Where many acrobatics shows can be described as breathtaking, ANIMA can be described as breath-controlling. Inspired by their research and experience with yogic pranayama breathing and the Wim Hof (“Ice Man”) method of breathing techniques paired with cold exposure, they’ve produced an acrobatic piece that intensely explores movement with breath. Joli and Vyann’s acrobatics are accompanied by Nao Masuda’s enormous taiko, percussion, piano, loops & more kit and her hypnotic presence capable of orchestrating the audience’s breath.
What does breath acrobatics mean? Joli and Vyann ease us into it. First Joli breathes in air from a balloon, runs around to exhaustion, and then lets it out before breathing in another. Then Vyann, seated, practices Kapalbhati, breath of fire. He takes rapid, rhythmic breaths, punctuated by a breath hold that has his neck fall ragdoll-limp before coming to life again, repeating the process.
Soon Joli is jumping on Vyann’s stomach. She’s blowing up balloons and holding them in her mouth during acrobatic stunts, eventually shooting them off. She’s pushing Vyan’s stomach to make him blow a whistle – he pushes her stomach to blow a flute – she, his, to blow a saxophone – he, hers – then he plays the saxophone while she’s standing on his head and playing a flute.
They take turns holding their breath and being moved/controlled/contorted, letting themselves become ragdolls that amplify any way they’re moved and follow the lines of force like contorting magnets. There’s intense sexual chemistry between the two, expressed in a spellbinding combination between deeply sensual movement and a certain degree of trustful brutality. In one full acrobatic dance sequence, they interlock mouths and breathe through each other while contorting around the stage.
It’s an impressive spectacle, capable of demystifying and evangelizing breathing practices by the sheer excitement of it. Nao Masuda’s drum solo near the end highlights just how much energy is being created on stage, acting as a probable breather for Joli and Vyann, yet keeping us thoroughly under the trio’s control.
ANIMA is dangerous, it’s exciting, and as an audience, it is an unconscious initiation into breathing techniques. It is beautiful breath-controlling taiko acrobatic circus.