Countercultures: Johnathan Alvares and Poi

Johnathan Alvarez has to be one of my all time favourite performers I have never had the pleasure to meet. When I first picked up poi back in July 2014, his pod poi video really captivated me. Here was a person who you could see in their face loved the feeling of the flow of poi. Some performers are ever aware of the camera in front of them, their faces emotionless, yet thoughtful. The moves are a facilitation for the story they want to tell, and so they look at the camera resolute. Every video I have seen of Johnathan Alvarez has been the inverse, his love for his art is felt in the smile on his face as he weaves from move to move. The video below was the first poi video I saw, and in some ways it is still the inspiration for where I want to be in the future. I am nowhere near as talented as Alvarez is, and it might be just because I’m nowhere near as committed as he is, but I do not really have to be. You do not need to be a talented artist to appreciate Van Gogh, nor do you have to even spin poi in order to really love the passion and creativity that goes into a performance.

What really inspired this post is Alvarez’s commentary on his own experience picking up poi. More people need to see this video, as Alvarez passionately breaks down how art inspired him to be a better person. I always tear up when I watch it, because it describes so strongly the relationship between the passion of the art, and the artist themselves. Not a slave to art, but a transcension of ourselves through the medium of lights. When Alvarez talks about finding poi as an outlet for a lack of friendship, and as a way of reaching the goal of mimicking his favourite superheroes I always am reminded of my own youth spent absorbed on the computer as that outlet, and finally finding it in dance.

LED lights are a relatively new medium for artistic dance. Trails which used to be made with fire, are now made (not solely) with LEDs. I’m often reminded of zen buddhist mandalas, where the monk creates a mandala with sand only to have it blown away when it is completed. LED’s are similar, their trails last momentarily, and when they are gone they disappear forever! Even a video such as this barely captures the real life experience of watching the performer in the moment. Like a fireworks display, it is overwhelmingly touching, explosions both in the world and in our brains, and then a fade to black, grasping for air, with an unbelievable clap.

See John Alvarez’s great emotionally inspiring video Bending Lights

Also, this  3 poi video is fantastic, and a must watch:

Note, there are other poi spinners around, and Johnathan Alvarez is just one of many, although there is something about him as a person and performer that really moves me. Do you have a favourite poi spinner/performer? Name them in the comments below

Countercultures is a new bi-weekly series on Thursdays at Existential Awe that looks at life histories of artists and thinkers who pushed against the system and created countercultural social change. 


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