Yuval Ayalon: On Playing, Training & Challenge

FEATURING: YUVAL AYALON & PATRICK OANCIA

The Baseworks Method, at its core is a movement conditioning approach. It’s also been developed with the intended purpose of promoting the deepening of introspection based on realizations that come up as a result of the commitment to the practice. 

The Transmission conversations with people from different backgrounds look at both the concrete and abstract realizations that emerge from a commitment to any kind of practice or pursuit to achieve life goals. 

The ideas get unpacked from their subjectivity, and the outcome of each conversation sets out to uncover and exhibit common features of physical and introspective experiences.

The Baseworks Transmission Reflections act as retrospective companion episodes to the Transmission Conversations.

Baseworks Quest 4 is a “quest for” meaning, drawing analogies and finding similarities across different domains in an artistically informative way. Unconstrained free-form, abstract and adventurous, Quest 4 is a visual interpretative journey over a diffused network of correlations, constructed on the go as we warp and fuse the category boundaries.

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Show Summary

In this conversation Patrick Oancia chats with Yuval Ayalon about his transition from being a kid swinging on trees, right through to being a competitive gymnast, performance artist and finally ending up a globally renowned teacher of hand balances.

The discussion hits a lot of interesting points on the development of skills, dealing with stress, and directing intentions and focus to where they need to be at each step.

WATCH:

LISTEN:

About Yuval:

Yuval is a Performing Artist, hand balancer, acrobat, gymnast and handstand Teacher. After a 20 year career as an international and collegiate gymnast, followed by an 8 year run in the Las Vegas spectacle “Le Réve”, Yuval transitioned into his current path of the ongoing exploration of hand balancing.

For the past 9 years he has considered himself to be a full time handstand practitioner and teacher.

As an experienced hand balancer he transfers what learned throughout all aspects of his life in handstand workshops which he conducts on a regular basis all over the world. 

He follows the teaching of the late, legendary handstand artist and teacher, Claude Victoria, and continues to research this incredible art form through practice and self-exploration.

Show Notes:

2:31- Introduction

2:44- Difference between Beginner versus Intermediate/Advanced Handstand Workshops

5:21- Using the Wall as an Aid and Learning How to Receive Feedback from the Wall

6:20- Significance of Real-Time, In-Person Feedback

9:04- 18 Year Long Competitive Journey in Gymnastics

13:02- The Internal Aspect of Competition in Gymnastics

14:54- Approach to Failure

19:50- Career as a Competitive Athlete versus the Actual Practice of Gymnastics 

21:35- Constraints in Modern Gymnastics and Transition to Circus Performance

24:14- Heightened Rate of Cross Pollination between Different Disciplines 

30:27- Significance of Structured Learning in Gymnastics

37:00- Handstand: the Primal Acrobatic Skill

46:30- Gamble on the transition from Gymnastics to being a Circus Performer

51:16- New Iteration of Circus Performance and the Circus Hub Montreal

55:36- Le Reve, the Water, Land and Sky

58:47- Challenge in Performing on a Count of Eight as a Professional Artist

1:06:05- Taking the Performance Experience to Teaching Handstands

1:10:16- From Competition to Performance to Teaching

1:12:14- Closing

Selected links from this transmission:

People
Yuval Ayalon 
Tom Weksler 
Kurt Thomas 
Rodney Mullen 
Claude Victoria 

Techniques
Handstand 
Flare 

Performance Art
Le Réve 
Cirque Du Soleil 
Seven Fingers 

Connect with Yuval:

Website
Youtube Channel
Instagram
Facebook

COMIMG SOON.

Patrick Oancia:

For those of us who haven’t already met, my name is Patrick Oancia, and I’m the founder and co-developer of the Baseworks Method. The Baseworks Method at its core is a movement conditioning approach. A part of what’s inspired it has come from realizations that I’ve had about my commitment to practice and the effect that the commitment has had on perception and quality of life. The Baseworks Transmission Conversations are exploring both concrete and abstract realizations that emerge out of the commitment to any kind of practice or pursuit to achieve life goals, and the goal is to find a common vocabulary to help better describe these experiences.

Yuval is a performance artist, hand balancer, acrobat, gymnast, and handstand teacher. After a 20-year career as an international and collegiate gymnast followed by an eight-year run in the Las Vegas spectacle, Le Reve, Yuval transitioned into his current path of the ongoing exploration of hand balancing. For the past nine years, he’s considered himself to be a full-time handstand practitioner and teacher. As an experienced hand balancer, he transfers what he’d learned through all aspects of his life in handstand workshops which he conducts globally. He follows the teaching of the late legendary handstand artist and teacher, Claude Victoria, and continues to research this incredible art form through practice and self-exploration. Yuval was first introduced to me again by our mutual friend, Tom Weksler, who seems to be the instigator to all introductions, so that I could try and communicate with Yuval around the collaboration for our workshop and events in Japan.

In this conversation, we go over a lot of different, interesting stuff, and we talk a lot about Yuval’s transition from being a kid swinging on trees, right through to being a competitive gymnast and then thereafter becoming a performance artist and finally ending up being a globally renowned teacher of hand balances. There’s a lot of ground we covered that relates to how to commit to a practice, the approach and attitude that one would take towards stress in competition and thereafter, trying to understand how to fit all these pieces into a type of life which can be fulfilling and positive.

2:31    Introduction

Yuval, how are you doing?

Yuval Ayalon:

Very good. Thank you. Good to see you.

Patrick Oancia:

Yes, nice to see you too, and thank you very much for making time to come on today and be a part of the Transmission Conversations.

Yuval Ayalon:

My pleasure.

2:44    Difference between Beginner versus Intermediate Advanced Handstand Workshops

Patrick Oancia:

I had some information about you doing a workshop in Paris. You did something in Paris, was it last week?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes. One of my regular weekend workshops, weekend events that I do. I had a beginner workshop and an intermediate advanced workshop.

Patrick Oancia:

What constitutes beginner as opposed to intermediate and advance? I mean, I can imagine when you’re teaching inversions, handstands and/or headstands, if you’ve been teaching that, that beginners working on fundamentals. But I mean, how do they differ in terms of your approach, your initial approach diving in to teach those?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes. I basically differentiate between the two as people who are beginners, who are working towards achieving the freestanding handstand, and then the intermediate advanced, the people who can already hold a handstand, let’s say 30 seconds and more, and are working to develop their handstand. Basically, I usually don’t have complete beginners, people who never went upside down. I rarely have people who never experienced it at all, but there is a big difference for a practitioner between the ability to hold a freestanding in different positions, and not being able. And within these two levels, there is always differentiation between the participants. So, there’s going to be a person in the advanced workshop that is working towards one arm handstands, for example, and then there is going to be another advanced or intermediate practitioner who is still working to improve their form in the basic positions.

Patrick Oancia:

When you say you rarely have anybody that hasn’t gotten upside down before, does that mean within some capacity in a handstand, or are they coming from doing wall assisted headstand inversions? What do you mean by that?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, I mean, basically I work heavily in my workshop with the wall as an aid, as a teaching aid. I want to make sure that the people who participate can climb up the wall with their feet and go upside down and start receiving feedback from the wall and learning the different positions that we cover, that I cover in the workshops.

5:21    Using the Wall as an Aid and Learning How to Receive Feedback from the Wall

Patrick Oancia:

The feedback from the wall, what is that? What does that mean?

Yuval Ayalon:

So basically, I mean, it’s the ideal teaching aid is a teacher that can help you position the feet over the base of support, over the hands, and then find the hands in position. I use basically the wall as another vertical, and then the participants learn how to align themself parallel to the wall, which will result with a straight handstand, a straight vertical handstand. And then, learning how to receive the feedback from the wall is something that they can take home and then continue their own exploration after the workshop as well. So, it’s not about just using the wall to go upside down. It’s learning how to receive feedback from the wall.

6:20    Significance of Real-Time In-Person Feedback

Patrick Oancia:

Is there a lot of repeat people coming to the workshops?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, often. I teach the similar material, almost the same material every workshop, but there is usually a limit to how much people can take within every workshop and they go home and go back to their practice hopefully, and then they practice without any feedback. So, whether it’s they come back to my workshop or even another workshop with another handstand practitioner or teacher, it’s important to receive feedback from another experienced practitioner, because since the nature of the practice itself is so repetitive, if you repeat a lot of an incorrect position, you can ingrain the mistake as well. So that’s where the real time feedback that they receive at the workshop is so valuable.

Patrick Oancia:

That’s interesting. This is in Paris, and I understand you do live in France. You live outside of Paris, is that correct?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes.

Patrick Oancia:

So that group in Paris, would that be people that you see more regularly than other people in other parts of the world?

Yuval Ayalon:

So, the way I work with the workshops, I travel around Europe, around the world, but mostly around Europe. And then, like let’s say I go to Berlin. There is basically a community of hand balancers, or people who are interested in handstands who live in Berlin. Basically, it is the people from Berlin, but also from nearer countries who come. Even when I go to Berlin, sometimes I have people who come from Spain or Israel, so they take the opportunity to go for a weekend in Berlin and then also get some handstand time at the workshop. So not only the people who live there.

Patrick Oancia:

Because Europe is so, it’s so easy to move around in Europe too. I suppose that people travel from one city to another irrespective of where they’re from. I’d like to go back into teaching a little bit later on, but I’d like to just go back in time and take a look at your initial dive into gymnastics and how that became, how long was it, an eight year?

Yuval Ayalon:

No longer.

Patrick Oancia:

18 years, wasn’t it?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes.

9:04    18 Year Long Competitive Journey in Gymnastics

Patrick Oancia:

It was 18 years long competitive journey in gymnastics. What got you into gymnastics?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, I was a little hyperactive kid and jumping, doing climbing, whatever you can imagine, and then at some point my parents sent me both to gymnastics and to tennis when I was like about seven or eight years old. After a year or so, I had a calling for gymnastics. So I decided to focus on gymnastics and started to practice three times a week at that point, gymnastics. I got really absorbed in this sport, which from a child’s point of view, for me, it was, and it still is in a way, it’s like a playground. So, you go and learn skills and very intuitively pure fun and joy that it brought me as a kid.

And then little by little, because it’s a competitive sport, so you start going and going through the paths of competition and preparing for competition and dealing with the stress etc, that starts early on. I can still remember also, aside from the actual practice, there’s the element of competition, which is very different, very challenging at any age. I can really remember the stress involved with the competition from that age, not being able to fall asleep at night.

Patrick Oancia:

God, yes. So that’s what I’d like break it down a little bit. Your interest from being a hyperactive kid, sort of swinging on trees and playing in the playground to getting into gymnastics, because that was an extension of all those things that you love to do as a kid. Then that transitioned from your practice three times a week, to being on the stage and competing, and as you just said, this stress that was associated with that. And I’m curious to know the division or how you process the differences between that playful, innocent interest as a child going through practicing and refining the skills in whatever the form and gymnastics that you were doing to actually having to perform that and be rated on a scale in performance. I mean, how would you divide those three things? Did they all feed off each other or was it always just that you were always going to be stressed going into a competition, or did you strike a balance at finding a way to make each aspect of it more equanimous somehow?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, so I think it’s something that any athlete in any level deals with. For example, I can remember at an age of nine, using all kind of methods of visualization. Closing your eyes and going through your routine in your head and then dealing with putting doubts aside so you can do your routine and crash the dismount, or you can do your routine perfectly in your head. And then translating it to the practice with the help of the coach and stuff to reach a level of confidence that will allow you to perform in real time, put aside the stress and just concentrate on the technique itself.

13:02    The Internal Aspect of Competition in Gymnastics

The competition in gymnastics, like in other performing sports or performing arts is very internal. You’re basically competing with yourself, not in front of another person. You’re competing against other people for scores, but in the end of the day, you are very much competing against yourself, your fears and doubts, and then the part of the practice and preparation for competition is learning how to deal with it. Each athlete developed their own ways and methods to do it, and then you have also positive and negative experiences that you learn from. This is something that I was dealing until a very late part of my career.

Patrick Oancia:

Dealing with? I mean, processing?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, processing. With all the experience, I could be also like a 26 year old, very experienced with hundreds of competitions on my back and still, if I’m not ready for the competition, then you have to deal with the situation. So, you can either ignore the preconditions, said, “Ok, I’m not hitting my routines like eight out of 10, but I still go on the competition and just perform it without ignoring the statistics”, or falling or failing in the competition, which is also part of the career of any athlete.

14:54    Approach to Failure

Patrick Oancia:

So how did you approach failure? How do you deal with it?

Yuval Ayalon:

Usually, you go back the next Monday and go back to practice, and then analyze what went wrong and focus on these areas, and then continue to work according to the plan that the coach gave me and trying to, again, work with good success rates during practice, hitting the routine.

Patrick Oancia:

That sounds really sensible, what you’re describing right now. But you’ll often see in competitive athletics when an athlete doesn’t hit their target, you can see kind of an emotional response in the athlete sometimes. Either they’ll be angry or they’ll start crying or something like that. For yourself, going through all the competitive years as a gymnast, did you ever feel that emotional, like “I wasn’t good enough,” or was it always pertaining to how you just explained it, like just go back on Monday, take a look at what didn’t go right and re-approach it with the mindset of how can we improve it? How was it for you?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, I mean, there’s always this element of the goals and dreams that you have as a kid that you set for yourself. For example, performing in the Olympics, that’s a big one. It was from very young age, and I remember watching the 1984 Olympics. I was in the beginning of my career, and this was very clear mountain or goal to aim for. So, everything you do throughout the career, you have many competitions, many challenging along the way, many injuries, ups and downs, but this is where you are heading at, where you put all your energies towards. Eventually I did not make it to the Olympics for different reasons. So, when I finished my career, I can say, yes, this is a failure of I wasn’t able to achieve one of the major goals.

I had other milestones that I reached. But this is something that you think about, and you also compare yourself, whether it’s the foes from your own country, the environment that you practice, or the world scene. All these Russian and Chinese gymnasts that were my childhood superheroes. I used to sit with these VHS cassettes again and again, and just see these routines, and these were the people I looked up to and try to imitate throughout the career.

Patrick Oancia:

You say you didn’t make the Olympic goal, but I mean, let’s face it, you did get a scholarship to compete in the United States at the University of Illinois. For how long were you in the States?

Yuval Ayalon:

I was there for four years. I was recruited there as an all-around gymnast, so I competed all six events. I was on a full scholarship there.

Patrick Oancia:

I mean, you received awards to as the Israeli All Around Champion and 16th in the All-Around Finals and European Championships. I mean, there was a lot of accomplishments there. So, I guess what I’d like to ask is that even though you didn’t make it to the Olympics, with all of those milestones having been crossed, at the end of it, and from what I remember our talking about in our previous conversations, that it was injury that essentially determined that you could no longer go forward. By that point in time, could you look back on the achievements and think, “Well, this was great”?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, I mean, it goes back and forth. Of course, when I look at it from the side, when I try to look at it from the side, yes, of course I did, I achieved many things. I think, I would say I can’t talk for other people, but I’m sure if you talk to some people who made it to the Olympics or even Olympic medalists, they said, “Yeah, but I could have done maybe this”. I always wanted to also get a medal on the high bar, and I didn’t. There’s always something else in a competitive sport, which is just part of the game.

19:50    Career as a Competitive Athlete versus Actual Practice of Gymnastics

It’s also like there’s a separation in a way between the actual career as a competitive athlete and the actual practice of gymnastics. I enjoyed both of them, but they are different. The practice itself is kind of like no real stress in that sense.

You might have fear of falling from a very difficult trick, but it’s a different type of stress. It’s more primal. If you are learning a new trick, like a triple flip off the bar, there is a danger that you can get hurt. If you open too early, you can sprain your ankle or stuff like that. But it’s not like, as opposed to stress that starts in the mind, self-judgment and stuff like that, which is a little different.

Patrick Oancia:

Are there many people who develop their gymnastic practice without any competition?

Yuval Ayalon:

Not competitive gymnastics. Today there is more options, but it’s not real gymnastics. For example, practitioners of acrobatics or parkour, they can learn very high level of acrobatics, but it’s still not going to be the same as the gymnastics. It’s a little freer in that sense. There’s no constraints.

Patrick Oancia:

So why is that? Why is it not the same as gymnastics?

21:35    Constraints in Modern Gymnastics and Transition to Circus

Yuval Ayalon:

In gymnastics, in modern gymnastics, there is constraints that you have to build your routines according to the current rules that are given by the FIG, the Gymnastics Federation, the World Gymnastics Federation, which changes every four years, the rules, these rules. Which also helps the sport evolve. I would compare it also, which led me to the transition from gymnastics to circus. So circus is a performing art. So you’re not judged with points. You are judged by you are performing a certain acrobatic skill, but you’re also transmitting a certain emotion as an actor to the audience. So, you’re not so much judged in that scale, like an athlete, so it’s a much more open. So that gives, for example, an opening for a person who doesn’t fit the mold of gymnastics but can still express something else and more freedom to go different directions.

That kind of leads us probably to the connection between my careers in gymnastics and circus.

Patrick Oancia:

So, in the sense if someone’s not competing, then obviously there’s no reason to follow any rules. We look at things like parkour or acrobatics, are parkour practitioners and acrobats, to what percentage or what ratio would those people be following applications that have been developed in those, and when I say that, I mean, I look at parkour, I can’t speak for acrobatics. I know less about acrobatics. I look at parkour and say, I could look at freestyle snowboarding. All those were developed just out of pure experimentation, and then now, for example, I don’t know if parkour is an Olympic sport, but snowboarding is, for example. Jumps are rated. I was just watching on the Olympics the other day, the jumps are actually rated by specific techniques in the form, which from when I was a kid, it was just skaters and snowboarders just developing those off the top of their heads.

Yuval Ayalon:

Playing around, yes.

24:14    Heightened Rate of Cross Pollination between Different Disciplines

Patrick Oancia:

Exactly. So, in that way, that liberation, how much does the liberation exist in conventional training in parkour and conventional training in acrobatics? I guess that’s the question I’d like to ask before we move on.

Yuval Ayalon:

I mean, I’m not a parkour practitioner. I can only assume, but there is acrobatic and gymnastics fundamentals that can be very helpful for any parkour practitioner. So, for example, if I transitioned from gymnastics towards parkour, of course, I’ll take with me all the experience I have as a gymnast and put it in my new practice. On the other hand, I’ll have some habits that I take from gymnastics that will maybe hinder my movement as a parkour practitioner, because it’s so stylish. Gymnastics comes from ballet and gymnastic, calisthenics, and developed to what it is today through the years, and affected also how, for example, I’ll take one skill, the Thomas Flare.

Kurt Thomas invented the skill in 1980, and today there are break dancers who are doing it in a much, much higher level than what Kurt Thomas did. So, there is a cross pollination between different disciplines, and it’s just becoming more and more acute today, like also with social media. Today, every skill that is learned is immediately put on social media. So, the rate of learning the evolution of all these sports, including what you mentioned, whether it’s snowboarding or rollerblading, all this acrobatic, and some of them, also some of these snowboarders, they also go to the gym and learn on the trampoline, all the orientation with traditional acrobatics, and then take it forward. The evolution is heightened now.

Patrick Oancia:

Yes, well, also on the Olympics, I was watching these snowboarders that were doing these, I forget what the modalities called, it’s a big jump. They jump. You could see that those people have obviously trained in visualizations because they’re visualizing the moves, like gymnasts do, for example, prior to doing the jumps. When I was a kid, maybe there was some level of visualization going on, but not to that level where people were putting themselves in space, imagining which direction their body would be turning at, what velocity and at what momentum to be able to execute the actual form and land without killing yourself.

Yuval Ayalon:

But it’s not only visualization. They have to do it in their body. So, they will actually go to the trampoline and learn the basics of the trampoline, some of it with a belt, with the ability to even rotate in the air so they have a safe environment that they can try all these things until they can go to the half pipe and do it on the snow, because it’s very dangerous. If you have vertigo, it could be very dangerous. As gymnasts also, even though trampoline was not part of my competitive apparatus, it was like we had six events.

It was almost like a seventh event where it’s like you can analyze the acrobatic movement in slow motion because you have more time in the air. So you learn all the tricks that you do on the high bar on the trampoline first in a soft mat, in the pit they call it, where you can take chances and fall and then learn it, of course, with correct technique, and then translate it into the apparatus that you want to put it in, whether it’s the floor, the high bar, the rings, etc. So, the method is similar. We also in gymnastics, we look at other disciplines and learned from there.

Patrick Oancia:

Interesting. I mean, you’re saying that level of training, and I understand everything you’re saying, and that structure for me seems like the most sensible thing to do. But I mean, I can tell you firsthand that I knew tons of people, skateboarding and snowboarding when I was a kid, there was no going to the gym and practicing on trampolines. There was just pure experimentation and falling and hurting yourself. I mean, there’s a level of exploration there, which is uncalculated more intuitive, on one level, and then the level of exploration is backed up by the fact that you fall and the pain and/or whatever, adrenaline based exhilaration there would be from the falling, if there wasn’t any kind of serious injury, would be something that would either deter somebody or encourage them to continue to move forward. In your own practice, how much of what you approach…

Yuval Ayalon:

My current practice or gymnastics?

Patrick Oancia:

No. I mean, just all throughout, like, whatever. Through gymnastics, through your stints as a performance artist in circus, and now through to what you’re doing right now.

30:27    Significance of Structured Learning in Gymnastics


Let’s go back to when you were a kid jumping on trees. To what level was your approach to learning unstructured? Was there any aspect of it where you were just allowing for yourself to sense the changes without linear progression towards the skill building?

Yuval Ayalon:

I think it’s a good question. That’s the job of the coach. So, if you have a good coach, he will give you the correct path that will still allow you to explore intuitively but set you towards a correct direction. Because these acrobatic skills, the biomechanics of these skills have certain rules and also the coach has a responsibility that his gymnast, that his kid would not get hurt during practice. So, in that sense, it’s the approach of the athlete, of gymnasts a little bit more often, a little bit more conservative, because you also have a competition.

What you see in the break dancers or skateboarders, maybe it’s changing today if they have competitions, but they’re just doing it. They’re just messing around and trying stuff, but there is the repercussions. You can fall and get injured, and then you are out of work. I mean, you can’t do it for six months because you break a bone. I can say I had a lot of fun. I tried things, skills that were very scary for me as a kid, but it was always done in a very structured and always with going back into the basics and the foundation of each skill, of each acrobatic move.

Patrick Oancia:

Those progressions are pretty linear?

Yuval Ayalon:

There is linear progression, yes.

Patrick Oancia:

Yes. What percentage for you personally was linear as opposed to non-linear?

Yuval Ayalon:

It’s hard for me to say. It’s mostly linear. It has to be linear in this type. But then within the practice itself, I remember my mom sometimes used to come to the gym and just look at me practicing and she still, she says this, “I just saw you going at the high bar, doing your trick, coming down, putting chalk on your hands, going up again and just repeating the same trick”. Then she asked me like, “Is this fun?”, and then my eyes lit, “Yeah, this is the best thing”. I loved it. I miss that. Not necessarily, this is type of practice or maybe you can differentiate between depending what time of the year it is.

There is like a time where you come prepare for a competition, so everything is very structured and organized, and then there is this time of after the competition season where you’re learning new tricks that you will integrate maybe in your next year’s competition when you’re competing against older kids and there’s a natural progression in your routine. So, over there, the first time that you do from a double flip on the high bar to a triple flip, there is that moment, the first time that you do or doing a release. I remember the feeling, the rush the first time I caught a release on the high bar. You do a flip, half a turn, and then suddenly you have to grab the bar and the feeling of that first time that you catch is something very memorable. So, these are moments, it’s like learning that new trick on the skateboard. Very similar.

Patrick Oancia:

It comes, you capture it. I mean, it becomes inherent. You go from that cognitive struggle to the associative skill building to the autonomous, like, I don’t think about it anymore.

Yuval Ayalon:

Then from the first time you do, then you start practicing in order to repeat it and being able to do it under pressure and be judged on it.

Patrick Oancia:

Interesting. Under pressure that’s from the competitive mindset again.

Yuval Ayalon:

Because that’s where the environment in which I was in. It was normal. You’re a kid, you compete, you have your friends that you compete with and against, and then you have the older generation, the 16 year old or 18 year old guys that you look at and they’re doing all these, and you want to do what they are doing. You know you have to go through the path that they went in order to go that direction. From the child point of view, from the kids point.

Patrick Oancia:

From the child’s point.

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, yes.

Patrick Oancia:

The innocence.

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, the innocence. I still have a very positive memory of what I felt at the gym. That was my playground, literally, because from the moment it got serious, I didn’t go to playgrounds anymore.

Patrick Oancia:

In relation to that fun, when we think about a visceral experience for learning, do you have preference to something slower, like doing handstands? Or were you, or were there phases where you were into doing stuff that had a lot of momentum similar to that with gymnastics? Velocity, momentum, changing the position of the body and space over center of gravity. I mean, is there a preference that you’ve had throughout, or has that changed as well?

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Yuval Ayalon:

I mean, since…

Patrick Oancia:

Viscerally.

37:00    Handstand, the Primal Acrobatic Skill

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, since I was an all-around gymnast and I had to experience all of them, but yes, I loved the dynamic acrobatics, like high bar flying, the sensation of flying, going in the air, doing a few twists and flips and being able to land, controlling these acrobatic moves is something I truly enjoyed. Now, it’s funny because last weekend during our vacation, we took the girls to this trampoline park, and I remember, my body remembers all of the big tricks I did. I know how to do them, but my physical body cannot take it. It doesn’t feel right. So, over the years, as I went more towards what I’m doing now, which is I focus on handstands, it’s much more controlled without…, you can really control the stresses on the body and avoid anything that might be too much for my aging body to handle. So, I think it was more like handstand itself is, I like to call it, it’s like a primal acrobatic skill.

Patrick Oancia:

That’s a good word to describe it.

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, I mean, it is a very fundamental skill for gymnasts. You learn it from day one. Then when I discovered handstand in my early 30s, like way after I retired from competitive gymnastics, I realized there’s a skill that I did since a very young age, that will still allow me to explore unlimited amount of exploration in this one particular skill, which can be done until later age in life. Which is probably the reason I’m still doing it because I’m still challenged and I’m still learning new things.

Patrick Oancia:

Is it really such a fundamental skill, and what is it that you mean when you say that you discovered that?

Yuval Ayalon:

Fundamental, acrobatic skill. So it’s not like for life, you can do in life without handstand. It’s not like the handstand is a primal movement in general, but the fact that it’s upside down, it’s the orientation, upside down, which is not the normal position that we usually, usually we are on our feet and then putting things upside down, it’s just changing something, but the awareness…

Patrick Oancia:

I’m sorry, I’ll make a reference to it that you just mentioned as a gymnast you discovered this when you were 30 years old, and it was the ultimate depth of exploration. I guess that’s what I was trying to pick your brains for more than anything else.

Yuval Ayalon:

I discovered that I never really stopped doing handstand, but it became suddenly a possibility as a possible career.

Patrick Oancia:

Wow.

Yuval Ayalon:

I started researching it online very little at the time in the early 2000s. I don’t think YouTube was then up yet. I saw some hand balancers performing in cabarets and stuff like that, and I started exploring it, and then later on, I reached out to a teacher, a professional hand balancer, an old school hand balancer, practitioner and teacher who gave me the basics of hand balancing as a discipline, not part of gymnastics. It’s like a discipline in itself. In the past, hand balancing, it was a skill that you learned if you lived in a circus family or you went to a circus school, and very few existed at the time. Today it just exploded. It became a skill that anyone can learn.

Patrick Oancia:

In your situation, if the career possibility of being a handstand performance artist and teacher had not been there, would that same level of interest been there for you?

Yuval Ayalon:

Well, when I started playing with it, so I still didn’t think about in terms of career because when you are 30, it doesn’t really make sense to go there. Ok. I took this chance, and then only later on, it became an actual path. So when I started doing handstand as a practice, I did not think that I’ll be able to make a living teaching it. Also, it also led me to my other career, the circus career, which was also not really something planned ahead of time. It kind of happened.

Patrick Oancia:

The one thing I would just like to comment on, you’re saying that in the 2000s, there wasn’t really much around in terms of where to train to do handstands, for example. My experience back then too, is that for years, I started doing handstands when I was young, in the 80s, but for the purpose of doing them on skateboards. We would watch Rodney Mullen doing freestyle tricks and videos, and we’d start doing it like that, and then later my interest in handstand transferred to the practices that I was involved in. It has indeed become this thing right now, and particularly with social media.

As you said, there’s one thing I’d also like to comment in relation to the skills that are out there and social media, and it’s like, what we talk about in relation to whatever the modality is, whether that’s gymnastics, acrobatics, parkour, snowboarding, there are people that are really pushing the limits. To what extent can a person look from outside onto that and have, for one, a level of inspiration, or two, feeling like I’m never going to be able to do that and become kind of almost uninspired by it.

This is something I’d like to touch on a little bit later too, but the predicament of social media and how positive a thing is, and inevitably how negative it can be for some people as well. But let’s go from the gymnastics thing to your 30s, you had the injuries, which determined really that it would’ve been difficult for you to continue with gymnastics, and you had mentioned that. So was the first one the L5 S1, herniated disc? Was that the original injury?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes.

Patrick Oancia:

Then there was shoulder tears. The shoulder tears were a result of gymnastics, or was that something that came through the circus performance?

Yuval Ayalon:

No, I mean, that came way towards the end of my circus performance.

Patrick Oancia:

Ok, got it.

Yuval Ayalon:

The shoulder, I believe it was me playing with circus in my late 30s in disciplines that are not necessarily my practice, doing aerial acrobatics where I haven’t done gymnastics for 10 years, and I’m focusing all of my energies in handstands. So, that’s probably. Plus, just wear and tear, you’re doing intense work in your late 30s. It’s very difficult to sustain, especially with the amount of repetition and the intensity of the work in the circus company that I worked with.

Patrick Oancia:

Yes. So, I mean that end of your career with this L5 S1 herniation. I mean, anything in this spine related to hernias, I mean, it becomes chronic for most people. And again, to continue to compete and to have a realistic approach to that. I mean, there are people that do attempt that, but obviously the possibility for that to become a seriously debilitating chronic condition, it probably was a smart thing to get out of it at the time that you did. But it just brings me to the next things.

46:30    Gamble from Gymnastics to a Circus Performer


Like, ok, so from gymnastics to like wild performance art as a circus performer. I mean, these things too. And just to clarify here. You were inspired to get into circus performance initially as out of the interest to just practice it? Or were you looking also to eventually become a performance artist in a career as a circus performer?

Yuval Ayalon:

I mean, any way you look at it was a gamble. So I didn’t have any acting experience. I was never a performer, a natural performer, no acting or dance or singing or whatever. I wasn’t the stage kid. I was an athlete. I didn’t have any other experiences. I joke always my only performance experience was my Bar Mitzvah, when I sang my thing in the Bar Mitzvah. And then the next time I went on stage was in when I was 32, the big stage. So, I had like these few years between my retirement from gymnastics, and then until the time I went to Vegas for the big show, I did experience, I start flirting with the performance world in very basic stuff.

There was a circus company in Tel Aviv. And I dressed up as a monkey and I did something on the trampoline, some very basic acting skills. But I was still able to use my skills as a gymnast to create some level of non-gymnastics movement, to do acrobatics as a monkey, and not as a gymnast, as a person. So, these little experiences, as a kid, I rode on the unicycle. It was like a hobby. So, I was able to perform as a character, as a clown on a unicycle in street performances, very basic stuff. That’s in the early 2000, it was kind of a transition in my life, and I was looking for direction. What can I do?

That’s when I heard about Cirque du Soleil also. And then I started looking at different shows, and it’s like, what is the profile of the people that are looking. I was way too late in my career to become a specialist, a circus specialist, for example. The people who perform in shows like this are people who master their skill when they’re like 18, and then perform for 20 years in a certain, very specific skill, like hand balancing or juggling or whatever. There was also an option in these shows as a general Acrobat. So they’re looking for people with my profile, people with gymnastics background who can also be on stage. From that moment, I was like, ok, what do I need to do in order to apply, give it a shot?

So, I took some dance classes and some acting classes and joined some part-time circus school program in Tel Aviv, and start experimenting with different things, as well as get back into my gymnastics shape, because I would be auditioning on that as well. The process of re-introducing gymnastics into my daily practice, as well as experimenting with other things eventually led me to the audition that brought me to Vegas. I don’t know, looking back, it wasn’t the responsible thing to do in your 30s. I had to take a big jump into the water there and see what happens.

Patrick Oancia:

Well, literally jump into the water, right?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes.

Patrick Oancia:

Le Reve, there was a lot of water involved in that particular production, wasn’t there?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes.

Patrick Oancia:

I mean, being in water all the time, which I’d like to hear about more in a second, but one thing before we go there,

51:16    New Iteration of Circus Performance and the Circus Hub Montreal


the Cirque du Soleil, how did you originally hear about Cirque du Soleil?

Yuval Ayalon:

I was starting to hang out with some circus community in Israel, and of course, people, “Ah, check this video. Check these classic Cirque du Soleil shows, like Alegria and Quidam and Saltimbanco”. So, I started looking at these shows and really like, first of all, it’s very inspiring, and then also it’s like, I always like, “Oh, I can do that”. I was watching these videos, not as like pure, just see the show. I was like, “Hmm, can I do that? Can I fit that? Is it something that’s really possible?”. So I started preparing that, for an audition, which is something very general. I did an audition for Cirque du Soleil a year before the one for Le Reve, and I didn’t make it, but this audition was probably 2003 or 2004.

Patrick Oancia:

I spent many years living in Montreal when I was a kid, and then later in my teens. I lived in Montreal, was playing music there, and I knew a lot of people that were involved either directly or indirectly with Cirque du Soleil. There was a lot of very bespoke performances going on in Montreal during the 90s, before the Cirque du Soleil thing became super popular, and there was a lot of really very talented people there.

Yuval Ayalon:

Still, yes.

Patrick Oancia:

Not all those people were coming from, although they practiced and they rehearsed, they weren’t all necessarily coming from a background like yourself. They weren’t coming from a background as a trained gymnast, but essentially those people became handstand arm balance performers or whatever. It was a really interesting progression from how the circus, the new iteration of a circus performance and how these things scaled out into not only the visceral, but a very emotional experience with a storyline, and something like Alegria, for example.

Yuval Ayalon:

No, a little sidetrack, speaking about Alegria and Montreal. So the person, back then during the time when I was looking at Cirque du Soleil videos, there was also a company, you may have heard it, based in Montreal called Seven Fingers.

Patrick Oancia:

Yes.

Yuval Ayalon:

Which are all basically people who used to be in Cirque du Soleil, and they created their own little circus company, which I loved artistically, what they do artistically and all that. And one of the founders of the company was a hand balancer. When I went to their website and read his resume, he was the first person who mentioned the teacher that I later went to study with, Claude Victoria.

Patrick Oancia:

Oh, interesting.

Yuval Ayalon:

So, Montreal is a big, and it still is, is one of the biggest circus schools in the world in Montreal, which is across the street from the headquarters of Cirque du Soleil. So, it’s still a very influential hub that affects circus today, contemporary circus.

Patrick Oancia:

I mean, everything really, Montreal was a hub for everything, like super creative, the musical community, like expressive arts, architecture, you name it. It’s a city that’s rich in creativity and performance.

55:36    Le Reve, the Water, Land and Sky


I’d like to now, Le Reve, I’d like to talk about that because you auditioned or were able to be successful in getting a part as a generalist performer in Le Reve for eight years in Las Vegas, and you did over 3000 performances. Le Reve, from what I understood about it, there was a large component of Le Reve, which was in water or underwater, would it be correct to say?

Yuval Ayalon:

Well, the audience sees only what’s above the water, but basically, it’s a 360, it’s a stage, a round stage, and the audience is sitting around the stage. Basically the stage itself, the center of the stage is a big pool, and then there is big hydraulic system that lifts the ground out of the water. So some of the acts are on stage, on a dry stage, and then some of the acts are basically in the pool. You see a bunch of people flying into the water from all the aerial apparatus. There is basically three dimensions. There is the water, the land, and then there’s a sky, the aerial. It’s a height of 25 meters, so it’s a pretty massive space that we basically used as part of the show.

So for example, the stage has three tunnels that go backstage. Some of the acts, you basically, you swam underwater using this scuba gear in order to wait for your cue to go on stage. In some of the acts, you went up, you were carried up towards the ceiling of the theater and finished the act there. It was very dynamic and Vegas style production, but really taking it to the limits as far as the production is concerned. The first time you can imagine, I got accepted to the show, and then two weeks later, I’m in Vegas and I’m watching the show. I took time until I integrated, and I was like, you look, and it was very hard to comprehend that I’m going to be part of this production, crazy production. So that was a big, also interesting transition that I kind of, like before I jumped into the water into that biggest stage on earth situation, and here I am going to perform there for, I didn’t know how long I’m going to be there.

58:47    Challenge in Performing on a Count of Eight

Patrick Oancia:

There’s one level of the competition and training and gymnastics and really needing to sort of get into the mindset of a performance and success in the performance on a competitive level, to jumping straight into a career as a circus performer, a performance artist. I’m just curious to know was the psychological experience of it for you very different. In the performance, in Le Reve, for example, was there an element whereby things did not have to be perfectly on point, but as long as you were generally being able to perform something within a threshold of a capacity, that’s what you were aiming for? Or was there an element of perfection similar to that as there was in gymnastics?

Yuval Ayalon:

I mean, in the gymnastics part, the acrobatic part, I felt at home. That was a very familiar thing for me. The most challenging aspect of this experience, and for me specifically, because I’m not a natural performer, I never learned how to perform on a count of eight, something that any dancer does naturally. It was a very difficult part of integrating into the show. I can say, I mean, I was never the natural performer, even within the show. The cast was huge. It’s like 90 performers, people from different backgrounds. Some of the people have a lot of stage experience, years, 20 years of stage experience, and I had zero, basically. So my challenges was to learn a three minute choreography and perform it. I am and I was, within the show, I consider myself a slow learner. It’s very difficult for me to learn choreography. Once I learn it, I can do it ok, and I was a well-respected performer, but I had to put in extra effort in order to do what is expected from me as a professional artist.

Patrick Oancia:

Was there a harmonious sense of comradery within the performance group there? I mean, were people supportive of the fact that that was a new skill that you needed to learn, and were they trying to support you as much in that process of getting comfortable with it as possible? Was there a collective team effort towards…

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, but also, it’s a competitive environment. So still people are competing with each other to get the roles, to get a center role in the show. It doesn’t happen by itself. You need to go for it. So in a sense, there is some level, like any performance oriented art, you are competing with other people. It doesn’t happen by itself. Yes, of course I have friends for life during the show, but there are people you connect with, and there are people that don’t connect with, like any environment that you work at or live in.

Patrick Oancia:

I mean, was there any HR person working within the production? Was there ever kind of like any difficulties in communication or cooperation between the people working? Or was it just kind of like there was a sense of competitiveness there that you felt that for the most part of it, everybody was professional enough to be able to get the job done?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, but it’s still within, it’s still art and everything, but it’s a corporate environment in the sense that every year you have a meeting and you get a report card and you are judged. You get literally a report card of how we did on stage. If you did what you expected, how many shows out of the year you performed. Oh, here you were injured too often, etc. Eventually there is a point where you can be pressured, ok, if this doesn’t work, so maybe it’s not your place. I’m not saying it’s an experience, but it’s a possibility. If you missed too many cues because you spaced out and you didn’t show up on stage when it was time, then it is something that you need to be accounted for.

Patrick Oancia:

How often would that happen? How often would you not show up on stage?

Yuval Ayalon:

It happens occasionally. It’s a show that you…

Patrick Oancia:

For what reason?

Yuval Ayalon:

You are in the training room playing with your friends or doing, and then suddenly you miss your cue. It didn’t happen very often, but it could happen. Or if you have a partner on stage, and the way the show is structured, we always change partners. So, we had like, for example, a certain role in the show, and we can do it in different places on stage and with different partners. So, even if you’re doing the same act every day, every day it’s a little different, depending on the people you are on stage with, etc.

If, for example, you don’t get along on stage with another partner, or the partner is not feeling safe with you, so this is something that could create issues, for example. Then it’s something that you have to deal with, or either go and do more rehearsals or in an extreme situation said, ok, maybe you don’t fit this act. Then you go to different acts in the show. So, it’s a very complex show and it requires a high level of trust between yourself and other performance, as well as yourself with all the technical crew because at some points, you are hanging up 20 meters in the air, it could be very dangerous. So, there is many areas that you’re being looked at constantly. The moment they lose the trust in you, it could be very problematic in that sense. This is aside from the artistic expression on stage, it could be just simple trust issues, for example.

1:06:05    Taking the Performance Experience to Teaching Handstands

Patrick Oancia:

When it came to performance preparation, working with the team on a technical level, and being able to not only meet the expectations of the corporate driven specific goals, as a circus performer, I’m anticipating, there was probably also a level of involving a creative aspect of yourself in the performance. Was there any aspect of what you did in your performance that resulted in some creative and/or practical realizations about yourself?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, it’s an interesting question because in a sense, some of the acts I learned, I basically performed the same act for eight years. The same choreography on the same beat. You have a certain costume, you have a certain emotion and feeling that you are portraying as an actor, basically in these scenes. Within these very choreographed movements, you had some way to express or to feel different things as you go, whether it’s a different partner or how you are feeling that day. I think it’s hard to put a point on what I got out of the experience. It’s more something that maybe connect the dots later on, today when I’m no longer a performer.

Patrick Oancia:

The dots that were connected, can you give me an example of retrospective realizations?

Yuval Ayalon:

Yes, so, obviously, today, I am no longer performing on stage. I can’t really take that experience as a performer on stage, but suddenly I became, like in the last eight years, when I start teaching on a regular basis, teaching itself has become my stage. My workshops are in a certain way, a stage. It’s not a choreography, but I’m teaching a very particular skill and technique. Each workshop is basically the same material, the same lineup for what I’m going to transmit, but I’m meeting different people and I need to react in real life to the different situation.

You know, I’m, I’m explaining the same skill, but one person is scared and one person isn’t. So I need to be creative with how I deal with different situations, with different people. In a way, this is where I think I have taken, in retrospectively, what I took out of this performance experience. Suddenly from someone who never thought that I would stand in front of 30 people on stage, and that’s what I’m doing on a regular basis without thinking too much about. So, this is something that I think has a direct connection to what I receive during these eight years in the show, and it’s something that I did not plan to do after I retire. I retired from the show and then I had to figure out what I wanted do from that point on.

1:10:16    From Competition, Performance to Teaching

Patrick Oancia:

With the experience of being a performance artist, actually let’s look at all three scenarios. Performing for point driven scores in gymnastics, next to performing to be able to execute the production objectives as a circus performer, to performing in achieving your roles, also dialing in being adaptive, depending on the group of people that you have when you’re teaching, how did the three differ? How are the three similar?

Yuval Ayalon:

I mean, as a teacher, maybe I would start with what I’m doing currently. There is less adrenaline involved. Nothing beats going on the apparatus in a competition or going on stage for the first time in a new act. It was very similar in that sense. I felt there were a lot of similarities, especially where I was doing things that I was not a natural. For me, for example, in the show to learn a new act that requires basically dancing was as challenging as going in onto the pommel horse, in a competition. The doubts, the not remember the choreography and not doing the right thing, it was very stressful, and dealing with that stress was something that I enjoyed doing, and I was proud of.

1:12:14    Closing

Patrick Oancia:

So that concludes part one of the Transmission Conversations with Yuval. We did run into some technical problems toward the end of that conversation, which resulted in us collectively agreeing that we would do a part two in the future. So stay tuned for that. Again, if anything that you heard today resonated with you, consider liking it or sharing it or subscribing to our channel, or even leaving us a five-star review on apple podcasts. Your contribution towards that helps us to reach more people with the content that we’re sharing. If you have any ideas or comments that you would like to share with us about today’s episode, please consider sending us a voice memo to ideas(at)baseworks.com

To find out more about Yuval and all of his upcoming workshops globally, you can check out his website at yuvalonhands.com, and I also really recommend following him on Instagram because he shares a lot of his practice along with some super cool practice techniques that anyone can benefit from. You can find him on Instagram @yuval_on_hands. To benefit from exclusive content delivered right into your inbox, consider signing up for our newsletter from the footer on any page of our website. To know more about Baseworks specifically and everything we’re doing, visit our website at baseworks.com

 

 

 

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