NEW YORK (AP) — On Broadway these days is a pair of brothers who, quite literally, put their lives in each other's hands every day.
Andrew and Kevin Atherton are identical twins who soar and spin dozens of feet in the air in a new Cirque du Soleil aerial act that combines muscle and poise, balance and grace.
"We almost become one," said Kevin Atherton. "I don't even have to look at him. I can feel what he's doing." He quickly adds: "That's always been the case."
Their 5½-minute act that closes Act 1 is a highlight of "Paramour ," the first Cirque production created specifically for Broadway. The 38-member company also includes contortionists, trampoline and trapeze artists, among many others.
The British-born Athertons rely on long straps, their training and each other as motors push them 8 feet a second over the audience. As they embrace and then let go, the effect is like a mirror. They say they enter a "dream state."
Each said they could do the act with someone else, but sharing the same DNA on top of their 16 years of working together means the act isn't the same without doing it together. Plus, they've never dropped each other.
"I know that he's going to put me before him and vice versa. It helps you relax and you can then concentrate on putting the feeling, the emotion, into the act rather than, 'Oh, I'm high, he might drop me here,'" said Andrew.
The sculpted, 40-year-old twins were raised outside Manchester. (Andrew was born 3 minutes before his sibling. "I constantly remind him of that," he jokes.) Blessed with boundless energy, they attended their first gymnastic class at age 7. Something clicked.
They went on to represent the U.K. in five World Championships, two European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Kevin won the British Championships in 1997, Andrew took a team gold medal and two individual silvers at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.
The Athertons knew nothing about Cirque du Soleil when they were invited to watch "Alegria" in 1999 at Royal Albert Hall in London. A new, post-gymnastics career opened up.
"We sat and didn't know what to expect. We saw the first character come onstage and then we both didn't speak. We just knew — exactly then — this is what we're going to do," said Andrew.
Together they developed and created the duo-straps act for "Varekai," ''Iris," and "Zarkana." Traditionally, the aerial straps were done by a strong man and were largely static. The Athertons added dance and soaring movement.
One career highlight was performing at the 2012 Oscar telecast, which actually rattled them. "I could see George Clooney and I had one chance to get this right. It was nerve-wracking," said Andrew.
Offstage, they lead different lives. Andrew is married to a former Cirque acrobat and they have a 3-year-old daughter and a 15-month-old son. Kevin is recently divorced from his husband.
They train constantly and eat healthy food — chicken or salmon salads are favorites — in small portions throughout the day, usually about six times. One sibling can't stray too far off the path.
"I know him so well and he knows me so well. I would say our lives and our habits are pretty much the same," said Kevin. "We do have to stay as similar as we possibly can. We tend to eat the same things and don't drink too much."
They've gotten so close that if only one brother hits the gym before the show, the other brother can tell. "You can feel the difference in our muscles," said Kevin. "The audience will never see it, but we feel it."
The twins insist they don't fight.
"When you're creating the act or you're rehearsing, it can get frustrating but we'll never fight," said Andrew.
His brother agreed: "It's so much of an effort to fight that we just don't fight now. It's simple. So whatever we are doing seems to be working."
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits