By Ellen MORTON Hamil ‘59Kaleen MCKEEMAN ’03 has been a star in the heavens . . . the heavens of ZAIA, a Cirque du Soleil show in Macao, China. For more than two years she played the part of Zaia, a girl who travels into space. No, she isn’t an astronaut in a spaceship, she’s literally hanging onto a rope. That’s because Kaleen is an aerial strap artist. You know how you get that tickle in your stomach when you watch a rollercoaster as it creeps over the highest peak and points its nose to the long, low dip ahead? Well, you get the same feeling watching Kaleen as she’s swept from the floor of the stage and soars into space hanging on by a strap. And when I say she’s swept into space, I’m not exaggerating. The theater in Macao is seven stories high! Click here to see Kaleen performing as ZAIA.
Kaleen didn’t know about Cirque du Soleil when she was a child growing up in Hollis, New Hampshire. She knew she liked to climb trees and, much to the dismay of her parents, get as close to the top as possible. In elementary school at Pine Hill Waldorf School, Kaleen met Jackie Davis, the movement and circus arts teacher, and her fate was sealed. Kaleen performed in Pine Hill’s middle school “Hilltop Circus,” and helped form the “Flying Gravity Circus” which traveled to nearby schools to perform and lead workshops to teach kids circus arts.
While a student at High Mowing, Kaleen was accepted into Circus Smirkus, and spent four summers traveling through New England with the Vermont based group. Although High Mowing did not have a circus program, Kaleen said that the school’s open and supportive environment helped her personal development, as did the two years of French she took. After graduation, she attended The National Circus School of Montreal and was the first woman to graduate with a specialty in aerial straps. Instead of oral and written finals, the senior class puts on a circus performance. Cirque du Soleil saw Kaleen in action and recruited her despite the fact that the show they had in mind for her was only in the planning stages.
While performing in ZAIA, Kaleen lived in Macao, China, a former Portuguese colony off the coast of Hong Kong. She is well-traveled and spent many days in Hong Kong, which she describes as a modern city, easily accessible from Macao by hydrofoil. She had four weeks off annually and made trips to Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, mainland China and what she describes as two relaxing and fascinating weeks hiking in the province of Kerala in southwestern India.
Kaleen enjoys coming home to visit her family when she is between contracts. Even when she isn’t sure what her next adventure will be, she knows she’s sticking with flying, as that is her passion.