Queenstown’s a long way from Siberia, but for Mila Turnbull it’s a journey she’s happily taken. As she prepares to dazzle audiences in Arrowtown this weekend, she talks to PHILIP CHANDLER about her 14-year stint with the Moscow Circus and explains why she’s ended up on the other side of the world
Swinging on aerial hoops in Arrowtown this weekend will be a pint-sized mother-of-two who travelled for 14 years with the world’s biggest circus.
Former Moscow Circus aerialist Mila Turnbull, who’s lived in Queenstown for 12-and-a-half years after moving from Russia, will be strutting her stuff in Whirlwind Productions’ La Nuit d’Extraordinaire! — A Very Celestial Night.
Meanwhile, also starting today, her 9-year-old, Eva, will be running on to Dunedin Stadium’s field as a player escort for the first of three games there during the Fifa Women’s World Cup.
Now 41, Turnbull’s proud she’s been performing continuously for 31 years.
Raised in Siberia, she joined the Siberian Circus school, aged 10, along with her identical twin sister, Alexandra.
Whether it was acrobatics on the floor, trapeze, silks or contortions, she took to it naturally.
She says her parents didn’t want their daughters to go to circus school — ‘‘my mum wanted us to be a doctor or something different’’.
When they were 15, however, their parents moved to Moscow so they could join the world-famous Moscow Circus.
Turnbull recalls juggling, as it were, circus school and high school between 8am and 8pm.
A big break came when, for two years, she performed aerial gymnastics alongside celebrity contestants for a Russian TV show similar to Dancing With the Stars.
‘‘I had so many fans and presents and flowers,’’ she says.
With the circus she travelled widely — Canada and Italy were her favourite countries.
Sometimes there’d be five shows a day and Turnbull would perform three acts in each of them.
She says her favourite routine was double aerial hoops with her sister, who currently runs three circus schools in Moscow.
From Russia with love: Mila Turnbull
Mila’s life took a turn when a friend who had a Kiwi husband asked her if she had a boyfriend.
On replying ‘‘no’’, her friend put her on to a Kiwi friend of her hubby’s, Dwayne Turnbull, whom she initially communicated with via Facebook.
Dwayne was then teaching English in Korea, so they arranged to meet roughly in the middle, in Beijing, China.
They ended up moving to Queenstown and marrying in 2011.
Despite knowing very little English — ‘‘I knew, like, ‘my name is Mila, I am 28’, that’s it’’ — she wasn’t afraid to move to a very different country from Russia.
‘‘I’m not scared of anything.’’
She quickly grew to like her adopted country more than her own.
‘‘Everyone’s very friendly, whereas Russia’s so miserable — if you ask someone, ‘hi, how are you?’, you might get killed by someone.’’
Also, in 2011, she gave birth to Max, followed two years later by Eva.
Between times she joined Flame Entertainment as an aerialist, performing for corporate gigs, in particular.
A ‘Mila’ specialty has been performing as an aerial waitress, pouring drinks for guests while hanging from a hoop.
Frequently, after hanging around, as it were, she’ll later perform another act or two.
‘‘I like performing things which other people cannot do.’’
Often, Mila will be several metres off the ground — ‘‘sometimes I feel dizzy, it’s like, ‘oh my God’.’’
She considers herself lucky she’s never had a bad fall — ‘‘but so many have been falling down in front of me, so scary’’.
Until last September, Mila worked as a ground supervisor for Qantas for eight years at Queenstown Airport.
She’s now setting up her own business, Trust My Home, looking after people and their homes and pets.
Meantime, she’s looking forward to delighting audiences this weekend in three shows of Margaret O’Hanlon and Charlotte Graf’s production of La Nuit d’Extraordinaire!
For something different, she’ll perform her routines with another adult gymnast, Andra Whipple.
La Nuit d’Extraordinaire! — A Very Celestial Night, Arrowtown Atheaneum Hall, tonight till Sunday night, tickets via Eventbrite