TEACHER PROFILE: LILLIAN BARBEITO
Co-Artistic Director of the renowned LA-based dance company BODYTRAFFIC, professor at Loyola Marymount University, and devoted mother of two kids, Lillian Barbeito is an awe of energy. A teacher of Countertechnique now for over ten years, Lillian has travelled miles with her performance, choreographic and teaching career. Catching a moment of her time, she humbly shares with us some valuable advice from her wealth of experience with Countertechnique. By Madeline Harms.
Where you are from and how did you started dancing?
I started dancing when I was 5 years old, when we lived in a very small town in Arizona. We eventually moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and at the age of 13 I moved to a more serious dance studio and it was then that I decided I wanted to be a ballet dancer. During the rigorous training I was constantly injured and eventually had to take a year off due to a stress fracture and reoccurring tendonitis. When I returned to dance, ballet didn’t seem the right fit anymore so I turned to contemporary and modern. I was then accepted into The Juilliard School and discovered that there was a more mindful way of working with my actual body.
How do you look back at your years at university?
Juilliard is an exceptional training ground with a standard of excellence that is unparalleled. I only wish that I’d had Countertechnique during my time there! I know that if I had the tools then, that I would have been able to handle the mental and extreme physical demands of the department more effectively and joyously.
When did you find out about Countertechnique and why did it grasp your interest?
I first saw the work of anoukvandijk dance company in New York at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals, a booking conference. I’ll never forget that during that performance of the work STAU, I thought the dancers were incredible but couldn’t articulate what was so different about what they were doing. I didn’t know that Countertechnique was behind the movement. Fast forward a couple of years, when I attended my first One Body One Career Intensive (OBOC) in 2006 I finally understood what Countertechnique was. It was then that I discovered that it was possible to dance pain-free. Since then, there has been no looking back and it has been an exploration of dancing, not just pain-free but with absolute joy. This was such a welcome departure from my early training.
What was your first experience with Countertechnique like?
It was Nina Wollny’s class. She seemed to defy what I knew was physically possible. This was the first time in my whole career that I had no idea about how someone was executing the movement. I couldn’t comprehend how she was accomplishing that amount of travelling, speed, and presence. I remember thinking that I had to sort this out for myself, so that I could also be that free while moving. Like a Tasmanian Devil and an octopus combined!
When did you decide to become a Countertechnique teacher?
At the time of the OBOC, I was already quite established as a teacher and I was just soaking up all the information. In 2008, when Countertechnique Founder Anouk van Dijk first started to train Countertechnique teachers, she invited me to join. I was the guinea pig that didn’t know Countertechnique, amongst the group of her company members. It was a tremendous honour and good fortune of coming in at this moment, asking the questions that people who had never been exposed to Countertechnique would. I think it was a really nice balance, because they all knew Countertechnique but some of them had never taught a class before. Whereas on the other hand, I had a lot of teaching experience but didn’t know Countertechnique as well yet. It was a lovely exchange.
How has Countertechnique helped you in your own performance?
During BODYTRAFFIC’s first commission, a set piece crushed my foot and chipped a metatarsal, but I was still able to dance through it. I never had the chip removed, and I believe I would not have been able to continue dancing without Countertechnique. Learning to distribute weight off of my feet, helped me to dance for many years after that and any time I would get injured - instead of it being a problem I was afraid of - I would look at it as an alarm that I wasn’t working in a way that was healthy or efficient. With the Countertechnique training I am able to look at what am I doing, what the physical patterns are that are causing the pain and find what tools I can do to immediately, not only alleviate the pain, but have much more freedom. Having all of that knowledge literally saved my dancing; I would not be able to dance without it.
What do you encounter as frequent issues among your students in class?
Often, self-judgement gets in the way. It so happens that today in my class at the university we played games that looked at omitting any extraneous thinking. Taking the opinion out of what we are doing, so that we can be more focused on the task at hand. We discovered that if you do at least two things at the same time, then there is no longer room for judgement. This was a fabulous discovery for my students. I could see their faces light up when they realized that they could apply that in any class or rehearsal; if they give themselves two things then they’ll find joy in just the task. They left beaming! It’s not abstract, they are actual tools. If you first think A and then right after B, there is no time to have an opinion about it because you’re already moving on. It’s beautiful!
How does understanding of Countertechnique differ between younger and more experienced dancers? The university demographic for example, compared to the seasoned-performer demographic?
I find that younger dancers really like the physical tools and that the more seasoned dancers - with a better understanding of their own body - enjoy the tools that are more conceptual. In either demographic, I sometimes find that if you give dancers tools, they don’t always utilize them - simply because they don’t immediately see the benefit of it. If you then give them some sort of ‘eye-candy’ that you can demonstrate, give them something that looks so delicious that they’ll want to reproduce it, but unsuccessfully - then they’ll want the tools. So, it’s lovely to throw something at them that is challenging enough for them to fail, so they have to apply a tool in order for it to work.
Have you had any recent new discoveries yourself within Countertechnique?
My most recent discovery would have to be ‘discovering the unexpected’. It was in the summer of 2017 when Anouk came back to the United States to teach and I had the pleasure of taking her class again. It was amazing to be fully-immersed with her for several days and to rediscover that there is just so much more to learn, and that the key to accessing more range of motion and joy is in staying present. I think that when you teach you often fall into patterns of what you’re good at and being in her classes reminded me that you have to do it full. I guess sometimes as teachers we can get intellectually indolent about challenging ourselves. So I discovered that I had stopped challenging myself. After this experience, planning a brand new class became so much fun, because it was so unexpected the way everything was strung together. I was re-organizing things in ways that were not only challenged me, but also surprised me!
What would you like to see in the future of Countertechnique and its role in the education of the dance world?
I would love to see it implemented in dance conservatories around the world, because I think it would help dancers as they are embarking on their careers immeasurably. And I would love to see it incorporated in a Master of Fine Arts program somewhere. Especially for people that have had experience teaching and choreographing, I think that the tools that they would gain to continue on their career and/or teaching students would have a huge impact on the dance world at large. Basically a world-wide takeover of Countertechnique!
I wish I had known…
That working harder wouldn’t make it better, and that you can work smart and enjoy yourself.
Any advice for aspiring professional dancers?
To study Countertechnique!!
Find out here where Lillian is teaching next.
Next month, the Teacher Profile Interview Series will feature dancer and Master Teacher Countertechnique Niharika Senapati.
The Countertechnique Teacher Profile Interview Series is a monthly publication, initiated in October 2017. Madeline Harms is an Australian dancer and writer, currently based in Mainz, Germany. Learn more about Madeline on her blog Travelling Dancers.