SINGAPORE - Heather Holliday swallows swords and eats fire for a living, but you would not be able to guess that just by looking at her.
The petite New York native, who has been sticking steel blades down her oesophagus and into her stomach since she was 17, is used to making people's jaws drop.
"I come out and people might go, what's she going to do, burlesque? Then I do (my act), and everyone's like, whoa, because they didn't see that coming," she says.
"When people read about me, they don't think I'll present the way I do. They might expect me to have cheek piercings, or pink dreads, be a little more 90s freak show. But I present in a more feminine and dainty way."
Holliday is now in Singapore with La Clique, the first long-running international theatrical production at Marina Bay Sands since the Covid-19 circuit breaker last year.
The cabaret-style production opens on Sept 18 and runs till Nov 7. It features nearly 20 acts, from an acrobatic roller-skating duo to aerial straps and hula hoop artistes.
Holliday, who was raised as a Mormon, got a break as a sword-swallower at a Coney Island sideshow in the 2000s, after the snake charmer quit.
She initially kept her craft from her parents and would practise in secret - learning, for instance, how to suppress her gag reflex.
"It's still there. People think it's gone now, but your body doesn't want you to die. Literally, what you are doing is suppressing it, but the whole time you have a sword in you, it's creeping back up and it's like a tickly feeling," says Holliday.
La Clique was launched in 2004 and has performed to sold-out audiences in countries such as Australia, the United States and Britain, scooping up a Laurence Olivier Award along the way.
The show in Singapore is produced by Sliding Doors Entertainment in collaboration with Unusual Entertainment and Marina Bay Sands.
Emcee Bernie Dieter, 34, a Germany-born cabaret star, promises a fun night of "debauchery, lots of sexy circus, and the band is phenomenal. We are trying to make sure everyone has the very best time, but in a really safe way".
The show is family-friendly, she adds. "Not too risque. It's very tasteful."
La Clique was meant to open here in May this year, but was postponed due to Covid-19.
There will be no circus tent and the hall will seat just 250 people.
"We've done our best to make it feel like a spiegeltent," Dieter says, referring to a large tent used as an entertainment venue.
"We've created festoon lighting, and the draping almost feels like a circus tent inside this venue. It will have that magic circus tent vibe, but with a lot more breathing space."
Holliday adds: "It's funny, because everyone in the audience will be masked, so we won't get to see their reactions. Normally, people have a really scared look, or their mouths are hanging open, and I won't get to see that."
Other stars range from acrobatic duo The Skating Willers to Berlin-born circus artist Oscar Kaufmann, 26, who will manoeuvre himself above and into a wet bathtub in an aerial straps routine, and perform another segment that involves a flying hatstand.
Then there is Dutch hula-hoop artiste Lisa Lottie, 36.
"I have this huge stack of coloured hula hoops, almost 50 of them, and I'm going to be spinning them at the same time. They are all going to be on my torso."
Lottie, who picked up the art of hula hooping at the age of 21 and later joined a circus in India, had dropped out of high school and taken on other jobs.
"You'd (usually) start much younger, quite often as a gymnast, dancer or even a martial artiste. There's also youth circus programmes. It didn't happen that way for me," says the entertainer, who will also do a clown act and some contortions in the show.
"I was actually completely unathletic. I had to work really hard, do lots of stretching and get lots of acrobatic coaching. I now have a degree in circus."
Lottie adds: "The biggest lesson this has taught me is that you are never too 'anything' to try. Never too old, too unfit... If you don't try, you'll never know."
La Clique will travel to London's West End after its run in Singapore.
Dieter says: "I think it is going to be a really special season, because of the state of the world. We can offer audiences a really safe but incredible night of escapism and wonder and joy. So - come and play with us."
Book it/ La Clique
Where: Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Exhibition Hall C, Level 1, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue
When: Sept 18 to Nov 7, 4.30pm (Saturdays and Sundays), 8pm (Tuesdays to Sundays)
Admission: From $98