NINA, THE CELESTIAL BODY
About Nina Van Der Pyl, contortionist and astrophysics specialist
Interview and photography by Agathe Rousselle
Make-Up by Gilly Tosello
Have you ever wondered what was shining above us? What made the sky look so different at night? These have always been Nina’s quest. She grew up in Belgium,where she was a good yet unusual teenager. She left her broken home and went straight to her dream: she studied high level
astrophysics. From the celestial bodies she suddenly came back to her own. It had suffered
lot from bad habits and sickness and it was time for Nina to take care of it, she found her way in contortion and circus. She can bend herself in any way possible, bonding with her body just like
she used to bond with the stars.
Who are you?
My Name is Nina; I'm 28 years old and I'm a contortionist.
You used to be an astrophysicist, what do you like about the stars?
Stars are fascinating. When I gaze at the stars, I'm sucked in this vast unknown, this mysterious void which raises a million questions and allows dreams to be true. Actually, since I'm 6 years old I've always known I wanted to study the sky. At the time I wanted to be an astronaut. Well, it's still a dream but I doubt it'll ever become true :-)
In contrast with my high school friends, I never wondered what will I do next. It was dead simple: astrophysics = science baccalaureate then physics degree and PhD. I loved my studies, when you're driven by passion everything becomes a pleasure.
Although research is 99% frustration and 1% success, these 1% are invaluable and worth it all. But to get there you need to dedicate your time to it, that's why at some point I had to choose between physics and circus.
You switched from physics to contortion, what are the link(s) between these two fields?
Both physics and contortion require 100% commitment, and as a person, I hate to do things halfway.
Both contortion and physics are a passion and both need work! I stretch everyday, 7 days a week, all year round. It became a kind of “sweet addiction”. And trust me, flexibility is endless: as soon as I reach one goal, I want to go further. Like research: as soon as you answer one question it raises another one!
In both cases, it certainly deals with the notion of “body”; what's your relationship with yours?
Well, you certainly raises an important question. I don't think I've ever had a very “healthy” or even “peaceful” relationship with my body. As a matter of fact, as a teenager I was in a big conflict with it and I treated it very badly. I'm a bit of a control freak when it comes to my body. But now I've learnt to listen and respect my body because doing sports at a high level also means taking care of your body. In the end, if I injure myself I cannot work anymore.
Using your body as you do, is it a way of being back at peace with it?
I guess so. See, as a teenager I suffered from anorexia and mistreating my body was my way of dealing with my anger and my suffering. Later, I realised that it was no solution and that it would only make the pain grow stronger. Today I “adore” my body and I really enjoy taking care of it and cocooning myself. For instance, after a long training session I love to take a bath with lots of foam and then massage my muscles with arnica oil.
Is the choice of contortion a way of overcoming your past then?
Yes, maybe. I never really thought about it but unconsciously it's possible. I'd rather say contortion saved me and helped me deal with the struggles and challenges of life: the loss of my brother, my mum's illness.. it's a sort of therapy :-)