ACROBATICS AND CAPOEIRA FOR DANCERS WITH JULIANA NEVES AND BRUNO CAVERNA
By Agnieszka Ryszkiewicz
Among other things, ImPulsTanz offers workshops designed especially for dancers: Capoeira for dancers, Acrobatics for dancers, Yoga for dancers, Feldenkrais for dancers etc.
Curious as to why those classes were especially targeting dancers (Flamenco, Street, Ballet?), one of the 67 Dorvillier's grandparents, who likes to think of herself as a contemporary grandma (both grandparent and dancer), decides to check out what lies behind two of those propositions.
Encouraged by a little "o" (for "open level") that she found on the workshop description, our grandma enters the Capoeira - for dancers - studio. Altogether in a circle, the first half hour is dedicated to memorising each other's names through different rhythm games. Finally, everybody is warmed up and definitely remembering the name of the Capoeira Master - Bruno Caverna (Caveman) - which actually isn't his real name but that of his Capoeirista identity. Although the other names might not be so imaginative, and therefore more difficult to remember, the participants, who turned out to be both professional dancers and/or professional dance lovers, enjoy the atmosphere and the "learning by playing" process.
The necessary skills for the workshop don't seem to include a strong dance education, but rather an open mind and a good sense of humour. Everyone should be in possession of these two things, as Caverna tests them every couple of minutes with jokes, funny images, or "silly games" of chasing and catching.
But there's method in the madness.
"Forget what you know about Capoeira," were the Master's first words. In fact, when one sees the grandmother chasing her sock, stuck to her Capoeira buddy's trousers, or a couple attempting to slap one another on the butt or walk on each other's feet, the question "what actually is Capoeira?" inevitably arises.
But there's method in the madness.
Capoeira was developed in Brazil in the times of slavery. The African slaves used to disguise their fight training as dance. Today, different schools of Capoiera offer various approaches to this beautiful martial dance art. The way Caverna motivates the ImPulsTanz-goers is very specific and adapted to the dance world. It is not about tricks, crazy acrobatics or lethal kicks. By means of thoughtfully selected exercises, the Caveman leads the participants into a state of high concentration, deep listening, awareness of the space and the others. But most importantly, he manages to make their minds relax, take off the pressure of learning properly complex movement combinations that one will have to perform in front of the others when entering the Roda (the circle formed by all Capoeira disciples around the fighting/dancing couple). The letting go of tension should allow the body to react naturally to its environment, to answer adequately to the upcoming situations, like in the cave times.
And whenever the exercises are not enough to help relax the constantly busy minds of dancers and dance lovers and the jokes do not reach their desired effect, Caverna pulls another rabbit out of his curly chevelure:
"Look into the eyes of your partners, because the eyes are the mirror of the soul." Some laughs are followed by some deeper sighs of agreement, or maybe fatigue. Nevertheless, a positive concentration is maintained.
"Capoeira is like the universe. There are no straight directions, everything turns around, like the stars...," the teacher laughs. Although the grandmother wonders what Rudolf von Laban would say to this message, dedicated to the dancers, the participants finally let go of their concerns when facing such a global vision of what they may be experiencing here in Studio C of the Arsenal. A general contact-Roda is initiated.
Jokes interfere with a philosophy of life and mix with some games of "catch me if you can". Our grandma leaves the class, convinced that considering herself a dancer involves a constant search for the meaning of life, not necessarily in the way Monty Python had intended.
Unsure about whether the Latin-American way of thinking is compatible with her Eastern European ways, she goes off and tries out another Brazilian teacher.
Juliana Neves cries aloud: "11h55, let's form a circle!" (Again?)
Coming from a rigorous circus and ballet background, the Ex-Cirque de Soleil performer doesn't seem too talkative, although she remembers the names of her young acrobats already on the second day. "It is the least I can do; to remember who is who and to watch carefully and be there for each and every one of you," she says, confessing that this way of teaching is a heritage from David Dorfman.
Being available to everybody is necessary when, out of 30 people, some fly independently, making double flips on the side of the mats, whereas others crash down while preparing for a handstand. Neves stays calm and attentive and proposes new variations of rolls, combinations of head, hand and shoulder stands in couples, flips, flops, or pyramids.
Simple instructions, physical challenges and a big trust in oneself, ones capacities and the teacher. The tasks destined for the dancers, who are acrobatics lovers, are clear, the aims - visible. Some couples burst into "joy dances", some into laughter after the un/successful execution of exercices. Neves shakes some hands, drops some "wows" and "good, beautiful." The atmosphere is very different to the one in regular dance technique classes (if grandma is allowed such a generalization). "Circus' strength means that already within a few days you can reach, achieve something," says the Brazilian, who specialises in silks. And that doesn't only concern learning a couple of tricks.
After jumping down from the last pyramid, which ends the workshop week, our grandma decides to ask Neves some details about this "acrobatics for dancers, advanced level" workshop that she has just led.
Juliana Neves, who regularly teaches dance to acrobats, conducts her own research on integrating acrobatics into contemporary dance. Among other things, she is able to demonstrate her achievements in Les Ballets C de la B, where she also assists Alain Platel. She is interested in taking the circus virtuosity, the impossible and extreme physicality out of its original context of acts and tricks and turning it into art. Her research focuses on "disguising acrobatics."
When talking about Jérôme Bel's descendants, who do not necessarily need to finish cartwheels with splits in order to display virtuosity in contemporary dance, Neves hesitates for a moment. As mentioned before, circus and acrobatics, above all, teach one to trust one's own body, and the other person - the partner. It wakes one up to dear things that one would have never imagined one could do. Not only on a purely physical level. There is the fear of heights when working with silks, the learning to let go and trust the partner who has to catch you, or hold you when being on top of the pyramid, the moment of confusion when being upside down etc.- things one may also face outside of the Arsenal's studio.
Vertigo, trust myself, trust somebody else, be able to function in situations where not everything depends on you, in situations where you cannot control everything. "I have experienced all of that this week," the grandma thinks aloud.
Is acrobatics for dancers another Latin-American ruse to smuggle in a philosophy of life?
(Aug. 04, 2008)