Sondheim’s “Follies” presented in concert Friday at Town Theatre (Pt. 2) – a guest blog by Charlie Goodrich

 

Yvonne DeCarlo in "Follies" on Broadway
Yvonne DeCarlo in “Follies” on Broadway

(In Part 1, Charlie Goodrich discussed his desire for years to produce Stephen Sondheim‘s Follies live on stage. Here he continues with the casting process.)

I now had 5 more major roles to cast among the “Present Day” characters: Roscoe, Ben, Phyllis, Vincent, and Vanessa.  Several months back, I had approached Jeremy Buzzard about being my musical director.  Buzzard, a brilliantly talented operatic singer, had appeared with me in Les Mis as the Bishop of Digne.  Jeremy enthusiastically agreed.  When it came time to find an “aging” tenor to portray Roscoe, the singer that opens the show with “Beautiful Girls,” it dawned on me that I had Jeremy already involved, and could make use of his gorgeous vocals, despite the fact that he is 40 years too young to play Roscoe.  With a little aging up though, he would be perfect, and Jeremy gladly agreed.  I was having a hard time figuring out whom to cast as the cool and sophisticated couple, Ben and Phyllis.  In my mind, I had 2 great candidates, but they are in their 30’s, not 50’s.  I finally realized, just as with casting Jeremy, that age is only a number, and looks can be adjusted to suit the part.  For Phyllis, I needed an actress that possessed poise, class, a beautiful singing voice, and strong dancing skills.  Phyllis not only taps in “Who’s That Woman,” but also has a tour de force dance solo in “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  I approached my own sister Rebecca Seezen, recently seen as Fantine in Les Mis, to take on the part, and she accepted.  For Ben, I needed an actor that is tall, attractive, and intelligent.  I worked with such an actor in Les Mis, Bryan Meyers, who I found to be all of those things, and to possess a beautiful voice.  Bryan enthusiastically took on the part, his first major lead in a theatrical production.  Awesomely enough, he found out last week that he will be starring as Curly in Town’s season opener, Oklahoma, and he joked that I was his talent scout.

Finally, I needed two ballroom dancers to play Vincent and Vanessa, and dance the beautiful “Bolero D’Amour.”  The number, which originated in the first production, has since been cut from most subsequent productions and deemed unnecessary to the plot.  I disagreed.  I find the beautiful dancing embodied by these characters to be a wonderful addition to a score made up primarily of emotional ballads.  My go-to for Vincent was Tracy Steele, who has choreographed me in several productions, and has the perfect sophistication and grace needed for the role. He also is an instructor at Columbia’s Ballroom Company.  He not only agreed to dance the role of Vincent, but to also choreograph the number. For the role of Vanessa, I thought of my friend and frequent director and costar, Jamie Carr Harrington.  I remembered Jamie stating that she enjoys dancing immensely and unfortunately does not have the chance to do so often.  She told me, “To me, dancing is fun because it is freeing.”  I agree with her 100 % and jumped on the opportunity to get her back on the dance floor.  With both of them cast, I was elated and excited to see this dance come together.   While I will touch on rehearsals and choreography in more detail in upcoming paragraphs, it is more relevant to mention the developmental process of “Bolero,” now rather than later.   I watched over a period of several Saturday mornings this summer as Tracy intricately pieced the Bolero together.  With each rehearsal, my excitement grew because this number is going to be a smash! Seeing Tracy’s choreography come to life reinforces exactly why I put this number in my production, because, as Tracy stated recently, “Dance represents a type of freedom.  It’s another language of expression used to convey emotion.  Dance is a conversation without words.”

Tracy Steele and Jamie Carr Harrington as Vincent and Vanessa
Tracy Steele and Jamie Carr Harrington as Vincent and Vanessa

Then it came the time to cast the younger counterparts of the mentioned “Reunion Attendees.”  All of these casting choices became easy, because once again, there is an abundance of twenty-something and teenage talent in Columbia:  Richard Hahn, a local singer, would portray Young Roscoe; familiar faces from dozens of productions, Sophie Castell and William Ellis, would play Young Emily and Theodore; Erika Bryant, most noted for her portrayal of Cosette in Les Mis, agreed to play Young Solange.  Awesomely, Abigail Smith Ludwig (recently seen in Trustus’ Evil Dead: the Musical) agreed to play the younger version of her mother, Young Hattie.  Ashlyn Combs, fresh from playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid at Workshop,  would also play the younger version of her mother as Young Meredith.  She is joined in the tap dance by immensely talented teenage dancers Kimberly Porth, Zanna Mills, and Alli Reilly, who will portray Young Christine, Dee Dee, and Carlotta, respectively.  Allison Allgood (Shrek, Les Mis, and Lenny in Crimes of the Heart) will lead them as Young Stella.  Matt Wright, fresh from his performance as Donkey in Shrek and newly local ballerina Melanie Carrier, will dance the Bolero with their older counterparts as Young Vincent and Young Vanessa.  Karly Minacapelli, praised as Ellen in Miss Saigon, will beautifully accompany Mrs. Carmella Martin as Young Heidi.  Finally, Kristy O’Keefe, fresh from her performance as Tiger Lilly in Peter Pan will humorously bring to life the lyrics of “Foxtrot,” while her older counterpart sings, as Young Sandra.

Erika Bryant and Jami Steele (Young Solange and Solange) rehearse “Ah Paris” with Musical Director Jeremy Buzzard
Erika Bryant and Jami Steele (Young Solange and Solange) rehearse “Ah Paris” with Musical Director Jeremy Buzzard

The largest “youthful” parts however, belong to the younger versions of our four principles. Ben. Phyllis, Buddy, and Sally.  Young Ben needed the same qualities as his older counterpart, and it was easy for me to envision Anthony Chu, memorable as Bahorel and a Sailor in Les Mis, to take on the role.  Young Buddy, too, needed to be like his older counterpart, and I cast Drew Kennedy.  Drew is most noted as a local singer and guitarist, and was last seen on stage at Town in Joseph.

Drew Kennedy as Young Buddy, Andy Nyland as Buddy
Drew Kennedy as Young Buddy, Andy Nyland as Buddy

For Young Sally, I fortunately got to make use of another mother daughter pair and cast Beth Allawos Olson in the part.  Beth not only resembles her mother, but perfectly brings to life the happiness and gaiety of Young Sally.  Unlike her 3 costars, Young Phyllis is the polar opposite of her older counterpart.  She is full of life, bubbly, pert, and ever hopeful.  Susie Gibbons, with whom I have worked with in Annie Get Your Gun, Les Mis, and Shrek, and who possesses a beautiful voice and amazing dance skills, was a natural choice.

Anthony Chu and Susie Gibbons                                           as  Young Ben and Young Phyllis
Anthony Chu and Susie Gibbons as Young Ben and Young Phyllis

The last character I had to cast was neither a former Weismann performer nor a ghostly apparition, but rather a figment of Buddy’s imagination: his young mistress in Texas, Margie.  Usually in most productions of Follies, Margie is played by a member of the ensemble, and is only seen in “Buddy’s Blues.”  However, she is mentioned and addressed by Buddy in “The Right Girl.”  A great idea hit me: why not cast an actress as Margie, and have her appear out of Buddy’s imagination during the aforementioned number.  The very talented Emily Northrop agreed to portray Margie, and is sensational.

Ruth Ann Ingham and Andy Nyland as Sally and Buddy
Ruth Ann Ingham and Andy Nyland as Sally and Buddy

Now that I had Follies perfectly cast, it was time to organize my plans for the production.  I made a schedule to get Jeremy working with all of the performers on their music.   Knowing how talented they all are, I knew that even Sondheim would not be too much of a challenge to their wonderful musical skills.  Dance wise, I knew that I wanted to recreate original Michael Bennett choreography/blocking for the majority of the numbers, especially in “Who’s That Woman,” and “The Story of Lucy and Jessie.”  But could I do it myself?  My only experience choreographing to date was one number, “No Time at All,” in the Pippin segment of my Damn Sweet Pajama Cabaret.  But I decided to jump in feet first and tackle the intricate Bennett choreography.  This decision would create my biggest challenge as a director/performer to date.  Luckily, the majority of it is available on YouTube.  Watching the original cast perform these dances hundreds of times, I was able to teach myself the choreography, while perfecting it in front of the mirror in the Town Theatre Green Room.

Rebecca Seezen and Susie Gibbons as Phyllis and Young Phyllis
Rebecca Seezen and Susie Gibbons as Phyllis and Young Phyllis

“The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” is a complicated, quick, but exhilarating song and dance that ultimately won Alexis Smith the Tony Award for Best Actress in 1971.  The choreography that Michael Bennett gave her to work with has been unmatched since, and to me, is the only choreography that makes the number as effective as it should be.  However, for my production, instead of having Phyllis backed by a dozen chorus dancers, I am having her backed by only 2 specifically chosen males. One of them is Young Ben, who embodies the youthful personification of her husband, and represents the reason in which Phyllis fell in love.  The other is Kevin, also played by Matt Wright, who, in the libretto, is a young waiter that Phyllis fools around with at the reunion.

Rebecca Seezen and Bryan Meyers
Rebecca Seezen and Bryan Meyers

“Who’s That Woman,” the original showstopper in the 1971 production, is perhaps, my favorite number.  Seven former chorus girls began to tap dance, and as the number increases in intensity, the ghosts of these women appear in the background upstage dancing the same dance.  In a burst of brilliance, past meets present as the number reaches a shameless climax.  As the 14 ladies finish the dance, the lights go out, and we see the seven “present day” ladies alone on stage, the ghosts having vanished.

Bryan Meyers and Ruth Ann Ingham
Bryan Meyers and Ruth Ann Ingham

I found this use of past meeting present to be simply amazing, and decided to incorporate in all the numbers that I could.  Therefore, all of the “younger” characters have solos as they perform songs and dances with their older counterparts.  This illusion is seen now not just in “Who’s That Woman?” but also “Beautiful Girls,” “The Rain on the Roof,” “Ah Paris,” “Broadway Baby,” “Bolero D’Amour,” “One More Kiss,” and “Can That Boy Foxtrot.”  While “Bolero,” and “Kiss,” traditionally have always made use of this illusion, the other mentioned numbers have not, and I am excited to bring this innovation to them.  It was important to me that each actor appearing in Follies have his or her time and talent utilized as much as possible.  By doing so, all of my performers can exhibit to the audience why they are 38 of the most talented folks in Columbia.

Ethel Barrymore Colt in the original cast of "Follies"
Ethel Barrymore Colt in the original cast of “Follies”

Now that you know the background on the show, and my reasons in casting, there is nothing else for you to do but see the show! I can assure you that this is going to be a fantastic show.  My actors have worked so hard throughout the summer to present Sondheim’s classic to the Columbia audience for the first time.  Rehearsals have come together brilliantly.

Just to recap, the numbers that you will see performed are: “Beautiful Girls,” (Roscoe and Company) “Waiting for the Girls Upstairs,” (Buddy, Ben, Phyllis, Sally, Young Buddy, Young Ben, Young Phyllis, Young Sally) “The Rain on the Roof,” (Emily and Theodore; Young Emily and Young Theodore) “Ah Paris,” (Solange and Young Solange) “Broadway Baby,” (Hattie and Young Hattie) “The Road You Didn’t Take,” (Ben) “Bolero D’Amour,” (Vincent, Vanessa, Young Vincent, and Young Vanessa) “In Buddy’s Eyes,” (Sally) “Who’s That Woman,” (Stella, Meredith, Christine, Dee Dee, Phyllis, Sally, Carlotta, & Their Youthful Counterparts) “Can That Boy Foxtrot,” (Sandra and Young Sandra) “I’m Still Here,” (Carlotta) “Too Many Mornings,” (Ben and Sally) “The Right Girl,” (Buddy and Margie) “One More Kiss,” (Heidi and Young Heidi) “Could I Leave You,”  (Phyllis) “You’re Gonna Love Tomorrow,” (Young Ben and Young Phyllis) “Love Will See Us Through,” (Young Buddy and Young Sally) “Buddy’s Blues,” (Buddy, Young Sally, and Margie) “Losing My Mind,” (Sally) “The Story of Lucy and Jessie,” (Phyllis, Kevin, and Young Ben) and “Live, Laugh, Love.” (Ben and Company).

The show goes up on Friday, August 15, at 8:00 PM at Town Theatre. Tickets are $10/General Admission, and are available by phone (799-2510) or at the door. Thank you for taking the time to read about a project that is of the utmost importance to me, and I look forward to seeing each and every one of you at Follies!

Selections from Stephen Sondheim’s Follies in Concert

Friday, August 15, 2014 at 8:00 PM

Directed by Charlie Goodrich

Musical Direction by Jeremy Buzzard

All Choreography (After Michael Bennett) by Charlie Goodrich

Except: Bolero D’ Amour Choreography by Tracy Steele

Costumes by Christy Shealy Mills

Scenic/Tech Design by Danny Harrington

Lights by Amanda Hines

Sound Design by Robert Brickner

Stage Manager: Jill Brantley

Assistant Stage Manager: Russell Castell

Dance Captain: Allison Allgood

Pianist: Susie Gibbons

Photography by Rebecca Seezen, Britt Jerome, and Charlie Goodrich

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REVIEW: The Velvet Weapon, or The Importance of Being Barney – by Jasper Literary Arts editor Ed Madden

 

Cast of The Velvet Weapon with playwright Deborah Brevoort seated in center
Cast of The Velvet Weapon with playwright Deborah Brevoort seated in center

 

History repeats itself, according to Karl Marx, first as tragedy then as farce.  I couldn’t help but think of this observation while watching The Velvet Weapon, a self-proclaimed farce purportedly inspired by the Velvet Revolution in former Czechoslovakia.  I say purportedly because beyond a broadly construed theme of populism versus power, the play is philosophically incoherent, and it seems to trivialize the very historical moment to which it pays homage.  I left the theatre still giggling at the performance (it was, at times, quite funny), but wondering why this play was the winner of the 2013 Trustus Playwrights’ Festival.

 

Premiering at Trustus last weekend, The Velvet Weapon is a new comedy by Deborah Brevoort.  (For more about the playwright and the play, see the previous Jasper blog..)  In the play, the audience at the National Theatre in an unnamed country protest a play being performed onstage and demand the performance of something different, “The Velvet Weapon,” a play by an unproduced playwright of questionable talent.  According to pre-performance publicity, this play is supposed to be “a metaphorical examination of the Velvet Revolution,” the 1989 non-violent transition of power in Czechoslovakia led by students, political dissidents, and artists, which ended Communist rule.  It is supposed to be about populist democracy.  In the Free Times preview, Brevoort said some audiences had compared her play to the Occupy Movement. That’s a lot of heavy lifting for a really light play.

 

First, let me say that I love the Trustus commitment to new work.  Let me say, too, that there was much to admire about this performance.  The acting was mostly superb, and the actors did their heroic best to save the script. G. Scott Wild, in particular, was spectacular as Monsieur Le Directeur (aka Charlie), the pompous playwright, director, and dramaturg of the National Theatre.  In one early scene he is backstage, wildly acting out his own play as it’s being performed onstage—histrionic, hilarious, perfect.  Scott Herr as the amateur playwright Winston, Katie Mixon as usher and would-be actress Geraldine, and Libby Campbell-Turner as Winston’s mother also stood out, and Katrina Blanding and Hunter Boyle were hysterical stereotypes of backstage bitchiness.  And John Taylor Kearns, with his series of broadly comic accents and absurd physical humor, was a goofy delight.  Also, in a farce filled with slamming doors and rushed entrances and exits, the comic timing of the ensemble cast was spot on.

 

Scott Herr, standing, with G. Scott Wild, supine
John Taylor Kearns, standing, with G. Scott Wild, supine

That said, I was surprised by some of the staging.  The movement from first to second act is smart, the stage transformed over intermission from a backstage set to a stage-upon-the-stage, a set change that transformed us, the Trustus audience, into the dissatisfied audience in the fictional National Theatre.  However, in a play that puts a proscenium stage onstage, that makes the audience part of the cast, and that stages two plays within the play, you really expect more interesting experiment with theatricality and staging.  Only one entrance came through the audience—Kearns as Governor, at the end of the play.  The lost opportunity here may be more a fault of script than direction, but in a play that claims to be about the power of art to blur the boundaries between theatre and life, that final weak attempt to break the fourth wall seemed (yawn) an empty gesture.

Herr, Wild, with Hunter Boyle and Katrina Blanding
Scott Herr, G. Scott Wild, with Hunter Boyle and Katrina Blanding

 

Further, when there was supposed to be crowd noise—or keys jingling (more about that in a moment)—I wanted more noise.  Whether we were supposed to be hearing the rebellious audience on the other side of the stage in the first act or the rebellious citizenry outside the theatre, it sounded like maybe five people backstage.  (The downpour Saturday night made more noise than that fictional roaring crowd.)  I wanted the political uproar outside to more obviously impinge on the inside of the theatre.  In a play in which the stage and the street are transforming each other, isn’t that the point?

 

Mostly, though, I just wanted a better play.

 

The problem isn’t that the play’s a farce, all mad pacing and hasty exits and someone caught with his (or her) pants down.  There are moments of delightful silliness, and I laughed helplessly when a woman in a horse costume—a gag set up well in advance—galloped across the stage.  With the mishmash of accents, plot non sequiturs, and that kitchen sink thrown onstage (a poke at theatrical realism?), there’s more than a little of the theatre of the absurd in this as well—perhaps Brevoort’s nod to the absurdist playwright Vaclav Havel, one of the leaders of the Velvet Revolution and the first democratically elected president of Czechoslovakia.  Nor is the problem that it tries to do something serious.  A good farce can make us laugh at serious things.  I’m thinking here of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, or Brendan Behan’s The Hostage (a mad farce about deadly politics), or Nicky Silver’s wicked dark AIDS farce Pterodactyls (Trustus staged a smart production of this several years ago).

 

No, the problem isn’t that it makes the serious trivial or makes the trivial serious, but that it trivializes the very things it asks us to take seriously: art and revolution.  Consider, for example, the jingling of keys.  This was the symbol of the November 1989 demonstrations in Prague, crowds of people jingling their keys to ring out the old regime and signify the opening of locked doors.  At the 20th anniversary in 2009, it became the emblem of the Revolution, and the gesture was revived by the crowds of mourners at Havel’s funeralin 2011.

 

In the play, keys jingle weakly soon after Winston announces that he is “taking a stand for a different kind of theatre,” theatre as “an instrument of human liberty.”  When the keys started tinkling beyond the stage doors in the play, I recognized the signature gesture of the revolution, but by the time I thought to pull out my keys and add some noise and solidarity, the moment had passed, the keys were gone, and we were into some incoherent interpretive blather from Winston about truth.  That signature emblem was just a weak and passing gesture, a tossed-off reference—about as meaningful as a later allusion to Oz (“Josef, I don’t think we’re in the theatre any more!”)  With all that heavy lifting in pre-performance publicity (we’re reminded, for example, that Brevoort traveled to Prague in 2005 and interviewed 43 leaders of the revolution), we’re asked to believe that the historical context matters.  Instead we get the unbearable slightness of keys.

 

For Havel, we get Winston, that “playwright of questionable talent.”  Winston says the national theatre is a “factory” for the production of plays that are filled with incoherence, obscurity, and “intellectual masturbation.”  Pleasure, he says, has been replaced by seriousness—or pseudo-seriousness.  He says the audience needs meaning—though his mother explains that that means his play is very entertaining.  Winston’s play, “The Velvet Weapon,” has a cast of 700, an evil king and evil queen, a dragon—and hey, if someone wants to be a horse, then there’s a horse, too.  After all, auditions are merely “rituals of the old power structure,” and his stand is more about opportunity than art.  “I get to stand upon this stage,” he says to the audience, “and soon you will get to stand upon this stage, too”—both “the talented and the untalented.”

 

Winston’s nemesis is Monsieur Le Directeur, an elitist and snob who has written a Beckettian play about a hole in the stage.  He thinks art should be protected from the masses.  He complains about the “busload of housewives from the suburbs” that shows up for the matinee.  He wants to win awards from the government (mostly to make his colleagues feel bad).  His plays are filled with metaphors and syllogisms (a very very bad thing, we are led to believe); indeed, he himself spouts bad syllogistic logic.  “The best works of art only appeal to the few,” he claims, so that the fact that the audience doesn’t like his play is proof that it is good.

velvet weapon 6

 

Skewering pretention is funny.  I love Beckett, but I rarely teach Waiting for Godot without first disarming my students by showing the Monsterpiece Theatre version of Waiting for Elmo.  The central conflict here, however, is all stereotype and cliché—artists versus amateurs, elitism versus opportunity—language that reminds me of the hyperbolic and vitriolic discourse that surrounded the recent controversy over the North Carolina governor’s appointment of a self-published poet as the state’s poet laureate.

 

So bad art is good for the body politic, and good art is bad.  And that play by Monsieur about the hole in the stage that we never get to see?  Two people on a bare stage sounds like Beckett, but two people with a shovel standing over a hole is surely Shakepeare—Hamlet, to be precise, the gravedigger scene, one of the most important moments of syllogistic logic in English drama.  (All men turn to dust, Hamlet says.  Even Alexander the Great was a man, so he too turns to dust, nothing but a bit of clay to plug a beer barrel.)  It’s surely no accident that Winston says when that play is performed, “the gravedigger wins.”  Ironically, this aborted play is likely more akin to Havel’s absurdist drama than Winston’s heartwarming dragon epic.

 

To make things more confusing, despite the rhetoric of populism, the play never really knows where its politics lie.  When the audience storms the stage Monsieur shouts, “You have to have talent to be up here.”  The stage manager adds, “ You have to have a union card to come up there.”  So, sure, this is about storming the barricades for access, but the audience that storms the stage really never insists that Winston’s questionable play go on.  No, it’s foisted on us by his haranguing mother and ultimately by the Governor, who wants the play performed, then cancels it, then puts it back on.  At the end, Winston’s play is finally and sketchily acted out as an allegory for the transfer of political power.  The dragon lies down, the princess marries the prince, and everyone pledges to be nice to everyone else.  Convicted by this play, the Governor gives up his crown, and Winston qua Havel is crowned Governor by the Governor (not elected president).  The end.

 

So there’s bad art and good art, and good art is a tool of the totalitarian state, and bad art is the velvet weapon of the people, but the state demands the production of bad art in order to reinstate a different version of the state.  This is a message play with a very confused message.

 

The fundamental problem in this fundamentally confused play is the insistent and incoherent transposition of the political and aesthetic, a mash-up of ideas that does a disservice to both.  We are supposed to think that a clichéd and exaggerated battle between low art and high art is, in some important and meaningful way, analogous to the battle between populist democracy and totalitarian government.  Historical emblems like the keys are reduced to empty gestures.  For samizdat, we get a script thrown out the door.  And for the Velvet Revolution, we get “The Velvet Weapon,” a play about a dragon—also a metaphor for revolution, also a metaphor for genitalia (when the embarrassed Winston holds his script in front of his crotch, the scantily clad Geraldine touches it, asking, “Is that the velvet weapon?”), and ultimately “a pledge to be nice to everybody.”  So for a history of massive nonviolent political resistance we get the pledge to be nice, policemen smothered in kisses and a man who gives up his seat on the bus for an old woman.  Honestly, if we’re in a world in which those in power are “struck down by sweetness,” that dragon onstage at the end really should be purple, not green.  He is Barney..

 

I want to commend Trustus on the commitment to new work.  Arts organizations need to take chances on new work and new artists.  But give us a little credit as an audience.  Just because it’s slapstick doesn’t mean we’ll like it.  We are like that restless audience in the National Theatre: we want to be entertained, but really we’re hungry for meaning too.  Trust us.

- Ed Madden

Photos courtesy of Rob Sprankle

Ed

Ed Madden is the literary arts editor of Jasper Magazine and the author of Nest.

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The Art of Bikram Yoga by Jasper intern Annie Brooks

Bikram_yoga

It is the same every time. The class is ninety minutes, roughly 105 degrees, 40% humidity. The first half is standing, the second you’re on the floor. Your only goal is to stay in the room. This is the spiel that I give to all of my wide eyed, nerve wrecked, first time students.

A Bikram yoga class is a carefully designed series of 26 postures and two breathing exercises. It is a system meant to give you a full body work out “bones to skin, finger tips to the toes”. No muscle, tissue, ligament, organ or cell is left untouched. You sweat buckets of impurities, detoxifying the body. For ninety minutes you are asked to keep your eyes on your own two eyes. This in itself can be a challenge for people with low self-esteem. Although each class is the same, the student never returns as the same person. As a teacher I witness the subtle but significant shift in attitude that accompanies the change a student sees in their self. He or she learns to cultivate the powers of their mind through an exploration of the body. He or she becomes the optimal version of themselves. It is so much more than a workout.

Art is defined by a diverse range of human activities and media.  Much like dance, or synchronized swimming, Bikram yogis use their body as a medium. They shape shift, put themselves in postures that seem unnatural, but actually commence a healing process that resets the natural functioning of the body. There is no need for props or straps. Clothes are for courtesy and the mat keeps the floor clean, otherwise it’s just you with yourself. Art is expression, and Bikram yoga is the fullest expression of a physical being.

The class allows you to escape the world for an hour and a half, to experience a bit of the sublime, and to land softly on your feet, better prepared to take on the day. At first it can be overwhelmingly intense, and often you feel the urge to give up. Comfort is found in knowing that you are completely safe, and will come out the other side a better person. Although the focus is on the individual, everyone moves together. Students who fall behind can rejoin at any point and plug in to the palpable group energy. It is never easy, but the payoff is monumental. Often I tell my students “mind over the matter”, to not let their mind get in the way of their progress. We are furthering the research of the philosophers who toiled over the mind body problem. Humans don’t come with a manual, but through this class you come to know every inch of your body and every corner of your mind. In addition to strength, flexibility, and stamina, you gain self-trust, confidence and understanding. Bikram yoga is the art of self-love.

Seasoned practitioners are able to disregard discomfort and through mindfulness convert the agony of stretching into the ecstasy of release. Over time struggle becomes pleasure and the body is able to do things unimaginable. And why would you not want to experience yourself at full range of motion? It’s a beautiful thing.

There are two certified Bikram Yoga studios in Columbia. For more information contact (803) 730-8225, or visit www.bikramcolumbia.com.

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