Published Friday, March 13, 2015 | 6 p.m.
Updated Saturday, March 14, 2015 | 2:07 p.m.
The moral of this story, before we tell it, is, “Always be aware of the plural.”
To specify: In September 2013, Sylvia Mukhtar called her husband, Mukhtar Omar Sharif Mukhtar, with a twin-pack of important news involving the couple’s pregnancy. A member of the Cirque du Soleil family as a performer, choreographer and director, Mukhtar at the time was in New York working on a performance for Absolut Vodka.
What he heard next required a stiff cocktail.
“Mukhtar, are you sitting down?” Sylvia asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Today, I heard the babies’ heartbeats,” Sylvia said, making sure to use the plural of “baby” and “heartbeat.”
“That is very cool,” Mukhtar said, not fully absorbing the information from across the country. He heard “baby” and “heartbeat.”
So Sylvia repeated.
“We’ve got heartbeats,” she said. “Two heartbeats.”
“What?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said.
“Oh … wow!” he said.
So the director with twin names, who seems to perform the tasks of two individuals, and his wife are parents of fraternal twin girls. They are Nahla (she of the straight hair) and Leelah (she of the curly hair), born April 29, 2014. Thus, the family is still experiencing all the “firsts” of the first year of parenting, and at the moment Mukhtar is performing the sort of acrobatics in his life and career for which Cirque du Soleil is famous.
A former artist and choreographer in “The Beatles Love” at the Mirage, he is once more the director of the annual “One Night for One Drop” fundraising show, which this year is set for the Love Theater. The show is 7:30 p.m. Friday (for information about the show and the foundation, go to OneDrop.org/onenight).
Simply, “One Night for One Drop” is a production that draws performers and directors from all eight Cirque shows in Las Vegas in an effort to raise funds and awareness for One Drop, Cirque’s philanthropic organization that focuses on water access and conservation around the world. One Drop’s global initiatives are centered on improving water distribution and use in impoverished regions, and the show reflects such deeply held traditions as “Walk for Water” in developing nations.
The foundation, a pet project of Cirque founder Guy Laliberte, also has developed an educational program in Southern Nevada (which for years has been gripped by drought) through a partnership with Springs Preserve.
“One Night” debuted in 2013 at O Theater in Bellagio and was staged last year at Michael Jackson One Theater in Mandalay Bay.
In Mukhtar’s universe of duality, this is the second year he has helmed “One Night.” His background makes him a natural to front a show with such an international scope.
Mukhtar is from Somalia, and his family moved from there to London when he was a child. He studied forensic science at the University of Westminster, where he developed an interest in hip-hop dance. He forged a passion for the art form and eventually assembled his own urban-flavored dance team. Mukhtar thus was scouted by a Cirque official and hired as a member of the original cast of “Love.”
He was a member of the 2013 “One Night” creative team, where he displayed his remarkable creative vision and work ethic. In the months after “One Night” played O Theater, Mukhtar was asked to take charge of the second show in 2014. That show was so well received, he was the obvious choice to return for this year.
As director, Mukhtar is performing multiple tasks. He recruited the talent, envisioned the production’s various scenes and story arc (which addresses water concerns in myriad cultures), and just last week learned of a superstar of contemporary music who would be added to this year’s production.
“We’ve got John Legend coming in, which adds a whole dimension to the show,” Mukhtar said during a chat at the family’s Las Vegas home. “We are now looking at where he will appear in the show so it makes sense.”
Legend is to sing his hit “All of Me” and also “Dreams.” As Mukhtar talks of incorporating the star performer in “One Night,” he is balancing Leelah, as she stands, ever so steadily, on his right hand.
“She is getting good!” he says, laughing, “but Nahla is actually the more athletic of the two. I think Leelah is more artistic, but we’ll see.
The family’s great balancing act has been refined over the months. In the first weeks, Sylvia and Mukhtar handled both little girls collectively — working in tandem on such tasks as feeding, playing and bathing.
Then they were provided invaluable advice from friend and Cirque executive Jerry Nadal, who himself is a parent of twins (partner Gene Lubas and he have adopted twin boys, who are becoming quite the dapper, tuxedoed pair at events in town). Nadal suggested organizing one-on-one time for each parent, every night.
“Every night, we take one girl and are focused on that one,” Sylvia says. “The next night, we switch. We get equal time with them, individually, this way, and it has worked … and often now, we can leave them alone together and find them playing together and growing to know each other.”
Twins are commonplace in this family. Mukhtar has three sets of twins in his extended family.
Mukhtar’s training in choreography and direction does have a place in the home.
“Oh, I am always finding creative ways for them to be entertained,” he says as the girls crawl across a large puzzle set across the living room floor and the animated Disney show “Doc McStuffins” plays on the flat-screen TV. “We’re trying to change the environment all the time, and we’re getting to the point where they can play 40-50 minutes together. We lucked out that they like to play together so much.”
The couple is certainly a team, with Sylvia halting her career to care for the girls. She was formerly an administrative assistant at Andre Agassi Preparatory School and also worked as an executive assistant at the Mob Museum as it opened in downtown Las Vegas. Caring for the two girls during the day is itself, at the least, a full-time responsibility.
“The challenges are your patience is always being tested,” she says, chuckling. “But being organized is really important, and raising two little girls takes a lot of organization, and you need to set down a routine and schedule.”
The couple was introduced at an appropriate forum — the “Love” opening at Mirage in 2006. Mukhtar was performing as the Krishna character in the show. The connection initially was forged through the employee dining room at the Mirage, as Sylvia’s sister Melissa was dating the chef at the EDR, one Chris Franco.
Because Chris was so adept at prepping meals for Mukhtar (who is something of a picky eater), Mukhtar gave him a block of tickets to the show’s premiere. One of those tickets went to Sylvia, and that sparked a real “Love” connection, as it were, when they met and talked at the post-show party (which famously lasted until dawn the next day).
“My sister knew we would be perfect for each other,” says Sylvia, a Las Vegas native who is the adopted daughter of a single parent. Her sister is almost like a fraternal twin. “Melissa has been my best friend since I was 8 years old, and she set up Mukhtar and I.”
The couple were married in February 2012. The matchmaking worked, twice over, as Melissa and Chris also are married now.
After the stage of “One Night” is taken down, Mukhtar is focusing on the under-progress Cirque show in Dubai that is scheduled to open in 2016. That means more work, and additional travel, for the young family.
Will there be additions to the Mukhtar clan’s cast? Sylvia grins as she ponders that question.
“We’ll see. Right now we just want for them to cling to what they love and watch them grow and fulfill their lives,” she says. “It would be really nice if it were a boy, but we’re ready for whatever happens.”