Interview with the ContortionistRayn Hadley is a talented acrobat and contortionist from Essex, England, currently touring with Orr's Great Eccentric Circus. Famous for staying alive and well in the tightest situations that could possibly happen to a young and promising contortionist on stage, Rayn keeps amazing medics, scientists, and most of all, the watching crowd, with his brave and artful demonstrations of the human body's abilities.
After his splendid performance, we followed him to his personal room, which had a huge mirror in it and overally looked just like a miniature ballet room. The only piece of furniture was a round sofa which he claimed to be enough for all his needs, including sleeping, although we could not figure out how he would have to coil himself up to take so little space. He willingly demonstrated and though neither of us could possibly repeat that posture, from the way it looked it seemed like the most comfortable way for a human being to sleep. He then took a more human-like position, despite our honest expectations that he would be giving the entire interview with his legs on the top of his head, or something similar.
We were offered a couple of chairs from the next room, though I decided to go as extreme as sitting right on the floor while my colleague Linda was rather busy with her photographic equipment anyway.
M.R.: Rayn, you have shown some certainly mind-blowing body-bending stunts that a rare, if any, contortionist would be able to reproduce. How does this kind of physical perfection actually feel, would you please tell us more about the hidden nature of contortionism, so to say?
Rayn: Of course. It's like doing such challenging stuff that a mere seven minutes on the stage tear all your joints inside out, wearing you out like you wouldn't believe, then only an hour of rest to smoke a cig or two and let the body somewhat reassemble before going back to the gym where a 300 pounds ex-wrestler is constantly day-dreaming to magically turn you into a walking bubblegum...
M.R.: Ah, that's crazy! Has he ever succeeded?
Rayn: (laughs) Not really, not with others. But with me he got pretty close, we've been training for over 15 years already...
M.R.: That's an amazingly long-term practice! Aren't you turning 20 this year?
Rayn: Yeah, been bending since I can remember.
M.R.: Your back would seemingly snap in half so many times during the performance, which is very... unusual by human standards, so to say. Every time it made me gasp but you seemed to stay so calm in such apparently painful positions, I mean, if I had to do that I'd probably scream in agony. How does it actually feel on your internals?
Rayn: (laughs) Well, I'm not a medic, so I wouldn't know what goes where exactly, but the skin indeed feels really tense, generally there's just a lot of tension in the chest and stomach but it's very exciting. The guts feel rather odd indeed, but just because you suddenly start to sense them, while normally you don't even know where they are.
M.R.: Would they adapt themselves to the position?
Rayn: I guess. But it's better to do that on an empty stomach.
M.R.: But still the spine worries me a lot, is it healthy to bend it like that? All I can imagine is the vertebrae getting pulled apart as you fold your back like that. You're probably going to deal with some major back problems as you get older?
Rayn: My mother and my grandmother could do just the same, if I ever overheard any complaints about the poor state of their backs, I'd think twice about my further training. But just like singing or dancing, you have to follow the traditional methods... Contortionism has been practiced for thousands of years, there are tons of tricks to make it safe for a human being. But really, bending is just a form of art, like singing or dancing...
M.R.: Have you always been good at bending?
Rayn: I was good from the beginning (laughs). When I noticed it, I was better than most people.
M.R.: Have you enjoyed it since you were a kid?
Rayn: I'm from a circus family, so my earliest memory is my mother teasing me with various poses, she was as good as I am right now but I was really clumsy back then. Some poses I could repeat out of my own clumsiness, but some complex poses I could never repeat, such as handstands.
M.R.: You've shown us some incredible handstanding today!
Rayn: That's all thanks to my mother, she's taught me many things about balance.
M.R.: She must have been an amazing performer, and that just reminded me of one personal question I kept wanting to ask during the entire performance -- your outfit, style, your manners, the overall look, everything makes you really effeminate...
Rayn: Like I always feared, I was expected to be born a girl (laughs). For a long time I pretended to be one, on stage, until I grew up and it was too obvious it's a masquerade. Then we experimented a bit with appearances, but it happened that I was too used to the effeminate look already, all the other designs weren't just as dramatic. It's become more special when people could easily tell the real gender but still couldn't believe it.
M.R.: Were you asked about your sexuality before?
Rayn: (in a whisper) Lesbian.
M.R.: (blushes) That's unexpected. There are guys, you know, often dressing like girls to attract other men, aren't there?
Rayn: There are many cultures in the world, but I don't think I could ever date a guy, let alone sleep with one. Everything I like originates from the world of women for the most part, not just my dresses but the emotions as well, the aesthetics, all the things I tend to like...
M.R.: This is quite a rare compliment to hear. Sooo... what kind of seed are you smoking right now?
Rayn: Just some nicotine.
M.R.: It's always like that?
Rayn: Yeah. Once tried some weed before training, was exactly the day when our sensei, I mean Mr. Welby, managed to turn me into a real walking bubblegum (laughs). No, actually the day after it wasn't funny at all... I had to take a three days break from training.
M.R.: Man, that's awful. But don't you know a drop of nicotine can kill a horse?
Rayn: Yeah. I've seen some numbers in The Times recently, approximately 1,200 horses die of smoking every year.
M.R.: (laughs) So do you have any tobacco?
Rayn: No (laughs).
M.R.: Well, unfortunately we're running out of time here, I would like to have asked you more things, but I'll leave that for another time. What do you want to say to all the readers, perhaps a message or your personal slogan? Something?
Rayn: I guess it's every contortionist's slogan -- no matter how tight the situation, always keep your chin up.
Interview by M. Rowen, photography by L. York.