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UCLA

Curtain Up: Summer Splash

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By Wendy Soderburg

Published Jul 1, 2011 8:00 AM


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Valorie Kondos Field '87 is best-known as the incredibly successful coach of the UCLA women's gymnastics team, winner of six NCAA national championships.

But when the gymnastics season is over, Kondos Field heads down Interstate 5 to SeaWorld San Diego, where she is known as the incredibly successful choreographer of a team of talented — amphibians.

That would be human amphibians, technically. Every year in May, Kondos Field serves as the choreographer of the wildly popular "Cirque de la Mer" show at SeaWorld San Diego, a colorful, "circus-on-water" show that runs only during the summer.

Cast members perform an amazing array of trapeze, tumbling, bungee and pole stunts in a charming story about the residents of a mythical island called Amphibia.

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"My actual role is more the visionary of the show," says Kondos Field, who creates characters, transitions and even facial expressions for the performers. "I can't teach [pole and trapeze] stunts, but I can tell you what I want it to look like."

Because the characters in "Cirque de la Mer" are amphibians, Kondos Field teaches performers how to look like they're coming to life out of the water. She shows them how to "breathe" by pumping their hands out and in, out and in.

"When they first start doing the show, it's sometimes hard to get the performers to remember to 'breathe,'" she says, laughing. "I tell them, 'You're dying over there! Get some oxygen!'"

Kondos Field has actually been choreographing shows for SeaWorld since 1991; "Cirque de la Mer" is her latest. She often encourages her own gymnasts to get involved with the SeaWorld shows after they graduate, and many of them have, including Kristen Maloney '05, Heidi Moneymaker, Lena Degteva '01 and Stella Umeh '99.

"I always tell my gymnasts that when they're done with college, it's a great first gig to get," Kondos Field says. "It's demanding and they learn a lot of different skills. The people who do the pole stunts are the same people who do the tumbling and the trapeze. They show up in April and learn all the skills, and I come in May and put them all together."

"Cirque de la Mer"
Through Aug. 15, 2011 at SeaWorld San Diego
For more information, visit SeaWorld online.

"Cirque de la Mer" has something for everyone to enjoy — plenty of action, performers in bright, beautiful costumes and a compelling storyline for the kids; humor and a display of top-of-the-line athletics for the adults.

It's also the only non-animal show in the aquatic park — a distinction that can sometimes be lost on admirers.

"When they find out I choreograph for SeaWorld, people have said to me, 'Oh, you're the one who teaches Shamu how to flip!'" Kondos Field explains wryly.


Photos courtesy of SeaWorld

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