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Cirque du Soleil acrobat Lisa Skinner relives AIS days

Quidam
Quidam, featuring former AIS gymnast Lisa Skinner, runs at the AIS Arena until December 20.

11 Dec 2015


The emotional tumbles and turns of a “blood, sweat and tears” gymnastics career were raw as Lisa Skinner returned to the AIS for the first time in more than 10 years.

The three-time Olympian, dual Commonwealth Games gold medallist and former AIS gymnast was visibly emotional as she returned to the gymnastics hall she once called home.

Skinner ran into former colleagues and recalled a career that saw her become one of Australia’s greatest gymnasts.

The 34-year-old Queenslander – the first Aussie to qualify for an individual final at the Olympics and winner of two medals at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games – returns to Canberra to perform in the Cirque du Soleil production of Quidam that runs at the AIS Arena until December 20.

We caught up with the now acrobat during rehearsals for the show that features 250 costumes, and 46 acrobats, musicians, singers and actors.

Q: How long has it been since you’ve been at the AIS?

“When I was 14 and 15 years old I lived here – that was in ’95 and ’96 – and then moved back to Brisbane. But I always came back here for training camps each year before major competitions. I think the last time I was here was in 2004 and I haven’t seen Canberra or the gym or anything in a long time. It looks a bit different."

Q: What’s been your journey since then?

“I joined Cirque. I thought I’ll give it a go for a few years and see how it pans out and nine years later I’m still here in Cirque du Soleil. It’s my second show with them. We did trampoline ... and now I’ve been doing aerial hoop for about five years."

Q: What are some of your memories of the AIS?

“Some of my best memories at the AIS (are) probably down in junior residences with the other girls ... we used to get up to all sorts of mischief trying to run away from the house parents and all that jazz. It was good and challenging at the same time, especially when you are away from your family for so long, and you have chaperones and you have study hall. It’s just another world of what you’re used to."

Q: How different is performing with Cirque du Soleil?

“I love it. I don’t really feel like I work with my job. I go to work and play and I get to do all sorts of fun stuff. Sometimes you’re tired or you’re having a bad day or something, but as soon as you get on stage it kind of all goes out the window. It’s a fantastic job."

Q: What skills do you think you gained at the AIS for life after sport?

“Gymnastics is the perfect background if you want to get into Cirque du Soleil, firstly because of the acrobatics and because of the discipline to learn your trade and do the skills perfectly and consistently. You’re performing every single night practically and you want to do the same thing every single night. If it was all over the shop it would be a big problem especially with an aerial number."

Q: What’s the feeling like being back at the AIS?

“Apprehensive. I spent a lot of time here. A lot of gruelling work. Good times and bad and everything in between: blood, sweat and tears. So it becomes a more intense part of your life especially when you are young. So a lot of memories are flooding back."

Q: What were some of your career highlights?

“As soon as you finish competing … if you’ve done well you can’t top that feeling. It’s a natural high. It’s just you’re proud of yourself I suppose and you hope you can do it again the next time but that beam is just 10cm wide and sometimes you’re just not straight. [The 1998 Kuala Lumpur Commonwealth Games] was was a highlight, two golds there. Definitely. Actually while I was there I got to have lunch with Queen Lizzie. That was pretty cool."

Q: How was it competing at the Olympics?

“I managed to get to compete in three Olympics in Atlanta, Sydney and in Athens. I was 15 in Atlanta but I think that was the favourite of them all because there was no pressure really. I was young and not really expected to medal or anything. You don’t really realise the gravity of something like that when you are that age. You know you are doing something really massive and cool, but it doesn’t really hit you until a bit later. But I remember just trying to take in as much as I could when I was there. I actually got to the all-round finals which I never expected … I thought “what am I doing here?” I had only been doing elite gymnastics for about three years at that time. Sydney was awesome but a lot of pressure and quite nerve-wracking. It was fun once you finished the competition but until that point it’s all a lot of work and trying to keep the butterflies in check. And Athens, fun. They’re all so different from each other."

Q: How much fun is it perform with Cirque?

It’s amazing. You go backstage and have a good time, play on all of the stuff and interact with people from 26 countries. So it’s always fun to interact."

Q: What can the audience expect with Quidam?

“It’s actually my favourite show. I’ve seen a bunch of them now and – not just because I’m in the show – it was my favourite a long time ago. The last number, for example, is widely considered one of the best in the entirety of Cirque and I absolutely agree with that and I think this show has so much strength. It’s a bit of a darker show. I think it’s the perfect blend of acrobatics and theatre actually."

Q: There are plenty of 'oh my gosh' moments in the show and plenty of danger, how do you cope with that side of the show?

“We have a lot of aerial number so that’s inherently in an aerial number you’ll have a little bit more of the risk factor because I’m without safety for about seven or eight years several times in my act so my hands are my own safety. So you just have to trust yourself and do your job properly."

Q: How much training do you do for each show?

“Training wise, to be honest, you don’t have to do too much. You do the same thing every night. It becomes routine so you get used to it. Your body gets used to everything and you find things easy. It also depends on your act. I just have to lift myself. Some of the other acts people have to catch and throw other people so they do a little bit more strength to keep their bodies in check so their muscles can cope with the workload.”

Q: What are your plans after Cirque?

“The show is closing soon. It’s closing February 26 next year in Christchurch, New Zealand, and so everybody’s thinking what to do next: Do I apply for another Cirque job or something outside of that. I’m not sure yet but I’ll figure it out. I don’t know. But I will be moving to Los Angeles. I’m engaged to a fellow there and a whole new country as well as a whole new job for me."

Q: Did your meet your partner through Cirque?

“He was the head of lighting on this show. He left recently. A year or so ago and set himself up with a place in Los Angeles. So I see him when I can at the moment. That’s one thing about Cirque when you travel you wish you could get more often. Sometimes you just miss out on Christmases and birthdays, weddings and stuff. That’s probably only one of the downsides as well as living out of two suitcases."

For more about the show and to get tickets, visit www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam

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