television as a small child, thinking they were so far away and never imagining that he himself would perform. He hopes that his daughter will have opportunities to perform both live on stage as well as on television or in movies. Books such as Sara Gruen’s 2006 novel Water for Elephants, which has been adapted into a film due out Apr. 22, give readers an insider’s perspective on what it is like to be part of the circus.  Since Pivaral knows this type of entertainment has been growing in popularity, he wants his family to be as much a part of it as possible.

“I knew almost every person who was a part of the “Water for Elephants” production on a personal level,” he said.

Pivaral said he still enjoys his career, even though he is older than most of his colleagues.

“I’m 42 years old. I haven’t had any surgeries and my knees are still good,” he said. “Though I might be in a business where others are half my age, it doesn’t look like I’m stopping any time soon.”