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Sunday, February 22, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Behind the Scenes
Trapezists Karyne and Sarah Steben

By Pamela Sitt
Seattle Times staff reporter

DOMINIC 'ARIZONA' BONUCCELLI
Identical twins and trapeze artists Karyne, left, and Sarah Steben, 29, are the latest attraction at Teatro ZinZanni's "Dinner and Dreams" show.
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Who they are: They like to make people guess: Sarah or Karyne? The identical Steben twins, 29, are the latest attraction at the "Dinner and Dreams" Teatro ZinZanni show, where they do things on a trapeze that make their mother extremely nervous. Good thing she lives in Montreal, where the Italian-Canadian sisters were born before taking their trapeze act worldwide.

The Steben sisters, whose limited engagement at Teatro ZinZanni ends April 4, have traveled with Cirque Du Soleil, choreographed an aerial act for Madonna's 2001 "Drowned World" tour and currently appear as conjoined twins in the circus-set HBO drama series "Carnivale."

The trouble with twins: Being a twin — particularly in this line of work — has its advantages. "We are so in sync, we don't need to speak to understand each other," Sarah says. Two years ago, when Karyne was pregnant with her now-18-month-old daughter, Sarah's boyfriend filled in on the trapeze at Cirque Du Soleil's production of "O." "With my boyfriend, it was double trouble," Sarah says with a laugh.

But filming the first season of "Carnivale" near Los Angeles proved to be, at times, a bit too close for comfort. "We were stuck together, closer than we've ever been," Sarah says. "When I'm cold and she's warm and if I need to go to the bathroom and she's hungry, what do we do?" Working in television, the twins found, is less than glamorous: "We realized we are in a circus all day long in the sand and the cold," Karyne says. "The waiting (is a challenge). And learning to perform for a little camera — we have to make every movement smaller."

The Steben sisters will return to their home base in Los Angeles — where they live five minutes apart — to start filming the second season of the HBO series in April.

Knock on wood: Sarah (the "catcher") has never dropped Karyne (the "flyer") on the trapeze, they say as they both knock on a wooden table. But they make little mistakes during their trapeze act all the time, albeit ones undetected by the untrained eye.

"The dress goes in your eyes, or sometimes the hair gets caught," Karyne says. "One time (Sarah) choked on her hair." Her sister nods: "I had my hair in my mouth the whole time." The sisters have never seriously injured themselves on the trapeze. "Whenever people (in the circus) get hurt, it's stupid, like walking to the stage and boom, you twist your ankle," Sarah says.

Only Karyne's pregnancy has ever sidelined either of the sisters from the trapeze. "The first question I asked in the hospital was, 'Was (giving birth) worse than the pain we had on the trapeze?'" Sarah says. The answer: "It's harder, but with better results," says Karyne. "The trapeze hurts, (but) I learned to like how it hurts. You have to be a masochist a little bit."

The crystal ball: What does the future hold for the high-flying Steben sisters? They imagine another 10 years, at most, on the trapeze. And then? "There are so many things we want to do," Karyne says. "We want to open an art studio someday. We would love to do movies. If we did trapeze in a movie, it would stay on the tape forever."

The sisters have already recorded a demo CD — described as "world music, kind of Enya tunes" — and may incorporate singing into their "Carnivale" roles.

Despite an impressive résumé of circus acts, music videos, commercials and TV shows, "we feel like we've done nothing," Sarah says. "One time, these people wanted to write a (biography). We just said to them, 'We have nothing! Wait till we're 80.' "

Pamela Sitt: 206-464-2376 or psitt@seattletimes.com


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