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Tripsichore Yoga Theatre, the innovative London-based company that Edward Clark directs, evolved from an oddball contemporary dance troupe he created in 1979. The group warmed up with yoga and took classes together with Giris Rabinovitch, whose experimental approach to the poses supported Tripsichore’s evolution.
Yoga Journal: How does Tripsichore train for a production?
Edward Clark: We’re in production all the time. Every afternoon there’s a Tripsichore class. This is our sort of colloquium on yoga, spirit, theater, film reviews, and restaurants. We spend about 45 minutes on our complicated Sun Salute series and then do more posture-based asana work. We do innovate with how these postures might link but don’t do real choreography—it’s more like learning vocabulary and grammar. When we finish class, we spend about an hour choreographing. We’re lucky in this. Most yoga practitioners finish class and then have to figure out how to take the yoga back out on the street. We have a direct application.
YJ: Is it fun to be on stage?
EC: No, it isn’t (laughs). When the music is loud, it is more fun. I don’t know how to explain this. It’s not that it’s not fun. It’s just what you do. It’s like breathing and eating. Liking and disliking somehow don’t come into it. It is always an experience though, and afterwards the world feels different—it’s just like yoga!
YJ: Before you go onstage, what is the mood?
EC: We have an hour and a half of warm-up. We usually form a circle and do our Sun Salutes in a way that coordinates our breathing. And there’s a lot of banter. For this show [in Estes Park, Colorado], I had picked up a plastic, furry Halloween spider, and I hid that in the leg of Diana’s costume. Really intelligent stuff, good spiritual pursuits!
YJ: Tell me about a moment on stage when something went really wrong.
EC: One time someone forgot to put their hands up to support Diana in a lift (understandably confusing it with another similar bit of choreography and music), and she levitated for about five seconds before anyone realized that it was impossible.
YJ: Creative people can have very strong attachments to their creations. Does that come up and is it dealt with differently because you’re yogis?
EC: There’s a certain kind of perfectionism inherent in performance, but the one thing I can’t stand is when someone doesn’t try. It’s the same thing that people need to learn to do yoga—you just try your best. Maybe it wasn’t as good as you’d like, but you went out there and you were as karma yoga as you could be—what you were doing is what you were doing. Each time you do it, you try to be there; you are so into the action that you are not judging.
YJ: Are there people in the yoga world who disdain what you’re doing?
EC: In the early days there was a bit of tut-tutting—deservedly. But no one seems threatened by us because we don’t seem to be coming from any particular tradition. People do wonder if we hurt ourselves. But you never hurt yourself doing the hard stuff. The place where you hurt yourself is stepping off a curb—when you’re not present. Something may feel difficult, but you know there’s a right way to do it.
YJ: But you do a lot that isn’t “standard” asana.
EC: I think I can justify it all in terms of standard asana—although whether to anyone other than myself I don’t know! We’ve done interesting combinations. There are 84,000 or some such number of asanas and you’re lucky if you encounter 36.
But if you do a Headstand and forward bend at the same time as a spinal twist, none of those are wrong yogically; it’s just a question of how you put them together. I’m astounded that there’s this brilliant idea of the Sun Salutes, and every school has its own approach, but it’s so timid, as if, if we do something radically different, the sun’s going to rise in the West.