Member of the month- March 2015
Matthew Romantini, Interdisciplinary Artist and Creator
Matthew is a multidisciplinary artist, and artistic director of the new company Omnivore Performance. He is also the lead yoga therapist and founder of Sadhana Therapeutics, focusing on yoga therapy to address injury, chronic pain, and performance improvement for athletes and physical performers. New for CADA-ON this month, Matthew is offering members 20% off private yoga therapy sessions! For more info, click here.
Where are you from?
I grew up just north of Toronto, in Aurora Ontario. I have lived in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver for periods as well.
What style do you practice?
I am a butoh dancer. I trained with Kokoro Dance in Vancouver, and their butoh is also mixed with contemporary dance. When I was a figure skater, I also received training in lots of forms from ballet to Graham to Limon to jazz to flamenco to hip hop, and I completed an acting degree from York University... all of these techniques inform the works that I create.
I'm also a longtime student and practitioner of the Batdorf Method (a method focused on physiological awareness-building to develop heightened presence as a performer), a yoga practitioner and teacher, and a yoga therapist.
How can yoga therapy help dancer? How many sessions are effective?
Many dancers' dirty little secret is that we are in some pretty serious pain. I hear so many dancers say "yeah, my back hurts, but what are you going to do? That's part of the job." I believed that too, and when I started learning the principles of yoga therapy, it wasn't to address my lifetime of chronic pain. It was to get some more information to be a better teacher and perhaps improve my movement technique. I had done everything to address chronic pain -- seen every kind of body worker, physio, stretched, practiced every kind of yoga you can imagine, meditated (that one helped more than the others), but at the end of the day, none of these modalities provided anything beyond temporary relief. So, I came to believe that chronic pain would always be a part of my life, and I'd just have to live with it. It was fine, I thought, because it didn't stop me from doing my work. Then, when I was in my first therapeutic intensive training, about four days in, I was walking down the street. I pulled my earbuds out of my pocket and my keys dropped to the ground. I picked them up, put them back in my pocked and kept walking. After about three steps though, I stopped. and tears started to well up in my eyes, because I had just done all of that entirely without pain, and that was the first time I had moved completely pain-free since I was 14.
Through yoga therapy, I caught a glimpse of what my life and my art could be like without pain, and let me tell you, I am a significantly better dancer than before I learned this technique. So much of my energy was going into moving in a compensated, inefficient way, and when I improved the function of my joints and muscles and breathing, I found that I could dance more complex movement, for longer, and my strength, balance, range of motion and stamina were way higher. Dancers are powerhouses. We can get the job done, no matter how we do it. But moving more efficiently means that you can spend more of your energy in the expression of the work, rather than just executing the movement. We are all in this medium for the expressive, communicative power that dance has, and I firmly believe that yoga therapy can improve and extend the professional lives of the dancers who use it. I always tell my dancer and athlete clients that if reducing or eliminating pain doesn't draw you, improving your performance is just as good a reason to practice yoga therapy.
As for the appropriate number of sessions, that depends entirely on the goals of the client. When I work with people privately, I suggest they book 3 or 5 sessions with me first, to get a sense of the continuing benefit of improving their function. This really helps my clients apply what they learn in their dancing, other physical activities, and daily lives. From there, clients who wish to continue going deeper will often choose another numbered package, or choose ongoing sessions in weekly, biweekly, triweekly or monthly visits. I have special rates for 6 months and 12 months of ongoing sessions.
Who is a choreographer or dancer that you look up to, and why?
This is a really hard question, and I'm not going to answer it, exactly. I'll give you a top 5:
1. Pina Bausch: She pushed the limits of what dance could be, while still maintaining a rigorous technique within the expansive expression she sought, both as a dancer and choreographer. Her dance was about sensation, I always felt.
2. Jiri Kylian: His works, even when serious, are delightful to behold -- there is something lighthearted and surprising I always find in his works. The cake section in Birthday is some of the most hilarious dance I have seen.
3. Barbara Bourget: The artistic director of Kokoro dance has been a major influence in my dance career, and on my aesthetic. Her sense of rigour, her discipline as a dancer and choreographer and leader of rehearsals is unparalleled. She is steadfast in her desire that dance should be transformative and her expectations are high for her dancers. She is also one of the most compelling performers I've ever had the honour to see on stage, in any medium.
4. Deanna Peters: I worked with Deanna in several projects, and not only is she an amazing, athletic and expressive dancer, she also advocates for the well-being of dancers in Canada, and is fearless in this pursuit. That had a very profound effect on me in my early career as a dancer.
5. Lucy Rupert: I first got to work with Lucy as a theatre professional in Toronto. She traverses the worlds of theatre and dance seamlessly, and my only regret about working with her onstage is that I don't get to see her from the audience as much as I would like! She's magnificent to behold, and she is to me that perfect example of a dancer whose work gets deeper, more moving and more interesting with time. I love that we in Toronto get to have access to Lucy in theatre and in dance works.
What have you seen lately that you loved?
I just saw Die Walküre at the Canadian Opera Company. It was awesome. First of all, I think every artists should see at least one production of that crazy-ass Wagnerian beast of a cycle of operas. And second of all, Christine Coerke as Brünnhilde was just thrilling!
Words to live by?
About 10 years ago now, in a conversation with Ronya Lake, my best friend and butoh colleague (and another amazing choreographer and dancer, by the by), we were able to boil down everything about dance into one statement:
Just work, just trust.
It was turned out to be a maxim that applies through anything one might do or might be in life as well. Put the work in, and when it comes time for whatever may come, trust that you don't have to perform the work -- the work will perform you.
Photos by Yvonne Chew