For an acrobatic performer it is more than just literal, finds THEO PANAYIDES
Acrobat. Dancer. Activist. Porn actor. Former model. Bassist for a thrash-metal band. All these terms might be used to describe Sasha Krohn, none of them really explain why we sit by the beach in Limassol for nearly two hours and he talks to me non-stop – pausing only to bum a light for his roll-up from a passing smoker – with a passion and articulate fluency you’d be hard-pressed to find in a politician or professional speaker. He talks about everything, including his sexuality and violent early childhood, and he’s very friendly. By the end, I even feel we’ve bonded enough to ask him about some aches and pains I’ve been having in my legs – he is a dancer, after all – and he’s kind enough to suggest some stretches. (They work.)
“I don’t like to talk much onstage. I’d rather express myself physically,” he says, which perhaps explains his offstage loquacity. What he does onstage – as he did, for instance, at last month’s TEDx Limassol, a performance you can find on his Facebook page – involves so-called “aerial straps”, i.e. hanging ropes which he grabs, or sometimes wraps around his forearms, in order to climb, or extend his body balletically, or hang suspended upside-down or in mid-air or even, at one thrilling point of the TEDx performance, to coil his body into a ball so it looks like he’s going to disappear and become part of the rope (the theme of the performance is “loss of identity,” he explains as we sit by the beach). That’s the climax of his act, which begins rather tentatively and becomes increasingly dynamic – which is no accident, since the act has been carefully planned. “Everything is about preparation,” he tells me – and even today, in the beach hotel a day before the performance, “I can feel my muscles cramping up when I think about certain movements, and I’m going ‘Just relax! Just relax, it’s going to be fine!’”. He’s not as laid-back as he looks.
He’s laid-back about some things, though: where to live (or sleep), for instance. For now, he’s ensconced in the five-star Elias Beach as a guest of TEDx – but his next gig will be in Amsterdam, and he writes on his Facebook page that he’s “still on the search for a sofa/bathtub/bed in Amsterdam” during the dates of the performance. He’s based in Berlin, used to be in London for 12 years, and may move to Barcelona next. Five-star hotels aren’t really his scene, and he reckons he may have shocked a few patrons when he arrived “in sweatpants and an old sweater” the other day – especially when you add his long thin frame, and shaven head, and nose-ring, and tattoos on his arms and face. The facial tattoos are mild, just two lines of dots on his chin and forehead; one line has five dots and the other seven, five and seven being his lucky numbers. Five is “a balanced number”, in his mind – because, if you stand in the middle of five dots, you’ll have two on one side and two on the other. Balance is important in his life. More on this later.
He does look quite distinctive, sitting in his beanie and artfully-torn grey jeans, puffing on the now-ignited roll-up. He’s even more distinctive when he walks (or talks), his body language being graceful to the point of effeminacy. (At first glance, I assumed he was gay – but the answer, it turns out, is more interesting.) He’s received some occasional stick for the expansive way he moves and talks: “You always speak for the entire room,” friends have grumbled, “you never speak to a person, and you’re always with your hands everywhere” (he mimes furious hand gesturing). “I was like: ‘I’m not going to change it, it’s just who I am’.”
Was he always like this? So open in his style, and uncaring about what people think?
He nods: “Yeah. Luckily, I was raised by a beautiful family”.
Sasha was born 31 years ago, near Dortmund in what was then West Germany. His dad is a photographer who “does a lot of erotic art, specifically in the fetish areas” – nothing too extreme, like S&M, but still on the darker side. His parents were, and are, “very liberated, very positive, [and] have always allowed me to be whoever I want to be, without any restrictions on my personality, sexuality – even religion, if I wanted to,” he adds, with the air of adding the most unlikely thing he can think of. “It was more about ‘Express yourself, be yourself, don’t let anyone hold you back – and, whatever you do in life, don’t hurt yourself or anyone around you, just live positively’.”
In a way, it was almost too much. “Every time I wanted to rebel, my parents just supported me and said ‘Well done’,” he recalls with a laugh. “I was like ‘Just be against something!’.” At 16, they gave him a talk about drugs – but the talk was along the lines of ‘Don’t do drugs with your friends, they obviously don’t have a clue’. Instead, “come to us – because we have been in the 70s, we’ve done it all, and if you want to try something we can tell you what it’s like”; though ideally when you’re 18, they added, “and I respected that”. At 18, he duly approached the folks and said he’d like to smoke a joint, so they all smoked a joint together; he’s never tried hard drugs, and “I haven’t really done anything illegal, I never had a time of my life when I had, like, a criminal mind”. His parents have been lucky, or perhaps they raised him well.
Money doesn’t seem to have been so important – and thereby hangs a tale, because the man Sasha calls ‘dad’ is actually his stepfather. His biological father was (and presumably is) a very rich man. “He had a lot of money and didn’t know what to do with it, so he started drinking” – but drinking made him violent and aggressive. He and Sasha’s mother separated when the boy was six. Does he still have memories of those early years?
“Yeah, I do. I have very vivid memories of violence, and very vivid memories of domestic abuse.”
Abuse of himself, or his mother?
“My mum, mainly. Ourselves as well, my brother and myself, but mainly my mum. On us, he was more mentally violent, as in trying to force us into things we didn’t want to do”. His mother actually met her second husband through the first one – and his stepfather quickly saw the marriage she was in, and helped her to escape. The traumatised kids had some sessions with a child psychologist, though Sasha doesn’t remember much about that. “I guess a lot of things are still really deep beneath the surface right now,” he admits, “but it’s nothing that I want to explore too much”. Instead, he’s happy to let it emerge in his creative work – which “most of the time, is rather dark. Not as in evil, but moody”.
Is he perhaps a controlling character, like his birth father?
“No. Absolutely the opposite, actually. I don’t like to control, I like to just let everything be… I accept everything and everyone, as long as they’re nice. Unless they are obviously having some intolerant views on, I dunno, race or religion or whatever, that’s something I can’t deal with”.
Then again, that makes him sound very politically correct – and that doesn’t seem to express him either, all those holier-than-thou young people with their right-on views and rigid ways of expressing them. Sasha does his share of online activism (feminism, LGBT, stuff like that) but he hates all kinds of groupthink, the notion of the “sweet little group where everyone’s the same”. He’s not reflexively anti-Trump, reckons Clinton might’ve been even worse, and also has mixed feelings about – for instance – the vegan revolution currently sweeping Berlin, all the non-meat-eaters saying “if you’re not a vegan, you’re a murderer”. Sure, it’s cool that you’re vegan, he tells the zealots (he himself eats meat, albeit making sure that it’s locally sourced), but bear in mind that “‘people in the Third World have to work harder to produce what you want to have – because avocados are not growing in Berlin!’… And that’s why I say, Stop being so militant about everything,” he cries by way of conclusion. “Live balanced!”
Sasha is all about balance – in his life, and of course in his work. His acrobatic prowess is literally a question of balance, but it’s also a balance creatively, a hybrid of circus and dance. He’s about fluidity, not rigidity, and that goes for everything – very much including sexuality. So, is he straight?
Long pause. “Umm… It’s hard to say. Well, I’m – I’m something”. He’s just broken up with a girlfriend (the resulting blues getting in the way of his TEDx preparations), but has been in long-term relationships with both sexes. “I don’t have a problem connecting with people of any gender, just because I feel like my connection to human beings sexually is more mental than physical – so therefore, I don’t restrict myself in any shape or form. Tendencies are more towards women, but I am totally free. I meet and play with a lot of people of different genders”. He pauses, frowns: “Then again, I’m not bisexual, either.”
Having grown up with his dad’s kinky photos, he doesn’t balk at the intersection of art and sex – even including porn, so long as it’s “ethical” porn. “I’m actually acting in porn, yeah,” he confirms, albeit a new kind of porn “where it’s shot for women by women, [and] the aesthetics are majorly important”. Scenes aren’t faked, nobody takes a Viagra, instead the actors get to know one another, “we meet sometimes two weeks before the shoot and see if we get on with each other, what they like, what they don’t like”. The films – Sasha cites the XConfessions series by Erica Lust, plus “a fantastic pornographer from Berlin called Lucy Blush” – focus on “the aftercare” too, not just the intercourse; on a recent shoot, after the sex was over, Ms Blush asked him (with the camera still running) to describe the male orgasm, leading to a valuable discussion. Porn is important, he explains: it’s (potentially) a way of showing men that they don’t need to be macho, don’t need to dominate women, don’t have to try – and fail – to be sex machines, like they are in “commercial” porn.
Being macho is something he deplores, maybe due to those early memories of his overbearing birth father. Being rich isn’t part of his priorities either, maybe for the same reason. “I make enough money to live a comfortable life. ‘Comfortable’ as in I have my food, I have my bed, I can travel”. Does he have expensive tastes? “Oh gosh no! The last eight years, I’ve been living out of three bags!… This is my lifestyle. I’m not really a settled person.”
Maybe so; but recall his muscles cramping up at the thought of the performance tomorrow. Sasha Krohn may be free, but he’s not relaxed. If anything, he’s a workaholic. “I would consider myself obsessed with what I’m doing,” he affirms, adding: “Positively obsessed”. He was miserable in his mid-20s, when he found himself at a loose end. He’d been playing bass for a metal band called Savage Messiah, who became hugely successful (his aliases in the metal world included ‘A. Suffer’ and ‘S. Acrilegum’; at one point, he had hair down to his hips) – but “the band was led by a very ego-driven man”, so he jumped ship after two albums and didn’t know what to do with himself, at least till dance and acrobatics came to the rescue. He needs to be active. Despite spending two hours at the beach chatting non-stop he’s not, I suspect, fundamentally a sociable person; he’s a bit too comfortable hanging in mid-air – locked inside his art, and his body’s contortions – for that.
It’s strange, muses Sasha, puffing on his roll-up with the sound of the sea in our ears: “I wouldn’t consider myself introverted, but I’m withdrawn. And I withdraw [into] myself very easily, to be by myself, and I work a lot – not necessarily physically, but sometimes just sitting and thinking. And thinking for hours and hours, and just trying to get the right idea [for a show]”. With that in mind, the show he’s currently planning (coming to Berlin in March) may be his bravest ever: a dance piece based on “organic movement”, where he and his fellow performers will simply turn up and dance, without rehearsals or choreography. For someone as obsessive as Sasha, it must be terrifying – though also true to his inner spirit, a performance governed by fluidity, self-expression, and freedom. Above all freedom.