When Cirque du Soleil's new show "Axel" opened last week in Worcester, Mass., Rochester native Paul Wood took to the ice playing the lead role in the show.
Wood described "Axel" as "a touring arena show that mixes skating, acrobatics, live music and graphics to tell the story of a young artist who falls in love with the beautiful Lei but must overcome the evil Vi to achieve his dream."
The tour will take Wood to cities across both the United States and Canada for the next six months. Unfortunately, the closest cities to Minnesota on the tour are Milwaukee and Kansas City.
Wood began skating in Rochester at the Rec Center "at the tender age of 3." His coach, Lidia Masliukova, worked with him until he was 17 years old. Truly committed to the sport, Wood skated up to four hours a day, six days a week.
In addition to skating, he also worked out off-ice as well. Growing up as a skater, Wood won both regional and state-level titles and competed on ice at the national level.
After graduating from Century High School in 2007, he moved to Chicago to attend college and train with international coaches Oleg Epstein and Alex Ouriashev.
"My dreams were to always get to a world level of competition, but a significant health scare ended my competitive skating career and nearly took me away from skating altogether," Wood said.
It was at this point that Wood discovered another aspect of his beloved sport: skating performance, which has allowed him to see the world and continue skating. He was hired as a skater with Willy Bietak Productions on board Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ships. Wood worked with Bietak Productions for over nine years, skating and traveling to over 50 countries.
Prior to joining the "Axel" tour, Wood was part of the Opera Festival in Muscat, Oman, where he performed with 16 other skaters, five opera singers and a 48-piece orchestra.
Skating with Cirque du Soleil has actually fulfilled another of Wood's childhood dreams. When he was a little boy, his mother shared a videotape with him of Saltimbanco, Cirque du Soleil's longest-running show. After watching the performance and seeing acrobats, jugglers and trapeze artists, he was "hooked."
But "it would only become a pipe dream of mine since at that time Cirque was not hiring figure skaters," he said. Wood then learned pipe dreams can come true.
"Fast-forward quite a few years later, and Cirque du Soleil began productions with figure skaters, and at that point, I knew that I wanted to fulfill those dreams of running off to the circus," he said.