Warm Skin – Robbie Curtis

Michael W. Shafran
23rd Jul 2018

There’s something about Sydney winter. The temperature doesn’t veer past autumn, really, but damn, there’s something downright torturous happening indoors. It occurs like water droplets, pinging each of us with tiny but unrelenting pricks of aggravating cold. It builds until it reaches excruciating effect, penetrates the epicentre of one’s bones, and makes us want to flee to Bali.

Warm Skin, then, sounds like a good way to ride out the small freeze. The name might evoke a Fifty Shades prequel or a Pornhub teaser, but Cirque de Soleil and Legs on the Wall veteran Robbie Curtis has something more creative in mind: a male-female performance that intertwines circus acrobatics and physical dance to bring a little sensual intensity to Bondi Beach’s ‘Bondi Feast’ winter fringe festival. Think sweaty athleticism, sexual chemistry and emotional friction. It’s a recipe to bring some warmth to the room, delaying any fantasies of a flight north for another day.

So let’s start with the name. It’s maybe not XXX-rated, but it possibly sounds single X. What’s the go?

[Laughs]. It’s a little bit raunchy, but hopefully it won’t turn people away. I promise, there’s a lot of circus in it.

Writer Joe Brown and I wanted to push ourselves thematically and explore intimacy. The show is about desire: loving someone and loving the love, rather than loving the person. Amanda [Moore] and I are the two characters. We do this one act called canes – she’s doing a handstand and hand-balancing on these canes. And then I join her on the canes. They are these small platforms and we have to negotiate these small intimate spaces. We’ve layered on sensual stuff about intimacy and trying to negotiate your way through someone else’s space.

Was there any personal inspiration for Warm Skin?

It’s one of those themes that’s quite universal: how someone can love someone else. That person can love them, love the love, or feel dependent on them. We’ve all felt desire. We’ve always wanted something. It’s that universal idea of want that can make you crazy sometimes. Some of the best plays and movies have been made about that. People have killed themselves over that. And I think that’s interesting territory.

How and why does one become a circus artist?

I was quite sporty in soccer. I just had no choice in it. I loved moving and I loved being physically creative. As soon as I discovered dancing and juggling, I haven’t stopped.

Most recently, I worked with Cirque de Soleil on their show, Volta, in Montreal. I toured it for 8 months. They put you through this quite physical process, and creatively you’re very involved in creating the show. I was involved in two acts: hoop diving and adagio [hand-to-hand, where one acrobat does handstands and inversions balanced on the hands of another performer].

The show is described as tangling together our deepest desires and greatest fears. How does that translate?

It’s about failure and rejection. I think fundamentally it’s that feeling that if we fall out of love or realise that we don’t want to be with someone – I find it happens to everyone. That feeling of being heartbroken… it’s so profound. But when it happens to someone else, you’re like, just get over it. I find it really interesting how we navigate that. It’s so fundamental to our lives. We’re so fascinated by our friends’ and our own love life. And when we’re in love, that intoxication, and how you can be focused on just that. And if that’s not reciprocated, how heartbreaking and maddening that is.

So what is your own greatest fear?

One of my fears is heights. I did this gig with Legs on the Wall where I did a highwire act. It was interesting, confronting that fear – it was awesome. In the arts, you’re faced with a lot of failure and injuries. I had a teacher who said, if you have a foot in the past and in the future, you’re pissing on the present. That really resonated with me. You just have to be there. Fear is a funny thing. Having a healthy relationship with fear is a good thing.

What does the accompanying music by Yonderkid add to the Warm Skin experience?

I’m really excited about this collaboration. They bring a lot of energy and excitement to the stage. It’s hard music to explain. It’s electronic funk, but it’s also really atmospheric. All four musicians come from technical jazz backgrounds; they have this aesthetic that’s all about tension, and sometimes it’s quite dark. Sam Shepherd is Yonderkid, and he does a lot of electronic music, but this is live, so it adds another element of excitement. It’s going to be unreal.

When did you decide to go out on your own?

This is my first show. For the last 10 years I’ve been performing as an acrobat and dancer. It’s really exciting to flex this muscle as a creative. It’s a bit of an experiment to see how it goes [laughs].

Warm Skin will premiere at the Bondi Feast festival between 7-8pm from July 26-28. For more details, visit www.bondifeast.com.au/event/warm-skin/