Bowen Mountain contortionist sisters have a natural talent for the sport

FLEXIBILITY is in the genes for three Bowen Mountain sisters who won awards in contortion at the Australian Circus Festival.

Olivia (14), Grace (10) and Ashleigh (8) Barker had been training as contortionists for less than a year when they auditioned and were accepted to compete in the Festival, which took place at the Blacktown Showground in November.

Olivia, a student at Colo High School, competed in the teenage community division and obtained a bronze medal in her first ever professional competition, while Grose View Public School pupils Grace and Ashleigh performed a duo act in the junior community division and received an award for the most outstanding performance.  

The girls’ mum, Michelle Barker, said her daughters’ flexibility was a hereditary trait passed down from her grandmother (the girls’ great-grandmother), who had also been a contortionist.

“She used to do performances in Newcastle at the Civic Theatre. There were a lot of circuses that wanted her to join them but she came from a poor family and she was unable to pursue it,” Ms Barker told the Gazette.

“I think it helps to have a natural flexibility. I don’t think you could be a contortionist without that natural flexibility.

“The girls have practiced Physical Culture since they were young, and they’ve always been extremely flexible.”

Olivia’s goal is to reach Cirque du Soleil, so last year when Olivia was 13 her mum decided to take the three girls to a class at Performance Art Western Sydney in Penrith.

“We turned up out of the blue and the teachers were surprised by how flexible they were. They started working with the top contortionist coach, Jasmine Straga, who teaches the top three contortionists in the world,” Ms Barker said.

Olivia has picked-up some professional contortionist work since she began training, including a role in a circus adaptation of Pinocchio with Sydney University, a show for Foxtel, and a New Years Eve show for ABC.

“She does a lot of contortion in different settings - she does it in a bubble, and she did a gig opening a shopping centre in an enclosed ball,” said Ms Barker.

Ashleigh is currently perfecting a carpet juggling routine, consisting of her spinning carpets on her feet and hands.

“It’s really unusual. It’s a traditional form of circus, and it’s something not many people do, so she should be able to pick up some work doing it,” said Ms Barker.