Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam: The Australians on tour
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Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam: The Australians on tour

Running away to the circus might be the childhood cliche, but Cirque Du Soleil performer Lisa Skinner and assistant head of rigging Robert Wilson are two Australians who have travelled the world living the dream.

As a gymnast with three Olympic Games, four World Championships and two Commonwealth Games gold medals under her belt, Skinner was used to performing in front of big crowds before joining Cirque Du Soleil almost nine years ago.

But switching from the competitive to the creative side of gymnastics had one fundamental difference for the only Australian performer on the final tour of Cirque show Quidam.

"In competition you're trained to block out the crowd and just concentrate on what you're doing perfectly," she says.

Lisa Skinner with her fellow aerial hoop artists in Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam.

Lisa Skinner with her fellow aerial hoop artists in Cirque Du Soleil's Quidam.Credit:Matt Beard

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"Here [with Cirque] no matter what you're doing, whether you screw up or do it better or worse, you have to bring the audience in to what you're doing and express things in a theatrical sense.

"They don't care if you're perfect or not, they just want to see something cool."

And in Quidam "cool" is what she and the two other aerial hoop performers aim to deliver when they pivot, twirl and spin so fast hoops and performers become indistinguishable silver-and-red blurs high above the stage – although she insists they could spin faster if it weren't for the weight of the metal apparatuses.

It's Wilson's responsibility, with his two fellow riggers, to keep people and objects suspended safely.

Lisa Skinner performs her routine on the uneven bars at the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Lisa Skinner performs her routine on the uneven bars at the Athens Olympics in 2004.Credit:Vince Caligiuri

He started as a casual crew member on Cirque's previous Australian tours in his home town of Brisbane, after leaving the printing industry, before he started touring as "part of the family" in 2007.

"I did it for a few weeks then I looked up to the roof and there were guys climbing around and hanging stuff and I thought, 'That looks like fun, how do I get to do that'?", he said.

Lisa Skinner trains at the AIS in Canberra in July 2004, in preparation for the Athens Olympics.

Lisa Skinner trains at the AIS in Canberra in July 2004, in preparation for the Athens Olympics.Credit:Pat Scala

"In a job where people's lives are in your hands it takes a little while to get established, but after a while when you get a reputation it snowballs from there."

Before her time with Quidam, Skinner performed on the trampoline in Alegria; she is now also the back-up for one of Quidam's principal characters, Target, putting her hip-hop and breakdance background to use.

Australian rigger Robert Wilson working at the Impact Arena in Bangkok during the Quidam tour in August.

Australian rigger Robert Wilson working at the Impact Arena in Bangkok during the Quidam tour in August.Credit:Clare Colley.

When she tours with Cirque's Quidam from December, it will be her first time performing on Australian soil and she admits it's a prospect she finds nerve-racking.

"Ordinarily, you can do it [perform] half asleep," she said with a laugh.

Australian aerial hoop performer Lisa Skinner.

Australian aerial hoop performer Lisa Skinner.Credit:Matt Beard

"You can be in front of thousands of people that you don't know and you'll be fine, but as soon as you know one person like your mum or dad is out there you get butterflies."

Although the Brisbane-born artist isn't playing to her home crowd, she expects to see a few familiar faces when she returns to Canberra's Australian Institute of Sport Arena after spending two of her teenage years training at the institute.

Lisa Skinner in character in Quidam.

Lisa Skinner in character in Quidam.

"I went to Canberra High and we had house parents and lots of other kids there to play with, even though you were mostly training," she says of her time in the capital.

"It was freezing in winter, I was like 'what is this white crunchy grass'?"

Although the Aussies credit Cirque with allowing them to see the world, both admit there is a downside to the touring lifestyle.

Skinner says living out of two suitcases gets old fast, and Wilson misses the home comforts and says it's the little things in life that make him happy, such as scoring accommodation with his own washing machine and kitchen.

"You get a bit of a tweak at times like Christmas, it would be nice to be with your family but it's not always practical, but the good definitely outweighs the bad," Wilson says.

Cirque du Soleil's Quidam tour begins in Canberra at the AIS Arena from December 10 to 20. Wollongong from December 23 to January 2 at the WIN Entertainment Centre. Hobart from January 6 to 10 at the Derwent Entertainment Centre. Newcastle from January 15 to 24 at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre. To buy tickets or for more information visit: cirquedusoleil.com/quidam

Clare Colley is Head of Audience Engagement at The Australian Financial Review.