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Here are fragments of an essay by K. Topfer (professor of faculty of dramatic art, University of San Jose, California, the USA) «Twisted bodies. Aspects of female contortionism in letters of a connoisseur». Despite of the specific orientation, this information is rather pertinent in the given context.
«Contortion is an ancient kind of art. The first information about it goes back to antiquity when contortionists of the Egyptian and Greco-Roman cultures acted in cast of theatrical troupes together with acrobats, rope-dancers and strong men. These troupes showed tragical pantomimes at theatres, stadiums and in private houses. At the age of Christianity contortion as a public show had gone through decline and became a stochastic element of eccentric entertainments of aristocracy alongside with men of motley, dwarfs, dancers, acrobats and jugglers. A remarkable example of medieval number of contortion is a sculpture in nave of the Cathedral in Rouen representing Salome on a feast of Herod. She is dancing being on hands, bending the turned body so that her legs are hanging down above the head.
As a public show, contortion had reappeared approximately in 18th century, but only in 20th popularity of its women-performers had eclipsed the man's one. In 1890 mademoiselle Bertoldi, "distortionist", had opened for public the female contortion in some variety theatres in Europe. They discussed from her plastic numbers mainly plots, and technical and psychological aspects of performance were not concerned. Using light effects, properties, luxurious magnificent suits and «the offscreen voice» for creation of mystical atmosphere, contortion performers had been transforming their performances into emotional dramas. Sometimes women acted with male partners who did not bend, however merely female duets made a stronger impression upon the public, especially if there were both performers contortionists. Contortion had become a "dark" genre admitted mainly in nightclubs and concert halls. The flowering of contortion fell on the Thirtieth and Forties. The American performer Barbara La May who had located in Paris was, probably, the greatest actress of this genre. She connected motives of heroic spirit and danger with the luxurious melancholic representation of defenselessness. Her daughter also participated in number together with mother. In general, the reason of interest to contortion is quite often the desire to see something unpleasant. It demonstrates the autobiographical «story of a contortionist» in the old brochure «Vive le Cirque Serge» (from B. Kattenberg's collection): «At present time public thirsts for a nightmare. One woman had fainted before my very eyes. Public is horrified, when it hears the crunch of my bones and feels disgust, when I do myself completely soft. Once at home I was coming downstairs as a frog, and houseowner who had seen me got an attack of hysteria».
There is also a term "klishnik" (frontbender) – a performer of the plastic acrobatics numbers based on the special flexibility of the body. The main position of a klishnik is a so-called front folding (position at which the corpus closely adjoins to the legs, which have been not bent in knees), is carried out standing, sitting and lying. Among other tricks there are: "frog", a handstand with the legs been put behind shoulders; «simian run», the actor quickly moves on the arena on direct legs, touching with his palms the ground; puts legs behind the neck, and others. These elements of acrobatics were known in antiquities too, but their setting apart in an independent kind and the further development is connected with the name of English actor E. Klishnik (1813 - 1877), who for the first time acted with the number "person-monkey" (Vienna, 1842). In the beginning of XX century in this genre, there were comic and group numbers which represented pantomime sketches with a simple plot - actors represented devils, frogs, crocodiles, snakes».
When yoga began to become fashionable (the beginning of 1990), the superflexible youth had instantly caught demand and rushed to create «schools of author's yoga»,but actually all this is the same contortion, only in pseudo yoga packing. On the mentioned above sites are placed photos of little-girls-gymnasts who are bent so, that on their background, even Iyengar has nothing to do. To tell the truth, everything is fairly called by them tricks based on the youth and physical predisposition of performers who, by the way, are not invited for some reason to the championships in yoga sport.
There are known both women and men who had reached in contortion outstanding success such as Galina Torbeyeva, Tamara Ljazgina, Irina Vashchenko, Irina Kazakova, Christina Kireyeva, Svetlana Belova, Natalia Vasiljuk, Tatyana Basargina, Englishman Daniel Browning Smith, Mongolians Norovsambu and Talbaa Ouontsatsran, etc. All of them, possessing rare innate physique, act in various shows after their special development and polishing their mastery. They do not give out the circus for yoga, do not promise to teach anyone this, and do not bring abstruse substantiations under their narrow physical endowments what is typical for authors of new «yoga styles». If actors of "caoutchouc" genre travelling across the world support themselves owing to earnings from the performances, many people fooled by "yogis" of the new formation go themselves to them and pay money for that what is impossible to learn, and by the highest standards, there is no need to do it.
What moves authors of mentioned "styles" one can learn from correspondence between resident of Kiev Sidersky and resident of Novosibirsk Kalabin, both bright representatives of the substitute "yoga". This correspondence had flashed once around in the Internet.
There are addresses on which some texts had been exposed,
«Tout se ramène à des forces physiques, celles de l'attraction et de la répulsion.»