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Ever imagined chucking knives at someone? Alfredo Silva does it for a living and The Unbelievables brings him to the stage

“You don’t just decide to throw knives at people. You have to master a throw.”

If you’re born into a seventh-generation circus family, you’ve got two options when it comes to career prospects – you either buck against the trend and do something deathly dull for a crust, or you join the big-top shenanigans. Knife thrower Alfredo Silva opted for the latter.
 
Silva – who’s rehearsing down under before taking part in The Unbelievables, a curiosity cabinet of world-class circus, magic and music pulled together by the team behind The Illusionists and Circus 1903 – was a showman from a young age. By the time the rest of us were fancying ourselves daredevils just for swinging off the washing line, he was already juggling, clowning, performing aerial stunts, and throwing knives. “As a little kid, we pretended to be performers when we were playing,” he says. “When you grow up like that, you don’t realise it, but you’re learning most of the skills having fun with your friends during the day playing in the big top, around the seating, and under the trucks.”
 
These days, Silva’s niche is knife throwing, especially after his recent stint on America’s Got Talent with his knife-throwing partner and wife, Anna, where they survived a caustic Simon Cowell to make it all the way through to the semis. Part of their success stemmed from the fact that Silva has polished up knife throwing’s reputation, which is ironic because he used to hate it. 
 
Historically, Silva preferred the other many acts in his bag of tricks, especially the ‘globe of death’, which saw him and teammates narrowly missing each other while fanging around the inside of a dirty, metal sphere on motorbikes. Back then, Silva regarded knife throwing as kinda lame. “It used to be one of the most boring acts in show business,” he says. “I always liked the skills and the danger aspect of it though. I always thought that the act had a lot of potential, but it was never well presented.”
 
After learning the art of knife throwing at the age of 11 or 12, years passed before he was persuaded to pick it up again in 2010. “I said to my wife, ‘Anna, I think I’d like to do this kind of act,’ and her reply was the best: she said yes right away,” Silva says. “I reinvented the knife act the way it is now – dynamic, exciting – I mixed all of the dangerous aspects, the whip targeting, the knife throwing, blind-axe throwing and cross-bow all together.
 
“You don’t just decide to throw knives at people. You have to master a throw. It was lonely training, just me, the knives and the board for many years, months and hours until it was really safe and secure and I was able to do a consistent throw.
 
“Once I’d mastered that, then I started to put Anna on the board. I started to throw the knife very far from Anna, using a much bigger board than the one I use now in the show. Then, I started to get closer and closer and the board got smaller and smaller.”
 
The mind boggles thinking about what it’s like in the kitchen at the Silva household, but he makes it clear that knife throwing isn’t some kind of game or trick. There’s no rubber or retractable blades here.
 
“Anna was holding a little water-bomb balloon in her lips and I threw the knife. It didn’t pop the balloon, it just touched it, so I threw a second knife and the same thing happened. The third knife hit the knife that was there already, and took the good knife out towards Anna’s nose. It was a very pointy knife and it hit a vein on her nose and blood squirted a metre away from her. People don’t realise this, but I’m way more scared than Anna in front of the board, because I have all the responsibility.”

The Unbelievables will come to Hamer Hall from Wednesday January 3 until Saturday January 13.