(In Burning Man. Rigger: Kinoko Hajime. Photo: Zigen)
(This is an interview of the Shibari Talks series)
We had a chat with Maya Homerton last summer, just before she attended her first Hitchin Bitches Barcelona. Her vision as a professional and international shibari model is very interesting: we talk, amongst other things, about yoga, body knowledge, aftercare, nature retreats, selfsuspensions and justice (oh, those performances in which only the rigger gets paid!).
How would you define yourself and your relationship with shibari?
Ropes give me pleasure, relax and challenge, the constant impulse to improve myself. That keeps me active and excited, growing and practicing… I define myself as someone in a constant experimentation process. I look for good feelings in shibari. I enter into a meditation state, becoming relaxed and active at the same time. I flow, I fly…
How and when did your interest for ropes and ties begin?
I started as an erotic model. Eight or nine years ago, a Madrid photographer who used shibari for pictures asked me if I wanted to try it out, and it sounded like a good idea. I was surprised by my feelings during that photo session, because it didn’t imply only posing but feeling something, and the fact of experiencing pain or different feelings that I had never felt before gave me, in a certain way, relax and freedom.
You had never experienced with ropes or restraints before that…
No. I discovered BDSM with ropes… I don’t consider myself to be into the wide world of BDSM: ropes are what make me feel. Three weeks after these first photo shoots I moved to London, and contacted with the people who were running the scene back then, in particular Esinem and Nina Russ… Although there is a lot of people now making the scene bigger. Like Anatomie Studio, where all kinds of rope meetings, workshops, jams and performances take place. I’ve given there workshops with Pedro Cordas, Eris, Kinoko… And next June with Glü Wur.
How did you collaborate at the beginning with Esinem and Nina Russ?
I started to steer the pleasure of ropes into something more professional, to be performer besides a photographic model. Opportunities came up: videos for Esinem tutorials, workshop modeling… I was very happy. Then came Nina: she was learning to tie and I was basically learning to model, to feel everything. We started collaborating together, and my first performances in London were with Nina and Esinem. They were a couple of very intense years, growing together and discovering shibari.
You said something interesting, “learning to model”, considering that traditionally only the learning of the rigger is taken into account. How and what did you learn as a model?
Through experience with my body. Shibari is a two-way thing. The rigger learns the technique, how to do the ties correctly and how to make sure that everything is safe, beautiful, practical… But the model must learn to understand her body. Knowing how her breathing works, working it up, learning how to rotate the hip or the shoulders, listening to the physical body limitations, learning to feel and enjoy. All that is self-knowledge, and it has to be learnt. I discovered that by dedicating a lot of time to ropes and thinking how do they affect my body. And in parallel I discovered yoga. The more I move my body, the more I take care about the quality of my breathing, the more I practice yoga… The more I enjoy ropes. Nowadays I think that yoga or some kind of body knowledge is the basis of modeling, understanding what’s happening inside your body, which muscles are you working up, what rotations apply when you move your body, how do you keep strong, flexible and resistant at the same time… Enjoying without getting hurt while minimizing danger.
What kind of yoga do you practice?
I started to do hatha in a London gym to relax, and then I started trying all kinds of yoga. I thought: “wow, all these exist?”. When I came back to Seville I went to a yoga event in a park, I grabbed leaflets from all schools, I tried a lot and then I stayed with aerial yoga… And then as a professional practice I adopted ashtanga and rocket. I’m OK with tradition, but I don’t like to be said all the time “it must be like this”. That’s why I enjoy rocket a lot. It uses ashtanga series, but in a way that makes them funnier: modifications, variations… This motivates me more.
Are you still learning yoga?
All the time, because it’s a lifelong learning. With yoga I feel comfortable learning. Something that has always blocked or slowed me down is the feeling that in order to learn things, I have to repeat them over and over… I flow without problems, I don’t need to find any key for that, but for the technique I need time. Yoga has given me freedom to flow and also to repeat. I’ve been active four years in yoga, not only practicing but attending workshops, events, masterclasses and everything I can when I’m not travelling. Vinyasa, ashtanga, rocket… I try to attend to trainings, because even if right now it’s not my objective to become a yoga teacher, I know that yoga gives me shibari knowledge… And I can understand, study and experiment with my body and mind when I practice ropes. And next thing is thai massage! Next February I will go to Thailand to attend to a training in thai massage.
After coming back from London you started to do performances with Eris and with Pedro Cordas. How did you meet?
I’ve known Eris for six or seven years, because she’s a model too and we bumped into each other in many shibari picture sessions… Until we started to synchronize our agendas to make sure that we meet in Barcelona, and then a beautiful friendship was born. We work a lot together, even if she’s now living in Berlin. She’s a close friend, very different from me but we get along very well. She’s a very intelligent and professional girl. And with Pedro… When Kanna came to Barcelona to do workshops, Pedro needed a model and that’s how I met him. During that week we connected a lot, we reached some conclusions and we decided to meet more often and work together… So we still do some workshops and performances each year.
We saw you tied up by Pedro during the performances of Kinbaku Untied II in 2015, when Kazami Ranki came to Barcelona. At the end of the performance, you started to cry on stage. Do you usually have that kind of reaction, or was that show particularly intense?
I cry on stage, in the streets… [Laughs] I’m so weepy, I’m a very sensitive person. I feel the energy and I feel attracted to intense energies, not regular ones. I feel good energies very openly, I don’t hide them but set them free. In perfos Pedro always makes me cry for a lot of reasons. I’m not submissive, I don’t play that role, but I let myself go. His precision, intelligence, logic, control and sadism… I feel totally confident in him, and that gives me so much freedom… Even if he makes everything so hard, I feel like it’s not, I feel the pain going away… He makes me fly a lot, I enter into another orbit, meditating in an active way. And when everything finishes it’s like when you have been working a lot, days and days sleeping five hours and keeping on: the day you stop you are exhausted, and then during four or five days, the only thing you want to do is to rest and recover. It’s a similar feeling: all that accumulation of sensations and suddenly my body gets released and I cry, I cry a lot. Also, even if we’re talking about pain, the way he gives that gift in a sadistic way… Isn’t he giving you love, giving you what makes you happy at that time? I cry for love, too!
Do you prefer ties that imply a certain amount of pain, or do you prefer just flight?
Flight. I love the sensation of flying. I know that certain things hurt and give the feeling that there is something to work on: I’m there, I feel tension and I move it from one place of my body to another, I like to work on that pain of feeling how I’m alive and how must I move all the time my energy, my weight, my mind. I like to feel that pain… But I prefer to enjoy without being uncomfortable. That’s why I work out my body with yoga, because the stronger I become, the more I enjoy being taken to my limit. With more flexibility, I can reach postures that open the body and twist it. And when I stretch like that, I go crazy. [Laughs] I do it alone with yoga, and when it’s done to me with ropes, it’s incredible.
How do you experience aftercare? What happens after a session, particularly an intense one?
This is important. When a rigger increases sensation a lot, he has to actively work afterwards to relax the model. If he gives a lot of tension and strength, a lot of endurance, then he has to work with the body chemistry of the model, very receptive at that time. The model is working internally: if she receives a lot of pain or sensation and then she’s left alone, just like that, she can think she’s worthless even if the rigger doesn’t think of her that way. She needs some care, because she’s working up and stressing her body… And everything that gets stressed must be relaxed afterwards. This applies also in yoga: activate and relax.
Riggers you work with employ that kind of aftercare?
Yes, because it’s crucial. The simple fact of hugging you, untying you slowly, receiving a hug, feeling fulfilled, making you feel “I am here, thank you for your surrender and for surrendering your body, thank you”. That is already aftercare, giving that gratitude, that care.
Have you lived any incident as model that you want to talk about? Injuries, broken ropes…
I’ve always tried to choose very well who I work with, because I’ve always taken ropes to the professional side… Even in the beginning, when I learnt with Esinem, I trusted a lot in him being very professional. I’ve never had any problem. I’ve looked for references of every rigger I’ve worked with. When someone told me that Pedro was looking for a model for Kanna’s workshop I investigated, but he has no Facebook, only two pictures in Fetlife… I wasn’t comfortable until I got a first-hand reference. I’ve always worked with very professional people. I have to mention, though, that during my first years, when Nina and myself were discovering ropes, I didn’t have much experience as a model because I was barely starting to feel things. And then I started to discover the importance of taking care of your body, doing yoga, working out. When I started with Nina some things didn’t come up, we didn’t take care of them… For instance, it’s crazy to do a performance before practising, or stretching a bit before the show… Nowadays I don’t see normal not to do it.
For some riggers, shibari models don’t have to do anything in particular, just relax and enjoy. For others, the model has a more active role during the session. What do you think in your case?
Communication is very important, particularly because each body is different. Without communication, it would be better to tie a chair. Even if the rigger knows where the nerves are and where is more dangerous to put the ropes, each person must discover their own particularities, and models have a mouth, so they can say “lowering this rope half an inch would be perfect”. That bare minimum of communication is a must… After that, it’s a matter of taste. For instance, micro helps… When I am being tied a harness, if I flex a little my hips I give a lot of room to the rigger… Pedro asks me not to do it, I have a lot of communication with him but he does not want this micro helps. But with Eris, maybe because we are both models, I do apply those little movements that help the rigger save energy and avoid finger burning.
Have you thought about becoming a rigger, or you just feel comfortable as model?
I’ve always felt very blocked at a technical level, but yoga has helped me with that. I’ve been a model for a lot of years, but I’ve always been afraid to tie: I can watch the single column tie a thousand times and still not think about it as easy. I spent years trying to get over my fear of doing something wrong. Now I do basic things, I can help in a beginner’s workshop, I’m experimenting and getting more confident. I feel comfortable tying without following exact patterns, and flow with movement and breathing of the person I’m tying… I don’t know, I’m beginning to discover things as a rigger.
And what about self-suspensions?
Glü Wür taught me to be confident in myself, she told me I was not going to be judged for tying without following a particular school. And in February 2017, when I was in Paris and Copenhagen with Kinoko, he told me that I should do self-suspensions. I answered that I had been trying to overcome my fears, and he said: “The next time we see, you must do a self-suspension show. You have endurance and ability to perform, the only thing you need is a bit more of technique and you will gain more confidence by practicing”. He confirmed that he would go to the Burning Man festival, and I will be travelling to California too… So he asked me to perform a self-suspension there. My God! I’ve been practicing every day since February, in the mountains where I live. I thought that I should use the four basic things I know, because at home I don’t have anyone correcting me like Glü Wür uses to do. So I will do a self-suspension in Burning Man!
In the Siamese Twins show, you also perform a self-suspension…
Yes, yes, of course. Siamese Twins uses simple ties, a harness, a futomomo and basic locks that I can perfectly do. During the show, Glü Wür and myself are two siamese twins that spend all day pestering each other: if one does something wrong, the other one is going to annoy her to make it worse. If I don’t make a mistake, my sister will force me to make one, or viceversa. We bother each other all the time. Humor in this show makes me very comfortable: it doesn’t matter if I do something wrong or if I am slower…
It’s part of the show!
You’ve got to flow. The characters came out of necessity: we laughed a lot when we blundered, and from there were the siamese twins born. I laugh a lot in that performance: we do mad faces all the time, but I’m laughing like crazy on the inside. It’s an adventure, because no two shows are alike.
How do you plan and rehearse your performances with Nina, Pedro or Miss Eris, both from the technical and aesthetic point of view?
That was what got Nina and myself apart. We don’t work together anymore because when I started to have more knowledge and work my body, I felt very inhibited, like if I had no say in what we did… I started to feel weighed down, so I preferred to keep our friendship, as we are still friends, but stop working with her to avoid ending up crossed with each other. With Pedro, Eris or Gorgone, my opinion counts and I can help. For instance, Gorgone has an idea, she explains it to me and proposes it. The idea is hers but I end up giving something of myself, because I know my body and limits better than anyone. Eris has also ideas that we can use as basis to practice, create and flow. I give her my preferences, like being inverted for instance, and she takes them into account. And with Pedro we do a “questions and answers” thing: he tells me “how could we do to invert you on this bamboo from this starting position?” Tic tac tic tac… And we both reach something through experimentation. Kinoko does also suggest things to me before the show so everything becomes more personal!
What do you appreciate most in a rigger and what do you hate the most?
What I like most is that he or she is able to convey all the time the wisdom of knowing what to do. Knowing that you have to rotate the shoulders backwards to open your chest, so you have the box perfect for the takatekote, regardless of the tension. From the first touch, the most important is the energy he gives, connection and fluidity. What I don’t like in a rigger is that he or she is not receptive to the model’s opinion, that’s what happened to me with Nina years ago. I don’t want to hear that I should simply let go, I can be very strong but I want to enjoy without hurting myself.
Let’s talk about professionalization. In the shibari scene there are a lot of amateurs and few professional models. And there’s a problem: the role of the model was seen traditionally as secondary, while the “star” of the show, so to speak, was the rigger… And so the rigger took frequently the performance money. How have you faced this?
It’s been very difficult… Shibari involves two people, so there must be balance in everything, in money too. The role of the rigger is very important and the model does not have to learn rope technique, but she really has to learn to control her body and breathing, to recognize her limits, to know herself and how to move on stage… That cannot be done by the rigger but by the model by practicing constantly, working on it. Also at an emotional level, because if you are emotionally unbalanced, ropes can have an adverse effect on you. You must reach balance, know yourself as a person and take care of yourself, even in what you eat. I try to care for myself a lot, and I see how other professional models work up their body and mind. That underscores how important the role of the model is. I’m offering my work, same as the rigger offers his, so I’m definitely going to get paid for it. That’s how it should work. How have I faced this? At the beginning everybody kept telling me they were doing me a favor… And OK, during my first years I was experimenting and learning, but once i have experience and I’m giving my knowledge as model, I must be paid, too.
Nobody pays a rigger without knowledge…
Of course! I can give my time and work in exchange for something: to attend an event, to meet people… OK. But when you are a professional, if you are really giving from yourself, you must charge for it. People I work with ask my fee for this performance or that video… Or they explain their special circumstances, and I can accept and assist even if it’s for less than my fee. You have to value your time, and that has a price.
Sometimes you hear the typical phrase of “paying with promotion”…
I’ve been years in a slow path, and I feel myself with a good karma, satisfied with my steps. With what I offer, I can ask for the fee I consider appropriate, in the same way as the rigger does his own calculations. That being said, it’s also true that sometimes you perform in places where neither the rigger or the model are paid. [Laughs] But the important thing is that if the rigger is paid, the model must be paid too.
Sometimes I’ve seen the rigger get paid, and not the model.
That will not happen with me. If a model wants to work for free, it’s her choice, but I don’t really like it… That being said, you have to assess the special circumstances or proposals, because if I’m invited to a festival or an event, even if I don’t get paid for classes or modeling, I may enjoy some advantages… You have to balance this, what do you need and where are you career-wise… But I live in a wonderful place, and going abroad just in exchange of the plane ticket and the food is not usually worth it. In that case I would probably prefer to stay with my boyfriend and my dog in the mountain, hiking through the forests and beaches [Laughs]. Actually any model should be paid for her job, regardless of her level of professionality. You are not going to pay the same to a professional model than to an amateur one, but it’s a job nevertheless. Models should make themselves heard and avoid giving away their knowledge for free, specially if the rigger is getting paid. I can give away things for free and I do it, no problem. But if the rigger benefits economically, so do I.
Do you see more male models now than before?
I see very few male models. Lately there are a lot more female riggers appearing, but not enough male models yet.
Have you participated in any Hitchin Bitches?
No, today will be my first time. These spaces are very helpful, because someone may have the curiosity for learning or experimenting, but could feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about the fact of being tied by a man… Among girls it feels more comfortable, it’s an option to support and encourage ourselves, there are a lot of things to talk about and share. I don’t know, maybe boys could organize similar meetings for them.
What is exactly the Bora retreat you organize?
Yoga has always been present in my life: workshops, immersions, retreats. Some close friends are yoga teachers. I wasn’t a teacher, but those friends asked me for help in some retirements as karma yogi, assist them with aeroyoga, acroyoga… And one day I arrived to a retirement near my home, where a friend was doing aeroyoga, and so she needed suspension points. And it’s a wonderful place. I thought how beautiful would be to do ropes there. Yoga and ropes in such a wonderful place like Bolonia, with nice views, Sun, food… Mixing everything I love. And it won’t happen if I don’t do it: the rigger living closer to me is Miguel Makido, who lives in Malaga and organizes things in Granada, three and a half hours from my home… Everyone told me that it was a good idea and I should do it. Some close people encouraged me, so I organized an event in Bora.
I had help from my boyfriend and Sofia, from London, who helped me with a lot of details… But the idea and the space management was my responsibility, and it was very stressful. I didn’t do it to earn money, but to live the experience and to get people to know this place… And I chose a very low price, all tickets were sold in less than 48 hours. It was during Easter 2017, and we have already the dates chosen for 2018, with half the tickets sold. Price is a bit higher, because the first time it was too low, and I had problems to break even… I paid the last meal for attendants myself, and I don’t want that to happen again. Moreover, the cost of the space has gone up, and also I’m going to improve some things and take care of everything with Sofia, who is my right hand and foot and legs, my everything. By the way! Anyone reading this interview can visit the web if they are curious! It will be in Easter. Shibari, yoga, thai massage, accomodation and food included… Retreat in Bolonia, a paradise.
You were saying before that you try to meditate while being tied up…
It’s not so much that I try, it’s more like it appears. When I started practicing yoga, years ago, I didn’t understand meditation. I was always edgy, when relaxation time arrived I wanted it to end quickly, and I thought: fuck, I’m not understanding this. Then I found the yoga styles that made me feel at peace, relaxed… And when I’m flying with ropes I don’t need to understand anything, that is the meditation. In ropes I’ve discovered a way of meditating that just comes naturally [Laughs]. To be able to meditate after yoga I must have made a lot of physical and mental effort before, and that leaves me in the ideal state for meditation. And with the ropes it’s something sudden… Wow. Why? Because I’m feeling all the time, flowing all the time; because I cannot do much more that feeling while in active meditation. When I meditate I don’t do anything else than being and feeling. And that’s easy with ropes.
Which currently active riggers do you find more interesting and why? Ideally choose a Spanish one, an international one and a Japanese.
I’m a fan of Glü Wür, because since I saw her performing the first time, I saw her overcoming my own fears. I learn a lot from her, I am able to understand everything she explains to me, whereas other people, regardless of their professionality, have explained basic things to me and I couldn’t understand them fully. I admire her a lot because of her evolution and work, she’s a very clear and natural person… A pure and healthy girl. I admire her and her artistic independence. She’s not Spanish, but let’s count her as such. International: I may work more or less with Pedro Cordas, but for me he’s one of the best rigger thinkers, it’s great how he studies everything so the body works perfectly… And he’s always active: everybody knows him even if he has no social media presence, that’s admirable. And from the Japanese I choose Hajime Kinoko… I love that he is at the same time so Japanese and so European. He doesn’t really care about what they think about his work, and he takes everything up to artistic level. He can be very traditional but also take his work to another creation stages, he works with ropes without stopping to do kinbaku… He’s really great, I admire him a lot! Also I like him as a person, and we have developed a good friendship.
What have you done exactly with Kinoko?
I met him in Berlin, when he gave a workshop and I attended as Pedro’s model. From there Kinoko had to go to London to perform in Saint Valentine’s Day party in Torture Garden, and he asked me to do the show with him. And that’s when everything began: from attending a workshop that ended in Saturday with a party, to the airport at six in the morning, having bought the plane ticket the same day. It was very improvised, a frenzy that I enjoyed immensely. We practiced once before, he explained what was he going to do and I felt very comfortable. Next year he went to Paris and I was called on Thursday to perform during the weekend… Too late, I was in London doing a Bound event with Eris and I couldn’t go. Kinoko didn’t want that to happen again. And when he came in 2017 to Paris and Copenhagen, he emailed to ask me to work with him as her model. I said yes, and all that tour was an incredible experience, a great connection, I feel very grateful for how did he make me feel. The stereotypical image is the Japanese rigger explaining everything with a little doll at his side saying nothing… But it wasn’t like this.
Wasn’t that your experience in Kinoko’s workshops?
Not at all. I respect him: it’s his workshop and he explains; when an attendant asks me something technical I address it to him. But when he finishes untying me I don’t stay there doing nothing, but I give small advices and details to the models about how to reach and keep that position… And when I speak with Kinoko I tell him clearly my sensations about how I experience his ties, and he answers that it’s fantastic that I tell him these kind of things. That gave me freedom to feel comfortable talking. And at the end of the workshop, Kinoko surprised me when he said: “please, Maya, now give your feedback for everyone”. We had not talked before about this, it was unexpected. And I thought: “Thank-you!” I saw it as a recognition that the work of the models is as important as the rigger’s work. And he thanked me in lots of conversations, he accepts very well feedback from the models. And best of everything: everyday, first time in the morning, he asked for yoga: “Maya, yoga, please”. Both at home before starting the workshop and during the workshops themselves, he did a nice yoga stretching, to start the classes fresh and ready!