Using very conservative mathematics, Queenslander Lisa Skinner has spent more than 75,000 hours in a unitard; in reality, it's probably more like over 250,000 hours. That's a lot of time in lycra.
Brisbane audiences are about to see the result of Lisa's dedication because this Albany Creek born, world class gymnast and Olympian is about to take over one of the key solo acts – the Aerial Hoop - in the critically acclaimed KOOZA, by Cirque du Soleil, opening in Brisbane on November 24. AMAZING imagery including transforming via makeup and in action, available on request, plus interviews….
'I have spent considerably more time in lycra than I had ever planned when I was young, but I have been lucky enough to have made a career out of what I love doing; out of what I started as a kid in Albany Creek when I was six years old and wanted to learn to do the splits and a handstand!" said Lisa.
Born in Brisbane Lisa began gymnastics at age 6 at Lawnton Academy; she went to Albany Creek Primary School and later she traversed the city each day, from the northside to the south to attend senior school – at Holland Park, because it was close to Chandler sports complex where she trained.
For almost ten years Lisa reigned supreme in Australian gymnastics. From her international debut at the 1995 World Championships in Sabae, Japan where she placed 12th with the Australian team, through to 2004 she competed at four World Championships and three Olympic Games (1996 Atlanta; 2000 Sydney and 2004 Athens). She held the Australian National Champion title in 1996 and 1997; earned two gold medals at the 1998 Commonwealth Games and was the highest-ranked Australian WAG athlete at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. She was the country's most celebrated elite gymnast.
And while she may have shone at three Olympic Games, numerous world championships and won standing ovations for her role in another Cirque du Soleil production in Quidam, this upcoming season of Kooza in Brisbane will be the very first time Lisa Skinner has performed in front of her hometown crowd. She's excited, and yes, just a touch nervous.
However, in a twist not unlike some of the breathtaking moves she performs under the Big Top in Kooza, her time in the Cirque du Soleil spotlight almost didn't happen.
In 1997 when Cirque du Soleil scouts first approached Lisa she turned them down because, she had never seen a Cirque du Soleil show and, 'thought joining a circus meant caravans and elephants, and I didn't want that, I wanted to continue my career as an elite gymnast, to see how far I could go."
At the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000, Lisa made history as the first Australian gymnast ever to qualify for an individual event final at an Olympics, and scouts again approached her to consider Cirque du Soleil as a career. Again, she declined…. she still hadn't ever seen a Cirque du Soleil show!
After Sydney Lisa took stock, and a break from elite level competing. She came home to Mum and Dad and her two sisters and brother (all of whom are taller than her) in Brisbane and studied Human Movements at UQ. However, she wasn't finished. 'There was most definitely a voice in my head, I felt I still had more to do, I still wanted to compete, to see how far I could push it."
And so, after two years off, she launched herself back into training and stunned the gymnastics world by learning new skills, and matching debut athletes with her fitness and dedication. She returned to competition in 2003, and represented Australia at the 2003 World Artistic Gymnastics Championships, the 2004 Pacific Alliance Championships, and the 2004 Summer Olympics. At her third Olympics, she was an uneven bars and balance beam specialist.
It was at the 2004 Athens Olympics that Lisa's destiny turned.
'By this time I had seen a few Cirque du Soleil shows and had been astounded at every one of them, at the level of excellence, at the generosity of artistic direction, and at the world class standard of acrobatics, costuming and performance involved in each. There were no elephants, just incredible human beings doing extraordinary things!"
She saw the Cirque du Soleil scouts at Athens and this time, she approached them.
She was invited to Cirque du Solei's General Formation of 2005 - the company's talent pool sourced from all over the world. But before she could join, she needed not one but two shoulder reconstructions to mend damage caused by years of pushing her body to extremes.
'My shoulders were basically held together with tape; and I knew I couldn't start the new career I really wanted with Cirque du Soleil, without having the operations and focusing on rehabilitation."
She returned home to Brisbane for the operations and recuperated at the family home, still her most loved destination to visit in the world! All up, this took almost a year.
After initial training in Montreal, she was offered a position on Alegrìa in the Power Track Team and later became the dance captain for the cast. Always looking to improve her skills, Lisa challenged her Artistic Director to find her a position on Quidam in one of the shows' powerful aerial numbers.
In 2010, Lisa joined the Aerial Hoops act on Quidam and toured all over the world with the show.
She was in the USA and on a break from Quidam when the call came through a few months ago from Cirque du Soleil – they needed her for Kooza, the Aerial Hoops performer had to leave the show for family reasons for a few months.
'Which city?" she asked.
'Brisbane," came the reply.
And 'yes" was hers.
In Kooza Lisa performs the Aerial Hoops act solo. 'This is my first time in a solo act with Cirque du Soleil, and yes, it's daunting – there is no-one to share the load, no-one to shift focus, the full weight of the audience lies with me – and I guess that's why they called me, this is what I do, I've done it since I was six," she said.
And so, on November 24 when Kooza opens in Brisbane, many in the audience will be people Lisa grew up with, her friends and even those she used to train with, old coaches and car pool drivers. Some will know her as one of the country's greatest gymnasts. Others may recognize her from medal ceremonies. And there will be fans who applaud her after simply reading her story.
Her family will sit proudly knowing her as the girl who spent far too much time in a unitard.
And thank goodness she did.