Listen to the radio show Motions awaking emotions, a reportage about the New Balkan Rhythm festival on sunradio.rs by Bojan Vučićević. Interviews with Anna Llombart, Ben Schuetz, Max Pollak, Ana Vrbaški and the participants of the workshops at the festival with soundscapes of the festival.
When and how did you start doing body percussion?
I discovered the art form in 2000 and I started working as a body percussion teacher on 2006.
Who or what inspires you?
In terms of who there’s many people! First, I want to mention Núria López and Jep Melendez who introduced me to this amazing dance form and were my very first inspiration, and they still are!
Later, I have been lucky enough to learn from Max Pollak, Keith Terry, Peter Stavrum Nielsen, Leela Petronio, Pedro Consorte. I also find a big inspiration in groups such as Molodi, Step Afrika, Barbatuques.
As I come from tap dance I get further inspiration from Michelle Dorrance and her project Dorrance Dance, with the amazing Nicholas van Young; and also from many other amazing tap dancers. I admire contemporary dancers that actively use rhythm in their creations: Hofesh Sheckter, Akram Khan, Crystal Pite, James Thierrée, Kiko López, Lali Ayguadé. Last but not least, the people whom I am lucky to work with in my projects, that make me think of new ways to apply my ideas in body percussion or tap dance (Toni Sans, Laia Molins, Kiko López).
In terms of what inspires me, I’d say any kind of art performed or created in a way that makes you think further than the art form itself. Any kind of artistic expression that takes you to new places and makes you rethink and review yourself and the world, be it painting, music, contemporary dance… and even nature itself.
What moves you to create?
There are different reasons for each creation but what I normally feel is the question: How would I do it differently than what I already know? Also the feeling of when dance and rhythm makes me feel alive and aligned to where I want to be. As well as the need to use the elements I have to express certain ideas.
Tell us more about your dancing style.
My dancing style is a mixture of different needs. I started tap dance and contemporary dance at the same time. In contemporary dance I missed the rhythm as a dancing partner and in tap dance I missed the plasticity and organic of the whole body moving in an organic fashion. Then body percussion arrived to mix these two ideas, so it allowed me to dance to the rhythm not only with my tap shoes but with the rest of my body and allowed me to move with more freedom. I also have a tendency for storytelling in my pieces.
How does your art change your community?
I think that one sure thing about body rhythm or body music workshops is that they take the students to the here and now. Music and rhythm are played at this exact moment. Any thought interrupting the rhythm flow takes the student off the present. So this first idea makes each one of the attendees commit to surrender to the present moment. If the commitment is made then the true group listening arises. Togetherness and group trust is quickly set. And from then on, the joy of making music relying on each other enhances individual and collective creativity, empathy, global vision, feeling of belonging… as well as creating a new relationship with their own body as it becomes an instrument that is not only the container of muscles and guts but a container of life, intuition, human connection, true expression… all this raises the levels of all the happiness hormones.
Tell us more about how you teach and what you prefer in teaching.
My way of teaching is quite wild (ha, ha!) or let’s say instinctive. It doesn’t follow an academic structure, yet I strive for a strong structure following what I feel from the group. My starting point is that I love people, I love groups of people gathering for the same purpose and then I get fulfilled with excitement and desire to have fun.
There is usually a warm up where I can smell the kind of group I am dealing with and once I get this feeling I can quickly set the best structure that I feel this specific group will enjoy the most. I also make the students feel that they have a space and time to learn not only from me but from themselves. I like to provide a time for them to learn and be able to find their own resources for working with themselves. I like to take them to the place where they can experience their own success in case they have difficulties of any kind. I like to teach many things, such as technique (being it ways of clapping, speed, dynamics, improvisation skills, etc.) and I also love teaching choreographies made both by my and their ideas. I love creating together with students.
Introducing Iberic rhythms: sorteao and agechao
Throughout Spain and Portugal there are several folkloric dances and songs which shape the way in which percussion instruments are played in order to support the dance. The instruments used were often kitchen tools, like a pan, an almirez (mortar – a little metallic bowl with a pestle – used to smash and grind) or very simple hand made drums like the pandero cuadrado (square drum from a small village called Peñaparda in Salamanca). In collaboration with Aleix Tobias, leader of The Iberic Percussion Orchestra Coetus, Anna createdthis workshop to embody two of the most played and danced rhythms in the iconic place of Peñaparda: agechao and sorteao.
What do your workshops focus on?
In general to BE THE RHYTHM instead of only following the music randomly.
It depends on the requirements of the workshop. Sometimes it’s all about introducing the art form and making people have a great and fun discovery, sometimes it’s diving into technique enhancement.
If it’s for circus students I like to dig into the relationship between their inner pulse/rhythm feeling and the element they use (wheel, silks, rope, trapeze, acrobats…). If it’s for contemporary dancers I like to make them aware of the inner pulse and how to use it to create movement through rhythm as well as being tight to the pulse as a solo dancer or as a group… In both cases, inviting the students to be really aware of the music they are making and of the music they are doing. And if it’s for a business companies it’s all about breaking the ice, creating different links between the group members, group listening, different kinds of leading, giving space to let go.
Who can follow the workshops at the New Balkan Rhythm festival?
Whoever wants to really learn about rhythm in dance, to move and be aware of music, inner rhythm in a playful but serious approach. Whoever likes to be challenged to learn from and by him/herself.
Interview questions prepared by Marija Mitić and Ana Vrbaški