A little bit of history: The 70s

Towards the end of the 60s and at the beginning of the 70s, a series of so-called “independent” theatre groups burst onto the scene in Barcelona breaking with the most time-honoured rules and traditions. The moment had finally come for local theatre to leave behind its more traditional forms and to embrace all other possible creative forms of expression like dance, music and mime. It was as if the country was finally waking up after years of boredom and censorship, greyness and fear.

Although, sadly, the period of censorship and summary arrests was by no means completely over, (let’s not forget the case of Els Joglars theatre group) the yearning to create and innovate was overwhelming. At that moment, anything which involved breaking with the limitations of the past, no matter what form it took, was warmly and enthusiastically welcomed. However in the world of dance we had to start at the very beginning.

Whereas most theatre groups were busy redefining the term “theatre”, dance had to win over a non-existent audience. Theatre enthusiasts were acquainted with classical dance and its repertoire but in general, at that time, it was not held in great esteem. As far as contemporary dance was concerned, there was absolutely no interest in it.

To talk about my experience, what was happening locally and what it was like to be part of the world of dance, I have to go back in time and conjure up those years in my memory. The first thing I see is me going everywhere searching out modern dance classes. Ballet classes of varying degrees of quality could be found practically everywhere, but that was not the case with modern dance. If I wanted to train in this discipline I had no choice but to pound the streets and continue looking.

This constant coming and going was very much a part of the prevailing mood of the time. No opportunities could be missed. Names like Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Horton or José Limón, to name but a few, were highly respected among those who, like me, had enormous interest in this discipline. So, driven on by this desire to learn, I hunted out schools and teachers. I remember how I contacted great dancers and choreographers who came from the United States, like the legendary Matt Matox, who starred in the equally legendary film “Seven brides for seven brothers”. He, like so many other people, often attended the centre run by Anna Maleras. This school was a pioneer in the various expressions of modern dance and contemporary jazz, situated on the upper side of Barcelona.

Although searching out and attending these classes and courses required a considerable effort on my part, I never for one moment considered working professionally in this world. What really motivated me was to feel connected to the world of dance in some way, to enjoy it, to express myself though movement and to open myself up to the inner workings and sensation of my body. That is what kept me going from one studio to another. It was in one of those schools, one of the oldest ones in Barcelona, in Provença Street, in a building which is no longer standing, where I met Ramon Solé, a teacher and choreographer. It was he who was responsible for paving the way that others would soon follow to the glorious opening up of dance in this country.

Everything happened so fast. Less than one week after our first meeting, I began working under him. The group of people he chose to prepare a choreography that was to be presented in the Generalitat, was to become the Ballet Contemporani de Barcelona. It was under these circumstances that I made my professional debut and I realised very quickly that a dancer’s training is extremely tough and that I was not prepared to do it unless it was well taught.

A dancer’s training

Apart from the natural qualities that any young person who wants to become a professional must possess, a dancer’s training also requires huge disciple from the dancers themselves and a very watchful eye of their teacher. Attaining maximum symmetry, breathing correctly at every moment and reaching perfect muscular tension are goals which have to be reached in record time, given that the young dancer is learning at the same time that his/her body is growing and developing. If training is not correct at this key stage, the body mechanism will always find alternative ways, through compensatory movements, to find its own balance.

While dancers are building their bodies they also start to become aware of inherent anatomical difficulties in general, as well as their own particular problems. These problems are often overcome by using unsuitable compensatory movements which in the long run can hamper technical development. For this reason, the watchful eye of the teacher and guidelines moulded to the dancer’s own physical condition are fundamental. Dancers exist and grow through the classes they attend, constantly, rigorously, every day. They can never get enough. Discipline becomes so much a part of the dancer that it becomes a way of life.

Obviously everyone’s impressions vary depending on the experiences that they have had. In my case, I always had the feeling that I was in the wrong place. To begin with, I must confess that my involvement in dance was far from conventional. I was fascinated by the rituals laid down in the classes, the discipline, the sensation I felt as my body changed; it was like having an addiction. However, despite everything, I never really felt entirely satisfied with the classes. My teachers, with some very notable exceptions, didn’t generally follow any clear method guidelines. The classes were mere training sessions which left me in a state of anxiety that I found difficult to overcome. I really needed to base my work on more solid ground. Above all I needed to understand exactly how the body worked, but not only at an intellectual level; I needed to feel it for myself.

Ballet contemporani de Barcelona

However, despite having these reservations, I became part of one of the pioneering groups of the time; the Ballet Contemporani de Barcelona, directed from the very beginning by the choreographer Ramon Solé, a professor from the Theatre Institute. Those were years which were filled with excitement and an overwhelming desire to create. Being part of all this was like living a dream and I must confess that now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can see that it was not only extremely daring but it also held an element of risk.

The BCB started life in 1975. The following year on 23rd April to be exact, the group was formally presented in the Sant Jordi hall of the Generalitat building. That same year several performances were given in the Saló del Tinell. However, in 1977 the group entered a different phase which eventually led to my leaving three years later for logistic and artistic reasons. My desire to totally understand the workings of the body took my career off in another direction.

During the 80s, while still being part of the BCB, I was asked to teach contemporary dance in several schools in Barcelona. I had never previously considered going into teaching but, in fact, it was a magnificent opportunity because, over the years, it has allowed me to create a language which is directed at understanding and feeling the body rather than simply concentrating on motor skills. It was at that time that I realised that if I were to continue teaching then that would be the direction to follow.

The long search for a method

As a consequence of all this, during the 80s I devoted myself to doing research into finding a method that would take into consideration the way the body actually worked. That’s not to say that I gave up classes, however. As a teacher, I had the good fortune to have Helena Villarroya, who gave outstanding classes on “The Fundamentals of Dance”. She had previously danced for several years with the Zurich Opera before finally settling in Madrid where she began to give classes in different schools and later in a studio next to Plaza de la Opera, where she laid down the foundations for her teaching.

The first time I actually saw her was in the Theatre Institute of Barcelona. Ramon Solé had organised a special course for our group and had gathered together some outstanding teachers such as Monica Janotta, from the Stuttgart Ballet or George Pilleta from the Paris Opera. This course introduced us to an amazing range of working methods which individual dancers could then adapt to their own particular needs. Paradoxically, it was Helena Villarroya who, despite being the least well–known of this group of teachers, really fired our imaginations. Whereas those who were better known basically showed off for a while, but didn’t really give us proper classes, Helena Villarroya outlined a simple and logical working method which was totally new to us.

Apart from the very few occasions when I managed to persuade Helena Villarroya to give courses in Barcelona, I generally had to go to Madrid to attend her classes and I continued doing that for more than fifteen years. Her work was exactly what I had been looking for: meticulous, rigorous and devoid of any form of pretence. Through this I discovered that when the body is not correctly balanced, any form of physical activity can lead to premature wearing of the joints and muscle fatigue. Consequently, I started to look into anatomy which in turn took me into the area of sports medicine.

Once again, however, the knowledge I got about the human body was limited to the manual of anatomy. An academic study of the names of the bones and of the muscles was of no help to my understanding of the dynamics and mechanics of the body. Now, years later, I totally understand why I was not satisfied with this. Anatomy is basically perception. We know that a baby develops his/her motor skills naturally, through movement, by crawling around, so why haven’t we paid more attention to this, instead of basing our knowledge exclusively on the academic study of anatomy? Functionality stimulates the nervous system and this in turn develops movement coordination. This could be said to be the key difference between living organisms and machines.

As a result of all this, I decided to experiment with different types of corporal techniques; Alexander’s, Feldenkrais’, Mézzières’, metamorphic, etc. All of them look at the body in a new way, getting to the very core of what a human being is; the mechanics and the autonomous nervous system.
So, after two decades of applying my knowledge of dance and methods of postural training, I began to elaborate a method focused on the study of body mechanics.

How did the name come about? The words harmony and mechanics have always suggested to me the deep understanding that lies behind a movement born out of anatomical equilibrium. For this reason, I decided to call this discipline Harmony in Body Mechanics. The aim of this method is not to set goals as if we were competing for a prize but, in the simplest way possible, to establish a connection with the body, an intimacy which bolsters our body language, while at the same time respecting everybody’s different time needs and rhythms, without hurrying or worrying about seeing results in the short-term. To achieve this, we must walk away from the frenetic pace of modern life and go back to the satisfactions attained from quietly observing things, where our only goal is our own well-being. The basic question we should ask ourselves is to what extent are we prepared to let modern life prevent us from doing this?