What’s your take on yoga as performance art? I just viewed Seattle yoga teacher Theresa Elliott’s yoga-dance compositions, posted on Nikki Chau’s yoga blog. I’ve never met Elliott, director of Taj Yoga but I’ve gathered that she’s a serious and respected yogi. Clicking through her photo gallery, I immediately see that her asana practice is outstanding. Watching her perform choreographed yoga to music, I was struck by both admiration (“I want to lift into handstand from prasarita padottanasana!”) and mild dismay (“Should yoga be performed?”).
I’m not adamantly for or against yoga performances, a yoga offshoot that’s been around for decades. London-based Tripsichore Yoga is one established example, and its founder, Edward Clark, is a ripped gymnast of a yogi. Shiva Rea is also famous for her videos, in which the goddess of Trance Dance performs perfect sun salutations in the great outdoors. At the Yoga Room in Berkeley, Gay White founded a yoga-dance company, Yoga Garden Dancers, in the 1990s. One of my first teachers was part of that group, so I’ve always viewed yoga dance with a benign eye.
But are all yoga-dance performances actually yoga? After all, any Cirque du Soleil acrobat could do the craziest asanas half-asleep. What if some modern-dance group riffs on yoga, throwing in a few pretzel poses merely for crowd-pleasing value? Even regarding respectable yoga performances, I’m a tad skeptical (sorry, respected teachers). I see the point in demonstrating asanas for a class, as students learn primarily from visual examples. Same with illustrations in books and magazines. We see, we copy, we practice. But, beyond that, should we glorify asanas in performances for performances’ sake? Yoga as art? Yoga as entertainment? Yoga as achievement?
On one hand, I believe that yoga should be a private, not public, practice. If you work to perfect your asanas with an eye toward performance, isn’t your mindset veering in the wrong direction? (Regarding dancers who are also passionate about yoga, why mix the two? While yoga will inevitably inform their bodies—and their minds and creativity—why is it necessary to glorify sun salutations and identifiable poses onstage?)
On the other hand, anyone with an appreciation of dance, music, and the human form will find yoga performances quite compelling—and yoga practitioners will viscerally grasp the complexity of the poses and movements. Admittedly, I love the asana part of yoga. The physicality, the strenuousness, the challenge, the tangible progress. Maybe I’m slightly leery of asana performances because they further my own affinity toward this limb of yoga.
Certainly I can enjoy yoga performances. Just glancing through yogi-contortionist Yogi Laser’s gallery fascinates me. But, unless I really know a performer’s background and character, I will admire them purely as great bodies. Great yogis? Who knows?
Image: Yogi Laser