Life, Interrupted: The Contortionist Duet

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Olga Karmansky and Anna Venizelos are a performance contortionist duo, and while the work they’re doing today seems, literally, backbreaking, it wasn’t always that way. Venizelos spent three years touring with Cirque du Soleil as an acrobat soloist, followed by years working as a solo contortionist. Karmansky? Her early years were spent as a competitive gymnast, making her mark in rhythmic gymnastics — an experience she describes as tough on her childhood.

“I can’t say I really miss it. I feel like I really lived my career,” Karmansky says. “There are times I look back at it with fondness, but sometimes I wish things had been different. In an athletic career, you can’t really control how you’re judged or what happens.” What happened, though, is that she started training when she was 5 years old, and then intensely when she was 8. By 14, she was homeschooled in Coney Island and was training eight hours a day, six days a week. “I feel really lucky to have been able to pursue a passion at such a young age so intensely. Only now, 10 years later, am I taking the lessons that I learned then and applying them to life now.”

After becoming a U.S. Champion and two-time Pan American Champion, Karmansky spent time performing in the Broadway show Pippin. “I’ve been a soloist my entire life,” Karmansky says. “It just gets lonely after a while.”

Venizelos agrees while reflecting on her years as a soloist. “I loved being a soloist. I loved going at my own pace, but I was definitely lonely on stage, after doing it for so long. As I left Cirque, I told myself that I wanted to work with a partner … to create something with somebody else. I was always so interested and motivated by the relationship between two people on stage. I think that relationship elevates the performance and electrifies things. Not only do you have the technicality of the skills, but you also have a story going on between two people. Because of that, to work with a partner has been my goal ever since I left Cirque.” Karmansky and Venizelos met when they were both hired for a 10-month gig in Atlantic City, but they joined forces two and a half years ago, in 2015.

The two athletes describe the other’s personality as helpful both on and off the stage. “Anna brings this groundedness to me that I need. I sometimes get flighty and want to get a lot done, but she is just so focused,” Karmansky explains. “It’s a really nice balance for me. I definitely take that from our rehearsals and performances together into my life, and it brings more structure to my everyday life.”

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