The human body is capable of impressive feats. Is there an artistic and creative element present in athletic accomplishment?
When Natalija Gros retired from competitive rock climbing in 2012, she was recognized as one of the finest climbers in the world. The Slovenian athlete made it to the World Cup podium an astonishing 23 times during her career, also carrying off a silver in 2004 at the European Championships and a gold in 2008 in Paris at The European Bouldering and Combined Championship. She won the coveted Serre Chevalier Master in both 2004 and 2009.
Rock climbing isn’t a glamorous sport. Hands, elbows, shoulders and knees get scraped, wounded and calloused. Even with hooks and ropes, climbers regularly find themselves jerked into the air, swinging painfully against rocks. This doesn’t even hold a candle to what can happen without equipment. This short film by Jure Breceljnik called Le Tango Vertical, or The Vertical Tango, shows a completely different side than most climbing videos: artsy, sensual and alluring.
After a swim, Gros comes out of the ocean in her bikini and proceeds to climb, completely unaided, a rock formation along the beach. Granted, it isn’t the Alps nor Yosemite, but it isn’t safe either.
There are two main forms of rock climbing: aid climbing and free climbing. Aid climbing involves the use of ropes and pegs in the rock to pull the climber up the face of a cliff. Free climbing may also include the use of ropes and pegs, but only to protect the climber in case of a slip or fall. Free climbers prize the sense of achievement and artistry that come from developing a close relationship to the vertical surface. This allows them to compose a route that traverses that surface, called a line. This route is unique, suited to their own body and skill set.
Climbing, like life, is never without risk, never completely safe. Ropes can break, pegs can become dislodged. Gros has chosen to forego such gear completely, feeling that she can handle this formation without them. And she can. What amazing physical strength and confidence! Watch her stomach muscles to see how much squeeze she maintains while holding on, thinking, and moving. She possesses unbelievable core and arm strength. I don’t know about you, but I’d be jelly up there.
Le Tango Vertical is an apt title. Like a tango dancer, Gros moves in a practiced, sensual way, sometimes slowly and smoothly, sometimes aggressively and decisively, feeling her way across the stone shelves. She must know them intimately in order to gauge that they will hold her weight. She must also know the limits of her own body to avoid overextending herself.
This isn’t the only film of Natalija Gros. She is the subject of Breceljnik’s documentary Chalk and Chocolate and was also featured in his documentary New Dimension, which delves into urban bouldering in Argentina. Amazing work from both artists.
Sadly, Jure Breceljnik died two months ago in 2015. If you would like to know more about this talented man, a graduate of the Film and TV School of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague, please read this tribute from his friend and colleague Borut Peterlin.
The society we live in shapes our understanding of body image and self. How does dance influence that understanding?
Irina Akulenko bases her life as a dancer, teacher and choreographer in New York City, touring both nationally and internationally. As soloist and collaborator, she has been part of Bellyqueen Dance Theater, Bella Gaia, Alchemy Dance Theater and BALAM Dance Theater, to name just a few of her credits. Her style is a fascinating blend of several traditions with its foundation in belly dance. As a child, Akulenko was already exploring ballet, piano and voice, as well as drawing, when she had her first taste of belly dance. She was quickly addicted and sought out teachers who could show her the intricacies of this expressive art form which originated in the Middle East. Her background lies in Egyptian Cabaret and American Tribal style belly dance.
Egypt has one of the oldest traditions of belly dance, stemming from social folk dances that were performed by men, women and children. These were later refined and embellished to be performed for Ottoman rulers, who kept troupes of dancers, both male and female. There were actually periods of time in which the Ottomans banned women from dancing and men, known as zennes, kept the tradition going. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, dancers supported themselves by working cabarets or night clubs, donning sequined and revealing costumes that showed off the impressive torso and hip articulation that is the hallmark of belly dancing. It was at this time that belly dancing became an almost exclusively female profession, since there were no clubs catering to women and homosexuality, which was fairly common among the Ottoman nobility, was no longer tolerated. Much of the seediness and stigma attributed to belly dance comes from being relegated to night clubs in Cairo, where the women who danced were seen as little more than prostitutes.
The Egyptian Cabaret tradition persists, although there are tensions in modern Egypt. Dancers, singers and performers in general are not considered respectable in conservative Islamic society. Bare midriffs have been banned since the 1950s and women who show their bodies are considered haram, mortally sinful and abhorrent. I recommend this article from Daily News Egypt to anyone who desires to understand the challenges and intimidation belly dancers face there. Egyptian Cabaret style is much less restrained in the West than in its homeland.
Dance has a way of speaking clearly without language. Even without the historical stigma, it is understandable that some people, westerners and easterners, religious and non religious, find fault with the sensual movement of belly dance and the empowerment women find in it. This reaction probably has more to do with the viewer’s lack of comfort with their own sensuality than with a lack of modesty on the part of the dancer, who has simultaneously become powerful and vulnerable. Thoughts can be scary, even when they don’t lead to action. How do we learn to simply allow something, or especially someone, to be authentically and naturally sexy without becoming possessive?
Provocative and beautiful, belly dance has traveled all over the globe, fusing with other forms, evolving and preserving itself. American Tribal Style (ATS) was created by the fascinating Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, inspired by folk dance from the Middle East, North Africa, Spain and India informed by modern flourishes and sensibility. It has a heavy emphasis on group improvisation and communication through dance, returning belly dance to its roots while also taking it somewhere new.
Irina Akulenko’s desire for inspiration has led her to study and integrate other forms of folk dance into her style as well. Flamenco, from Andalusia, in Spain, is a bold, expressive and modern form, famous for its powerful, percussive elements and use of props, while Odissi is the oldest form of dance in India, characterized by delicately stylized head and limb gestures. Belly dance, Odissi and Flamenco all use well articulated body movement to express emotion in an improvisational format. By using all three, she widens the emotional and technical range of her work. What an exciting thing to be so comfortable with your own body!
Akulenko also holds a degree in Political Science and is drawn to women’s issues and visual art. If you like, you can learn to belly dance from her series of instructional videos at Howcast on YouTube. Her talent for blending styles reveals an openness to finding similarities between cultures and a need to express herself to a wide audience. Anytime we express something, we risk being evaluated and judged. True artists like Akulenko know that the expression is worth the risk. Brava!
Machines are so essential to daily life that we often fail to appreciate what we can make with our hands.
A cordwainer is a person that fashions luxury footwear from soft leather by hand, designing, cutting and shaping shoes into objects of beauty and usefulness. The term is derived from the same word that gives us cordovan, a soft leather that originated in Cordoba, Spain and has long been used in the trade of making shoes.
The Cordwainer’s Technical College of London has an illustrious history of training world class artisans. Famous fashion designers like Jimmy Choo and Patrick Cox trained there. In 2000, Cordwainer’s was folded into the London College of Fashion. Barbora Veselá, the immensely talented artist featured in this short film by Petr Krejčí, is a recent graduate. Combining techniques that have provided beautiful results for centuries with a modern creative flair, she’s inspiring to watch and her shoes are fantastic. There is a certain peace and comfort that settles over me when I’m watching an artisan at work.
Krejčí’s exceptional film captures the magical textures and sensuality of Veselá’s work. The shoes featured in the video are inspired by the colors and contours of geological maps, hence geological shoes. The creative process is refreshingly slow and careful compared to that of objects made entirely by machine, as leather scraps of different colors are cut and assembled on a shoe tree, sanded and cut again to become shoes. The punching of the leather for laces is a supremely sensual moment– so delightful!
If you are interested in looking at more shoes, or perhaps even ordering some from Veselá’s shop in London, please take a look at her website.
And when you crush an apple with your teeth, say to it in your heart:
All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel the roughness of a carpet under smooth soles, a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.
Squeeze your eyes closed, as tight as you can, and think of all your favorite autumns, crisp and perfect, all bound up together like a stack of cards. That is what it is like, the awful, wonderful brightness of Fairy colors. Try to smell the hard, pale wood sending up sharp, green smoke into the afternoon. To feel the mellow, golden sun on your skin, more gentle and cozier and more golden than even the light of your favorite reading nook at the close of the day.
At no other time (than autumn) does the earth let itself be inhaled in one smell, the ripe earth; in a smell that is in no way inferior to the smell of the sea, bitter where it borders on taste, and more honeysweet where you feel it touching the first sounds. Containing depth within itself, darkness, something of the grave almost.
The word itself has another color. It’s not a word with any resonance, although the e was once pronounced. There is only the bump now between b and l, the relief at the end, the whew. It hasn’t the sly turn which crimson takes halfway through, yellow’s deceptive jelly, or the rolled-down sound in brown. It hasn’t violet’s rapid sexual shudder or like a rough road the irregularity of ultramarine, the low puddle in mauve like a pancake covered in cream, the disapproving purse to pink, the assertive brevity of red, the whine of green.