Suspended in mid-air, 36-year-old Romain Timmers executes a neat little flip and touches the wall opposite him, and then is literally all over the place, to and fro, up and down, in a series of graceful acrobatic moves. No, he is not parading the familiar blue-and-red colours of the Spiderman suit nor can one pass it off as a visual illusion. This is as real as it gets, for the Frenchman is a professional circus performer, displaying his skills to people in Puducherry, where he currently lives. Both his circus lessons for children and aerial dance workshops, a more recent activity, have become hugely popular in the former French colony.
Timmers is all geared up for a new act where he will be teaming up with Sharanya Rao, a contemporary dancer based in Auroville. Rao’s dance performance will have Romain juggling, playing music and doing acrobatics. “I have always contemplated uniting two art forms, creating a new language as it were. This new act is set to happen in March. I see this as a starting point for my future projects with Indian artists while putting European circus artists into the mix,” says Timmers.
Auroville, the international township in Puducherry, was what got Timmers to India. “Though I did not want to join Auroville, I desired to observe things there. And then I chanced to meet my life partner here and after marriage we stayed put in Puducherry,” says Timmers. His Tibetan wife Kash Dolma later set up a school here for Latin American art and culture called La Casita.
Timmers took to juggling rather late, at 16. By 21, he wanted to take it up as a profession, enrolling in three different circus schools in Belgium and France. During that time, all of Europe was experiencing a new wave in the circus—forsaking the traditional for the modern contemporary avatar. And Timmers with 10 years of ballet under his belt, his juggling ability, his musicality (he was adept at piano) and his acrobatic skills seemed to fit right in. Were it not for his parents who prodded him on, Timmers might have ended up as a school teacher.
In Auroville, capitalising on his skills as a circus performer, Timmers started to hold classes for children. “I would give classes at the circus school in Auroville as well as at the French school. Once a week, I would teach children things like juggling, balancing, acrobatics, etc. I also conduct circus workshops and now that the lean season is over, I am hoping to conduct at least two per week,” he says.
Though the Frenchman is now trying to break new ground with what he calls vertical dancing, where instead of dancing on the stage, participants dance on the wall. Apparently, when in France he was part of an act that included dancing and acrobatics which is what led to the idea of vertical dancing.
“At the start, I explain to participants as to how the body reacts to this new orientation of putting oneself perpendicular to the wall, with the rope harness allowing one to lie horizontal in the air, with the wall substituting the dance floor. The rope allows us a bit to escape from gravity, helping one to literally fly through the air,” explains Timmers.
One of the biggest benefits of this aerial dance workout is overcoming our own barriers, he explains. For instance, getting over the fear of heights, and looking at the world from a different angle. “One of the participants was an overweight lady and I thought it would be difficult for her as the access was from the top of the wall and after putting herself in the void, she would have to climb back. But to my surprise she pulled it off, fighting her fear as she did,” beams Timmers.
These workshops will be held at the CRPA (Centre for Research and Performing Arts) at Auroville. So far, some 40 people have attended the aerial dance workshop.