Psychological snapshot: They’re young, friendly, attractive, intelligent and, by the standards of the gravity-obeying world, candidates for psychiatric counseling. Try their gig and see if a family member doesn’t sign commitment papers.
“My mom’s still terrified,” says Geniia “Jenny” Arata, 28. “Every night I send a message to her: ‘I’m fine, everything is good.’ She prays for me.”
Amen, Mom. Watching your roller-skating daughter upside-down, legs wrapped around her husband’s neck? Body angled to whip around his waist until she’s a hot, sexy blur? Spun around at demon speed, head threatening to scrape the floor before she’s tossed toward the ceiling? Not for faint-hearted matriarchs.
“I introduced my boyfriend”—now her husband—“to my mom and said, ‘I’m going to learn this act.’ And she was like, ‘Are you crazy? Can’t you find a normal boyfriend? No! Do you understand? No!’”
Sorry, Mom. “No!” didn’t take. Love bred a partnership commonly called death-defying—the act, not the marriage—and the Skating Aratas make audiences’ eyes spin counterclockwise Sat-Wed in the daily V: The Ultimate Variety Show at Planet Hollywood’s Miracle Mile Shops.
“We meet people after the show,” says Italian-born, 24-year-old Vittorio—a.k.a. “Victor”—about he and his Ukrainian-born missus. “They touch us to see if we’re human.” Casual inspection confirms it, at least offstage. “Some women, I can see a love in their eyes,” Jenny says. “They say, ‘God bless you, God bless you.’” Onstage they’re a gyroscope gone bonkers. Whirling on a 6-foot-by-6-foot platform close to the audience, they perform feats that would give orthopedic surgeons the shakes and leave spectators in awe at the skill and thrill. Some wince at the possibility of a human train wreck before their noses.
No train wreck yet, but the equivalent of a fender-bender last December when one routine—in which a leather strap is fastened to their necks and he spins her at dizzying speed—sent Jenny tumbling into the audience and onto an elderly woman who was taken to the hospital but not seriously injured. “I was spinning and I put my foot wrong,” says Jenny, who broke her thumb. “The next thing, I’m out. I lost control of my body.”
Victor elaborates: “If you put the rope on the wrong part of the neck, it can stop circulation of oxygen to your brain. She blacked out. I felt her body go limp. I slowed down and came to a stop almost, but she fell out at the last second and I couldn’t grab her. It wasn’t a very bad fall. We were lucky.”
Acrobatics seemed preordained for Victor, a seventh-generation member of a circus family headed by his mother, an aerialist, and his father, who used his head, so to speak. “My father jumped on his head on a tightrope,” Victor says. “He broke his neck, then stopped.” Together, his parents performed worldwide, including a stint in Hello America in 1962 at the Desert Inn.
Also schooled by a parent, Jenny was introduced to ice-skating by her father, a Soviet colonel. “He took me to the lake every weekend because in Russia it is so cold,” she says. “I would do all-day ice-skating and it’s the same kind of balance in roller-skating. Then I went to circus school.”
Mutually smitten while performing in the same show in Berlin in 2006, they married in 2010, then arrived in Vegas to be featured in the bawdy Absinthe, which debuted at Caesars Palace in March 2011. While that show awaited word of a renewal after a six-month stint, the Aratas, who were left without a contract, relocated to producer David Saxe’s V last October. “We get the family audience here,” Victor says.
Yet the act dates back to when Victor was a tyke of 5, his mother creating the routine for him, his brother and sister. Envisioned as a relatively safe act, it evolved into a danger-palooza—one Victor was reluctant to teach to his then-girlfriend, but relented.
Learning it took sweat, perhaps tears and unfortunately blood—shed from a surprising body part. Gravitational forces when she was upside down, attached to Victor’s neck by her feet, caused Jenny’s capillaries in her eyes to burst. “I didn’t have any white in my eyes, it was all red,” she recalls. “Eventually it goes away, but it was scary. I was like, ‘I look like a zombie!’” Perhaps, but a graceful, gorgeous zombie, complemented by her sculpted partner, who doffs his shirt partway through the act to female screams. “I’m like, ‘OK, you scream,’” Jenny says. “But he’s mine.” Five nights a week, they’re ours.