Throughout their cross-country tour with the Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s “Built to Amaze,” Alex and Irina Emelin have unleashed the formula for a crowd-pleasing show — magic, awe-inspiring athleticism, hilarious comedy acts and, maybe best of all, poodles.
Originally from Russia, the Emelins, animal trainers and clowns, have spent years perfecting their craft. The Emelins’ success stems from talent, hard work and a deep passion for performing in the Greatest Show on Earth. Best of all, they say, they get to see their children clapping and cheering from the stands.
Managing work and family can indeed require a balancing act, but when Alex and Irina are not performing in the circus, they seem to slip into a life of domesticity with ease. The parents have journeyed from city to city in a spacious house trailer with their two daughters — 13-year-old Alexandra and 3-year-old Valentina.
“It’s normal and very good,” Irina said of their lifestyle. “For me, it’s regular.”
In the evening, Irina prepares fresh homemade meals for her family. When the weather is pleasant, Alex fires up a grill. Gathering around the dinner table is a treasured part of their daily routine.
“Food is family time. That’s when we talk about the day and when we get to spend time together,” Alex said.
Since Ringling Bros. provides a nursery and schooling for the children, Alex and Irina can focus on their roles.
But Alex hopes his daughters will eventually pursue a circus career. “Secrets move from the father to the kids,” he said. “It’s tradition.”
Born in Moscow to a working-class family, Alex was himself inspired by his uncle — a circus clown. “All my life, I’ve had this dream to be a comedian,” he said.
So Alex traveled to Ukraine and attended an elite professional circus school. He then received an invitation to join the Nikulin Circus, where he impressed the director, and was brought on as a performance artist.
A second-generation circus performer, Irina Emelin also grew up in Moscow. Her father — a famous animal-trainer — fostered her interest in the circus. She proved to be a natural performer and even developed her own monkey act. Irina was presenting her monkey act when she met Alex.
Alex remembers the serendipitous scenario that took place nearly 15 years ago. “I was a comedian,” he said. “Finally, we started to work together.”
Side by side, the pair toured with the Bolshevik State Circus and the Hungary State Circus. When Alex decided to leave the circus so that he could focus on building and strengthening his magical comedy act, he selected Irina to be his assistant. The pair grew close and fell in love.
Alex and Irina continued to work together as professional performers, while garnering positive feedback and gathering accolades. When the couple returned to Russia to assemble a new animal act, they spent several years training large and small poodle puppies, and then worked with the Moscow State Circus.
Alex also studied at the Russian Academy of Arts and graduated with a degree in Circus Production, while Irina developed her comedic character. Her style is inspired by Chinese circus clowns.
The nine-time international award-winning duo will reveal their craft in New Orleans from June 25 through June 29, when they will dazzle the crowd with multifaceted performances featuring a live orchestra and 45 animals: 20 ferrets, 16 dogs, six rabbits, a donkey and two snakes.
“You will never see anything like this in your life,” Alex said. “We bring to the United States a very interesting show, from Russia, with love.”
The Emelins also plan to sneak in some family time and explore the city.
Irina is eager to try “the best seafood in the world.” And Alex, a jazz aficionado, hopes to hear live music at a nightclub. One can only hope that they document these family-fun memories into what must be a fascinating scrapbook.