Interview Caroline D’Arcy Gorman
Text Hadley Stack
Photo Ieva Blaževiciute

After watching a contortionist perform when she was eight years old, Leilani Franco turned to her parents and said, “Yeah, I can do that.” And she could. The Berlin based artist now dances with the Birdmilk Collective, having performed at venues including the nightclub Kater Blau.

Although contortion is not a traditional profession, Leilani’s interest in dance and performance stems from a classical background. She grew up studying ballet but soon found the lifestyle to be unhealthy. At nineteen, she quit and joined the circus, empowered by its radically different ethos—“the circus is super freeing; there are people of all body types. But it took many years to get over the perception of myself as an anti-ballet dancer. It took a lot.” The sense of
freedom led Leilani to Berlin. “Berlin is probably one of the last cities in Europe—or even the Western World—where there’s a sense of freedom. I feel free to do whatever I want, whenever I want; and the same goes for performing. Birdmilk Collective is into integrating trippy technology with our performance, which is unusual in cities with more traditional theatre.”

Leilani’s approach to performance, however, is anything but traditional: think “feminist cabaret show with cyborgs, horses, midget ponies, women who hang in the air with lasers coming from their butts, a contortionist robot, and amazing singers.” While contortion is liberating in nature, there is an aspect of the performance art, Leilani is quick to point out, that is perceived to be sexual. This side of contortion is, at times, frustrating. “Everyone’s first thought when they are watching the show is, ‘Oh I bet she’s good in bed.’ I’ve managed to focus my career on being anti-sexual. I make my characters super real and theatrical, and then, people don’t see the sex anymore, they see something else.”

With the circus lifestyle, the party never quite stops and Leilani is constantly in motion. “I have been moving around my whole life because of my father’s work, and it didn’t really stop once I joined the circus. A couple years ago I finally accepted the fact that this is my life—letting go and meeting new people. There will always be someone new to help you on your own personal journey. I always try to find a relationship or romance wherever I go.” And what keeps Leilani going? She laughed, “This dream that maybe I’ll find true love!”