By Hannah Stevens @hannahshewans
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Videographer / director: Per Christian Lind
Producer: Hannah Stevens
Editor: Beth Angus / James Thorne
Lila Woodard, 12, joined Le PeTiT CiRqUe at nine and, according to her coach, is a “child prodigy”.
Nicknamed Elastic Lila, the 4’7” spitfire has performed all over America and even performed at the Noble Peace Prize concert in Oslo, Norway last year.
Nimble Lila now trains up to 30 hours a week in gymnastics, contortion, aerial arts foot archery and ballet.
Lila told Barcroft TV: “I think I will never stop doing contortion because it’s something that you can do basically your whole life. I just feel amazing whenever I am on stage because I get to make people happy with what I can do.”
Director of Le PeTiT CiTqUe, Nathalie Gaulthier started the circus as a passion project after leaving her high-flying career as a Hollywood agent.
Nathalie said: “Le PeTiT CiRqUe is basically like a junior version of Cirque du Soleil with child prodigies. Some are circus but we’ve got singers, we’ve got ten-year-old drummers.
“We’ve got 19-times champion martial artists. We’ve got musicians, dancers and we put on live productions that inspire and give people a little bit of hope.
“Most importantly we are the most well-known group of circus kids that has raised over $5 million in about 54 months for charities internationally. So, we are the world’s first humanitarian circus.”
From the first time she met Lila, Nathalie knew she had found a star in the making.
Gaulthier added: “I would consider Lila a child prodigy. She has surpassed brilliance. She’s like working with an adult but in this teeny, tiny little body and it's just delightful.
“Lila came in as a teeny little freckle face spit-fire with a very serious demeanour, a very serious face and usually when I see that little serious face I know I’ve got a winner.
“Then I saw her do her first show with us a few years ago and she just lit up. It's a flame you either have or you don’t have. She had this little presence and I started making her lead on a lot of our shows because the audience related to her, reacted to her, they felt for her.
“There’s a vulnerability that’s beautiful on that stage that’s so powerful. So you know I’m not supposed to have any favourites and I’ll leave it at that.”
At Le PeTit Cirque, the performers have to be in tip top shape so the performers have to train on strength and flexibility for at least two hours each day before they even get the chance to go on their chosen equipment.
Lila’s repertoire of skills include contortion, aerial acts, gymnastics, ballet and even shooting bullseyes with her feet.
She said: “The hardest act that I perform regularly is shooting a bow and arrow with my feet because it’s pretty much a yes or no, you hit it or you don’t and usually the audience can tell if you make a mistake.
“That is why it’s pretty difficult because you have to hold the bow with your two toes, pull back with your other foot and all the while balancing on your hands, so it’s pretty tricky.”
Gaulthier says Lila is one of the best foot archers in the world, but acquiring and honing her skills takes practice and sacrifice.
She said: “I think the toughest part of their training is having to give up parts of stuff that’s fun being a kid, so many times they can't go to birthday parties.
“Many times they can't go to bah mitzvah’s or events because they have to be here training. The one regulation we have is school and family comes first.”
Twice a week, Lila’s parents, Lindsay and Bill Woodard, drive a four-hour round trip from Santa Barbara, CA to training in Inglewood, California.
Bill said: “She does a lot of her homework while traveling. She sleeps a lot in the car too but when she’s home she’s just a normal kid.
“She’s got a tremendous work ethic - for any 12-year-old that is sort of rare but she is driving the bus here. She loves it and she wants to be on stage and even though it makes her nervous to do it, she has learnt a whole lot about herself by doing it.”
Every week Lila trains with a Mongolian contortion coach through Skype to master her act.
Lila’s mum Lindsay said: “Lila trains contortion with a Mongolian contortion coach and Mongolians are revered as the best contortionists in the world and their training methods are really safe."
Lila’s training has clearly paid off.
She said: “It’s just so much fun once you get to perform on stage and just light up the whole world.
“The best thing being about super flexible is definitely being able to show off your tricks. I try not to show off too much but sometimes I will be walking down aisles on my hands in the grocery store or something and I just love being able to incorporate it into my everyday life, it’s really special.”