HOW WE MET: AMANDA THOMPSON AND VLADIMIR
Sunday 18 October 1998
AMANDA THOMPSON: I first met Vladimir six years ago, when he was in a show at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas. I'd told my father I'd spotted this really great guy, so he came to see the show. In the event he fell asleep but woke up when Vlad came on. And as I'd predicted, he was spellbound. He thought Vlad was like a Michelangelo painting, an Adonis, an Icarus. He said: "Go and give him your business card. Book him!" I said, what do you mean, book him? Vlad was already a huge star, featured on billboards all over Vegas.
Nevertheless I did go to find him after the show. He was autographing posters, surrounded by hordes of fans, so rather than try to speak to him I just leant over and gave him my card. At that point I had no idea what I might be able to offer him. But I was determined to register an interest.
I flew to Vegas several times after that, but managed to miss him each time. Then in September 97 I went again, and arrived at my hotel to find a pile of messages from him. The gist was: "I can't wait outside a theatre to meet you." By that time he was so popular he lived in fear of being mobbed. So I invited him to meet over a drink at my hotel. "No, still too risky, come to my house." Now, it's an honour for a Russian to invite you to their home, I knew it would be about 11 at night and I felt I might be invading his space, but he insisted, so I went, taking my choreographer along with me.
What happened that night was like a meeting of souls. My choreographer wondered how two people who've only just met could get on so easily. We watched clips from his previous shows, I showed him clips from mine, and we talked about new ideas he wanted to work on, different angles he wanted to try out.
I think it was 5am when we finally stopped talking and looked at our watches, and he offered to drive us back to our hotel. Sleepy as I was, I couldn't wait to ring my office in England. I said: "I've found the person I want to work with. This is the one." Then I Fed-Exed his video and told my secretary to bike it over to LWT so we could get him on the Royal Variety Performance. I phoned Vlad and said: "Do you want to do the Royal Variety Show?" He had no idea what that was. I told him who else would be appearing and he said: "I'll do it." We worked from there. He knew I meant business and that I was going to move in the right directions for him. From then on, his career was my career too.
As producer, I like to be right in there at the beginning. I do the costumes, the lighting, I put all the music together. I want to see a show evolve as I want it to evolve and Vlad sees things the same way, to an uncanny degree. It was almost like ESP. The only difficulty was the language barrier with the other Russian cast members. But Vlad was really patient and proved to be a talented translator.
The relationship has grown because we constantly talk about news ways forward. You can talk with some people and they're not tuned in, but with Vlad the connection was immediate. He's not one of these people who's caught up with the importance of being famous. He's level-headed, focused. And he's had quite enough of stardom in America. Now he's living here I think he rather values English reticence.
He also enjoys working with a company that he feels confident with. It's like a huge family. Most of the cast already knew him, because he was such a big star within their world. So they hold him in adulation. Yet he doesn't consider himself any better than them. And he's very calm, which is amazing. When he's working his life is held in the hands of just three people - there's no harness or safety net - yet you never see him get het up. If things aren't quite right he just rings me up to discuss the problem.
Obviously we've become closer as a result of working together all day, every day since the beginning of May. And friendship does grow. It could have gone the other way, of course, but it hasn't, the bond has become strong. Who knows what the future will bring? We're very close, and different situations will lead to different things. People presume what they want to presume.
VLADIMIR: I met Amanda in Las Vegas when she came to see my show at the Stardust. I was told there was an important producer there. All she did was give me her card, but I guess she must have liked what she saw or she wouldn't have approached me. That made me happy. I'd met lots of producers who'd made lots of promises, but it was just empty talk. They have money and power but they use people. They find talented people with fire inside and just want to sit on their coat tails and collect the money. But Amanda was different. She seemed willing to make the investment of money and time.
The following year I received a call from a Russian agent who said Amanda Thompson was coming to Vegas to see Cirque du Soleil. He gave me her number so I called and arranged to meet after my show. I invited her for tea at my house and she came with her choreographer, Anthony. So we drank tea and ate carrot cake and made surface talk - what she's doing, what I'm doing. I played her videoes of my show. We exchanged ideas. We chatted for hours and it seemed like one moment, we were so absorbed.
Next day she invited me to dinner at Caesar's Palace and we had more discussions, and the next night we had dinner at Planet Hollywood. She seemed hot on the creative side, but I didn't know how much material power there was behind her. When we discussed a certain scene, I tried to emphasise just how much money it would cost to put on. She said: "Don't worry. We only do the best."
I wasn't sure. I knew nothing about the Thompson family. All I saw in front of me was a girl, a girl who said she produced big shows. I'm not macho. My mother who was a railroad worker was also strong, and it was she who encouraged and inspired me. Hers was real hard work, with a claw hammer. Coalmining is nothing by comparison. And we were so poor, she cried when I brought home my first week's wages and emptied 90 roubles on to the table.
So I was wary. But then Amanda showed me videos of her other shows and I saw that there was a very nice quality, the costumes looked great and my hesitation kind of disappeared. I thought, OK, this girl talks sense. A week later I received a call asking me if I'd like to work with her. It meant I'd have to leave Las Vegas but that was not such a big decision because I hadn't received any hotter offers. In Vegas the public are buying their dream, the dream of being rich. America has no real culture. It's 90 per cent money, 10 per cent spirit. In Europe it's 60 per cent money, 40 per cent spirit. I'd had meetings with movie people who wanted to be involved in live performance but they were hesitating. They had the money but they didn't have the imagination to make it real. I know I'd make more money in movies, but I have my own dream. And for that you need to have a hunger to succeed. That's what I recognised in Amanda.
So I arrived in England and did the Royal Variety Performance. It was an honour to perform before the Queen. That was the second time Amanda proved her power because not everyone can get on that show. I'm talking Celine Dion, Michael Bolton, Cirque du Soleil. England had never seen anyone fly with open hands and bare feet. When you fly with open hands it gives more freedom in the air. People judge it from their level of education. For children it could be Tarzan, religious people see God or Icarus. When you make people think and feel that's the highest compliment.
Then I began to prepare for my permanent move to London. I had too many anchors; houses and all that material stuff tie you down. I arrived in Blackpool and saw Amanda at work, and realised that nothing can change her mind if she believes something is good. I watched the BBC documentary on Pleasure Beach and it made Amanda seem much too tough. I didn't think much of it. And when we began rehearsing I was expecting her to explode, a little bit - but never. I thought wow, what a woman. Everyone loves her.
What you see now was created years ago in our heads, energy gained from life experiences, seeing things, expressing them. The classic drawings of Michelangelo have inspired me. There's nothing new under the sun, you steal it and people accept it as yours. We still have brainstorming sessions, we still talk for hours. I can see our friendship continuing and hope to collaborate with her in future. Personally I don't think I will find anyone better.
The Russians in the show think there's none like her. I'm talking about a girl with so much desire to create. She's in charge but at the same time anybody in the show can come up to her, say hi, give her a hug. There's no barrier, and at the same time you can be punished. But no one gets upset. They accept it, you deserve it. In Russia, as we say, "when you walk against the traffic you will see the faces".
! 'Eclipse', Amanda Thompson's latest production starring Vladimir, is at The Globe, Blackpool (01253 407997) until 7 November
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