COVER STORY - Natasha Bends
Jejune’s current cover story is contortionist Natasha Phoenix King. From childhood, she crafted a talent that has secured her platform for her expression of art, which she showcases at different venues throughout the city of New York. She creates movement and poses through her gifted flexibility and hard work. Jejune is constantly impressed by Natasha's consistent demonstrations of what the body can do. Just think, if a human body can learn to bend like that, what can our brains achieve?
Not only did we get to work with Natasha, but her husband, Roy Davis, wanted to be involved. They are perfectly harmonious together, and coverage of both just added to the magic.
I had the pleasure of styling Natasha for this photo shoot. We are grateful to Mike Ruiz, who, with his creative team, captured this story beautifully. Below is an exclusive interview with Natasha and how she became a contortionist. She thinks of herself as a performance artist, and she loves the freedom it entails. She wouldn’t have it any other way!
Foreword by Alison Hernon, Fashion Director, Jejune Magazine
Name: Natasha Phoenix King
Where did you grow up?
I spent the earliest years of my life in Madrid, Spain, thoroughly believing I was a princess and playing amongst castles. My family moved back to the States in time for me to begin school in a small Long Island town called Carle Place. I was always the weird one. My imagination too wild, stories too fantastical, and clothes too secondhand for the suburban norm.
Where are do you currently reside?
I currently reside in the east village, in a large studio overlooking a cemetery. Some may think it’s creepy, but when searching for a home, the greenery, the obelisk, and the stone angel won my heart.
4. Please tell us what is your chosen profession?
I am an artist, which has taken many forms over the course of my life. This has entailed from pouring molten bronze in creation of goddess deities to strumming the harp to bending over backwards for the amusement of the Manhattan elite.
5. How would you describe a Contortionist?
A contortionist is one who bends and distorts their body in seemingly unnatural ways. There is an athleticism and art to this movement. I strive to embrace both.
6. What led you to this path?
While studying bronze casting at an art school my curiosity was piqued by a circus skills class. On a whim I enrolled and the rest is history.
7. How did you learn this art form?
After graduating, I was accepted by a professional training program at the San Francisco Circus Center. I began as an aerialist, however, when the extent of my flexibility was discovered, I redirected my focus. Spinning on the Lyra was nauseating, rigging was not my forte, and contortion seemed like a happy alternative. As for the art of it, that I learned myself, through life, pain, and experience. Movement is an expression of self and beyond. That can not be taught.
8. Have you always been very flexible or has this been a long path?
I was always naturally flexible. My mom forced me into ballet early on. The rigidity of it drove me crazy, but gave me a structure and faculty for movement that I am now tremendously grateful for. It was the sturdy foundation that all my wild whims would be built upon.
9. Do you have a tip you would like to share to obtain flexibility?
My tip to obtain flexibility is, in a word, yoga. A daily practice will do anyone (young or old, stiff or limber) wonders. Yoga changed my life. It gave me my physical health back after my appendix burst. And, it gave me my mental health back after leaving an abusive relationship.
10. Because this art form involves a lot of flexibility it might be surprising to find someone so fit and built with muscle, why is this needed to complete the poses?
Strength is equally as important as flexibility. The ability of the back to hold a pose, to enter and exit a position with control, is all about strength. When there is only flexibility you have a wet, floppy noodle.
11. What is the hardest pose you have achieved?
I honestly don’t consider myself a traditional contortionist by any means. I don’t think in terms of tricks I want to achieve or the hardest trick I can do. That mindset is more about the unadulterated athleticism. I am a performance artist first. I think in terms of absolute freedom of movement. Creating and improvising in each moment and having the control and flexibility to channel whatever force moves me.
12. What is your favorite pose?
My favorite pose is an invention of mine and my husband’s. It’s an acro contortion pose where I lock legs around his and bend over backwards to kiss his lips. I enjoy the surprise and intimacy of it.
13. Tell us about your experience working in a circus?
I’ve never worked in a traditional circus. My freedom is most important to me; freedom to create & freedom in my days. The idea of working 2 shows a day, doing the same act for years, living in a trailer or train car, never appealed to me. I require too much time to create, follow my fancies, have crazy adventures, and do whatever I damn well please. Although, I did have a stint this past year in a rather unconventional circus.
14. What was that like?
It was a sexy circus show where I met and fell in love with my husband. He was an acrobat. I was a contortionist. It was destined by the moon. That very first day of rehearsal, when I walked in the club, Roy involuntarily and audibly uttered, “There she is.” It was love at first sight & certainty at first speak. Once we mutually gushed over Dinah Washington there was an indisputable knowing. We were engaged 2 months later under the full moon in Key Largo.
15. What are you working on now?
I’ve mainly collaborated with artists, whether that be in front of the camera or on stage. I’ve performed with musicians and contorted for tv, film, and print. I had a surreal moment this September seeing my oversized self on a Times Square billboard. Film, both still and in motion, is my absolute favorite medium for my art. I love working with other feminists. I love moving to live music. I love to improvise, so I tend to work project to project, night to night, experience to experience.
16. Please tell us about your partnership with your husband. It looks like your have a beautiful acroyoga partnership! Do you often train together? Does he ever perform with you?
Meeting and partnering with my husband has been life altering. Reality has taken on a different texture, a different tone, a different taste. Transcendent. I am humbled daily, trying to live up to the tremendous potential of what we could create together. He is my favorite apparatus. I’ve been an aerialist, but I feel safest and freest flying above him. I don’t have to rig any equipment or carry a heavy load of metal & fabric. I get my partner, my love, beside me, creating with me. He elevates my body and I elevate his art.
17. What motivates you?
Love motivates me. The desire to make a difference. To shake people out of their comfort zone. To inspire others to action. Last year I created a network of artists, The Alchemists, donating their time and talent for charity. Together we raised money for Puerto Rico after the hurricane. My family is from there and many of them still remain, so this cause was very near and dear to my heart. I want to do more for this world. As an artist, it’s easy to feel like we can’t make a difference, like we aren’t rich enough, like the power isn’t in our hands. Artists write history. Art is what remains after civilizations have collapsed. Art is what calls societies to revolution and reformation. We have tremendous power to influence & incept the minds of the masses.
18. Do you stick to a certain regime and diet, if so how would you describe it? What were dreams growing up?
I do not stick to a certain regimen and diet. I’ve been vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, carnivore and all shades between. Generally, I try to eat what feels healthy and is in alignment with my values. I have a yoga practice which is essential to my mental health and physical well being. I have my own deeply personal spiritual practices which nourish my soul. I don’t force myself to do anything daily. I have goals and aims, but I try not to beat myself up with shoulds. Self love comes first.
19. What is your dream job?
My dream growing up was to be a movie star, as cliche as that sounds. I’ve always been passionate about film. Growing up in a small town where I was an outsider, a different religion, a different culture than everyone else, movies gave me an escape. Worlds upon worlds to live in. To explore. film fed my mind with new ideas and possibilities. I dreamt it would be wonderful to be a part of such a creation and win an Oscar some day.
20. What is your motto in life?
I don’t know that I have a motto in life. Looking back there is only one thing that has ever ruled me, been my compass, my due north. and that is love. I am a hopeless romantic through and through. If I had to choose one motto that leads me, I’d say, “Love conquers all.”