As Miss A in A Bubble, Lucia Carbines is currently living the dream (should your dream involve running away with the circus to be suspended inside a giant perspex globe performing contortions in a tent full of gawking strangers – which, if it doesn’t, it should). Having been granted a preview performance of Lucia’s act, I was lucky enough to sit down with the Australian aerialist to discuss the realities of contortion, what can happen when tricks go wrong, and what it is about the circus that still hooks audiences after so many years.

Don’t get me wrong: the strength of Empire is in the dizzying audacity and abilities of its performers. But it’s also a hell of a sexy show, replete with lingerie-clad girls in gorilla masks, muscle-clad foot jugglers, exhibitionist hosts, and the graceful Lucia herself, manipulating her limbs into the most unlikely of positions while hanging precariously above centre stage in a great perspex globe. The effect is somehow terrifying and titillating all at once.

 

“You definitely have to seduce your audience,” Lucia agrees, “and if someone is being sexy on stage, drawing you in, then the audience feels they’re a part of it too. I think that’s definitely why a lot of the show takes that sexy approach, because it makes people feel like they’re more involved in what’s happening on stage. If you have a night where you can tell are really enjoying the show… It’s almost like an invisible fuel. It makes the whole thing feel really special.”

 

In any live performance I am always struck by the inherent voyeurism of the audience. In such a small circular venue, with every movement of the performers being so closely scrutinised, Empire takes this even further, and I wonder if the proximity of the audience ever becomes unnerving.

 

“Performing in a place like the Spiegeltent, where people can see everything I do, they can hear me, and I can see them…” Lucia smiles slightly. “At first it was so distracting. Doing a trick and seeing someone’s face so close, if they were totally freaked out by what my body was doing. There are times I’ll look out and I’ll see these faces going, ‘Ewww!’ with the most shocked expressions. So for the first couple of weeks I would just stand backstage saying to myself over and over, ‘Don’t think about the people, just focus on the act’, and really get myself into a certain state where I could go on stage and not be affected by what I’d see in the audience. Now, though, I love having people so close, because you can interact with them, you can smile at one particular person and make them feel special. On a big stage, that’s just not possible.”

 

Unlike the majority of contortionists who have to train long and hard to reach the kind of flexibility we see in Empire, Lucia’s spine is naturally – and remarkably – mobile. As a result, although there is still a huge amount of training and exercise that goes into the act, her movements seem very fluid and graceful; such is her talent that even the most unlikely contortion seems as natural as stretching. Like any aerial act, though, there is always an implicit danger to the performance.

 

“One performance, I’d moisturised my hands, put tuff-skin on, and then, I got hot. As my skin started sweating, the moisturiser underneath the tuff-skin was suddenly a real problem. Not only did I have sweaty hands, but moisturised sweaty hands. There’s a trick when I hold onto the bottom of the ball and I’m hanging by my hands, and I put my leg through the gap, and all of my weight is on my fingertips. As my fingertips started slipping,  I could see myself falling face first onto the floor. I tried to pull myself back into the ball when one hand actually slid off and I suddenly swung around sideways, trying to find a better grip and pull myself back inside. My heart was booming, I was sure I’d fall. But,” she laughs, “you just try to make it look like part of the act.”

Empire is on at Entertainment Quarter until Sunday March 2.

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