A moment of indecision changed the lives of Satomi and Yuka Sakaino. Born and raised in Kanagawa, and just a barely a year apart in age, the sisters are champion unicyclists by happenstance.
The older sister, Satomi (May 21), couldn’t decide what she wanted for her birthday and her father bought her a unicycle.
Satomi recounted, “It was for my seventh birthday.”
Yuka remembers, “My dad, he brought my sister to a toy store and as a birthday present he said choose anything.” But their father ended up making the choice.
Satomi continued, “Because I couldn’t decide–.I wanted everything.”
For a while, they only had one unicycle and neither their father or mother knew could ride either. Their enthusiasm was such that when Yuka’s birthday (June 5) came around, she got her own unicycle.
Their parents, both engineers, saw their girls were both talented and serious. Satomi says their mother became their coach–even though she couldn’t ride a unicycle. She got a license, studied from videos and books.
By 2000, Yuka was the Junior World Unicycle Champion (Individual Freestyle Female). Two years later Satomi was the World Unicycle Champion (Individual Freestyle Female) and together they earned the 2002 World Unicycle Champion of Pairs Freestyle. In 2008, Yuka would be the World Unicycle Champion (Individual Freestyle Female) and then in 2010, Satomi would shine, retaking the title World Unicycle Champion (Individual Freestyle Female).
Getting into the Cirque du Soleil family was surprisingly easy. Yuka remember first seeing Cirque du Soleil in Japan when she was a junior in high school, but when she literally got the call to be in a special event in Russia. “I don’t know how they found us.” She was a university student at the time and so it was just a gig. Then a year later, she and her sister got the call to be part of “Amaluna.”
“Ama” refers to “mother” while “luna” refers to “moon.” Amaluna is the name of the mysterious island where in a variation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” a mother-daughter relationship between Prospera (singer and cellist Amanda Zidow) and Miranda (Anna Inaseva/Iuliia Mykhailova) changes when a handsome sailor washes ashore. The Sakaino sisters play the wind spirits, the Arielles, dancing and hopping on their golden unicycles.
Although they have a choreographer at the international headquarters, “because they don’t have the unicycle act background,” Yuka said, they do most of their own choreography. They don’t get much say in their costumes unless they feel they are dangerous. Their golden leotards originally had fluffy sleeves and that made some of the moves difficult.
With every city, the choreography changes a little and each year they believe their skills have improved. Six years ago, their professionalism was really put to the test.
Satomi remembered, “There was a skill where I lean back to Yuka and then when I leaned back to Yuka something stung on my neck. It was really painful.” She wasn’t sure what happened: “I thought it was needle stuck in my neck because of the costume.” She thought it was a costume department had forgotten a pin or needle in her costume. The audience probably didn’t notice at all and the show went on although the sisters agree, “our smiling was fake that night.” The problem was a bee that they had seen back stage, but never guessed the bee would follow them into the spotlight.
In Los Angeles, they’ve been able to enjoy the local sights while “Amaluna” is in San Pedro (through June 9). They’ve been to Disneyland, Universal Studios, the Hollywood sign and Little Tokyo. Yuka says their LA experience has been “awesome.”
On stage, they glide and cycle happily thriving in unison. In the interview, they come across as best friends–the best of sisterly love–as they continue on their Cirque du Soleil adventures around the world.
Next year, “Amaluna” will have an Asian tour and their parents will hopefully be able to see their daughters perform and remember how a father’s chance decision paved the road to fame for their daughters, together as unicycling sisters.
“Amaluna” continues in San Pedro, California until June 9. Then it moves on to the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, PA.