In its final season at Radio City Music Hall, Cirque Du Soleil's "Zarkana" galvanizes theatergoers with its beautiful scenes of acrobats and elaborate sets.
With the ubiqutous face of Zark, the top-hatted magician at the center of the show and a focus of the show's advertising, it doesn't take much to lure in fans for this 90-minute feast for the eyes.
In the first half of the show, spectators find serenity in the finger-painted sand designs of the Oracle - a character who communicates with the past and future using her hands.
"It is poetic ... to slow down [the pace] of the show," said Erika Chen, 28, who plays the Oracle. "It gives you a breather."
Chen, an accomplished artist who also holds a degree in quantitative finance, picked up her sand-painting skill three years ago and debuted the routine last February. She said that her rare artistic talent helped land her a role in "Zarkana."
"Sand painting," Chen said, "is in demand."
Chen, who left her homeland of China at 15 for school in Singapore, had to cope with solitude for years. She found refuge in the art room.
"I remember skipping lessons to go there," she said. "And [I] would study physics and chemistry on my own."
Chen added: "It was hard to adapt [to life] in a different country. So I would write songs and take art lessons at every school I went to."
After living in Singapore and obtaining her finance degree there, Chen found work at Deutsche Bank and interned on Wall Street.
Even though she had innate artistic abilities, Chen said she initially pursued a finance career because it promised more financial stability.
"I am the only child. I am expected to take care of my parents when they retire," she said.
But it turned out that art was her calling all along.
If you go: "Zarkana" runs through Sept. 2 at Radio City Music Hall. For times and ticket information, go to cirquedu soleil.com.
Maria Choodu, an award-winning juggler in "Zarkana," opens the show bouncing half a dozen balls while tap dancing.
amNewYork caught up with the red head from Russia - who has been traveling with Cirque since the age of 14 - after her daily practice.
Did your parents influence you decision to juggle? Actually, no. My mother did acrobatics. She used to juggle in circus school, but she found it to be boring. When I was 6, I saw a performer in the circus and asked myself, "How does he do that?" So I tried, and in two or three days, I was able to [juggle] three balls. Soon, it kind of became a drug . ... All I did was juggle.
Did you really pick it up that quick? It came natural to me, but to be a professional you have to spend hours, hours and hours of training and repetition. You do this for months and years.
How does your juggling go beyond the usual style? There's the traditional juggling, there's bouncing juggling. I play around and rebound the ball against different surfaces and tap dance at the same time. I create music out of my act.
How did you get your start at Cirque Du Soleil? I saw a video from "Saltimbanco" and I saw [a performer] juggling. I tried to imitate the act, and I did. I asked my mom, "If I train a lot, will I be apart of the show?" and she said, "Yeah, sure."