maestro voronin


A man of mystery, with a magic all his own, and the elegance and polish of bygone age. He has a uniquely powerful and mesmeric presence, the looks and charisma of a matinée idol, combined with a complete mastery of legerdemain and illusion. He is one the greatest exponents of his art today. Which is why he is known wherever he goes, quite simply, as “The Master”.

Maestro Voronin has built his reputation as a world-class magician on a foundation of smoke and mirrors. So it's understandable that he's a little skittish about revealing all his secrets. Still, he's not the easiest guy in the world to interview:

Where are you from? Somewhere else. How old are you? Ageless. When's your birthday? Not today.

Oh my. Let's try another route.

At Teatro ZinZanni, a 19th-century carnival of Vaudeville and cirque, Voronin is a mute magician, a Dracula-cum-Casanova, every bit as creepy with his bat wings and silver-plated finger as he is inexplicably alluring. With white powdery makeup and charcoaled cheeks, he is both terrifying and flirtatious, both foil and hero at once. The scene around him swirls and hums with a frenetic, exhilarant energy — a sequin-studded ensemble of trapeze artists, contortionists and jugglers preens and awes — but it's Voronin, silent and cloaked in black, who steals the show.

Performances

"People come [to the show] to be in dreams," Voronin says finally, his voice deep and his thick accent lilting, like a villain in an old melodrama. "It is not about me. Not about what is real. I show romance and excitement and love." He doesn't want to ruin the audience's experience by destroying his façade, he says.

In fact, because his character never speaks, he suggests that perhaps we should conduct the rest of the interview via, how do you say ...

"Mental telepathy?" offers Peter Pitofsky, the hapless clown who plays opposite Voronin's gothic gentleman at ZinZanni and his best friend in real life. "His can be via telepathy; mine'll be just mental!"

And then, in a rare moment of seriousness, between pratfalls and (really good) impressions of Rocky Balboa, Pitofsky continues.

"You want to know who Voronin is really? He's the most generous, loyal person I've ever met. He's the star of the show. He's famous all over Europe, and he could work anywhere. But it's amazing: Every night he comes here, and he touches each person and makes each person feel like they're the only one there."

It's true. Voronin spends most of the four-hour-long production wending through the crowd, making the hair on your arms stand up with a flourish of that silver-plated finger. He kisses your hands and asks you to dance in this silent, charismatic way — so surprising coming from a mute, anachronistic man of the underworld that it almost makes you laugh aloud.

And here's the best part: That act isn't entirely an act. Under that ankle-length black trenchcoat he wears both on and off stage — he has two, Pitofsky says — both character and man are driven by the same sentiment.

"If you do something and make people feel good, you make them feel special, then why not?" Voronin asks. "If you give happiness, every day, that is what is important."

Voronin the magician does it: a kissed hand, a love note on your table. And backstage, Voronin the man, the son, the father, the friend, the husband, does it, too: When Pitofsky drops his head in his hands, exhausted after a show, Voronin — his black-feathered collar still turned up — reaches over and rubs his best friend's ear. When his 8-year-old daughter crawls into his lap, he holds her and whispers secrets in Russian until she giggles.

And as for something concrete about our enigmatic Dracula?

"He's actually 141 years old," Pitofsky says, loudly enough for Voronin to hear. Then, hissing in a stage whisper, he adds, "But he smells like he's 90!"

Voronin laughs. Standing in his dressing room, he is half-painted, half-dressed, caught between man and magician. Spreading his arms to receive his coat, he is a figure frozen between worlds, as mysterious as a bat mid-flight.

Haley Edwards

"Seattle Times" staff reporter