In What a Body Can Do (Routledge 2015), I asked why there aren’t more functioning laboratories dedicated to exploring the intersection between martial arts and performer training. This interdisciplinary connection has been hugely productive in Europe throughout the twentieth century, not to mention the much longer-standing relationships between martial and performing arts found throughout Asia. But it is hard to think of even one institution in Europe or North America that aims explicitly to innovate theatre, dance and performance training practice by placing it in dialogue with martial arts and physical culture more generally. While many individual practitioners and scholars do excellent work in this area, institutions tend to be oriented towards one domain or the other. And we still tend to see martial arts as cultural entities rather than fields of knowledge.
What would a laboratory of martial and performing arts look like? In order to create substantive interdisciplinary interactions, care would have to be taken to create the kind of ‘third space’ described by Pil Hansen and Bruce Barton in their article on ‘Research-Based Practice’ (TDR 53.4, 2009): a space in which specific flows of martial and performing arts would collide without either one being subordinated to the other. BodyConstitution, a project developed by the Grotowski Institute in Poland and funded by major grants from EEA/Norway, is the closest I have seen to such a laboratory. The project is ‘programme of research in practice at the Grotowski Institute,’ which has involved numerous formats of exchange, including four annual seminars (2013-2016), each about a week long, drawing together a wide range of international performers, teachers, and participants. I was recently a guest at the final BodyConstitution seminar and want to use that experience as a starting point to highlight the value of the project as a whole. (For more details and reflections on the 2016 seminar, see Jen Parkin’s post below.)
I would like to draw your attention to the new publication initiatives spearheaded by the Centre for Interdisciplinary Voice Studies:
1) With the publication of its second issue, the Centre of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies is currently celebrating the first year of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies. You can find more information about the journal, including guidelines for submission and subscription, here. The first issue is freely available online while 1.2 is our first themed issue on the topic of ‘Voice and/as Devising.’
We would also like to draw your attention to the Call for Papers for issue 2.1 (Spring 2017):
Special Issue of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies
‘Voicing Belonging: Traditional Singing in a Globalized World’
Editors: Konstantinos Thomaidis and Virginie Magnat
The Stanislavski Centre and The University of California Riverside
in collaboration with The University of Westminster present
The S Word: Translating the Art/The Art of Translation
Wednesday 13th July, 10.00 to 16.00
@ Pushkin House, 5A Bloomsbury Square, London WC1A 2TA.
Geraldine Brodie (University College London) is a Lecturer in Translation Theory and Theatre Translation at University College London.
Mark Stevenson (Royal Conservatoire of Scotland), actor, director and teacher.
Noah Birksted-Breen (Sputnik Theatre) is Artistic Director of Sputnik the only British theatre company dedicated to staging contemporary Russian plays for British audiences.
Alexa Alfer (University of Westminster) is Senior Lecturer in Translation at the University of Westminster, where she is Course leader for the MA in Specialised Translation, MA Translation and Interpreting, and MRes Translating Cultures.
Anna Shulgat is a theatre scholar and translator, and Research Associate at The Stanislavski Centre.
Morning session: presentations from three guest speakers who each have a different perspective on the task of translation. They will share their experiences and take questions on their work.
Afternoon session: an open forum/debate will address the many issues that face both the translators and those who use their translations: how has the role of translator changed in the digital age? Translator or co-author? How do we maintain the author’s original voice? Should the translator act as a kind of editor/censor when dealing with sensitive material?
Places for this event are limited: £30 (full), £25 (concessions – student, unwaged, retired), which includes tea, coffee and a sandwich lunch.
on-line booking is now available at:
For further details, please contact Prof. Paul Fryer (firstname.lastname@example.org)
9 days. 11 workshops and training sessions. 13 work demonstrations and screenings. 3 lectures. 4 discussions. 3 performances. 2 exhibitions.
This year’s BodyConstitution seminar, held in Wrocław on the 2nd-10th April, was the final event of the Grotowski Institute’s BodyConstitution project, which began in January 2014. The project brought together teachers, students, artists, and masters of movement techniques to explore the interaction of body practices and physical actor training, both in practical work and theoretical discussion. These included martial arts such as aikido, Capoeira, and kalarippayattu, theatrical techniques such as butoh and Body-Energy, and movement techniques such as l’Art Du Déplacement and somaesthetics. As befitting of the final event of the project, this year’s seminar was bigger than those held in 2014 and 2015, bringing together contributors from the previous years and new contributors, as well as students and artists who came to participate in the training available.
As his book on Nikolai Demidov is on the brink of publication, director-scholar Andrei Malaev-Babel visited the UK to share his revelatory practical and historical investigations into the long suppressed Russian master pedagogue. I don’t use the term revelatory lightly. Nikolai Demidov’s work radically challenges our conceptions of Stanislavsky and the creation of his System. A collaborator and provocateur of Stanislavsky’s, Demidov approached acting from within the rich milieu of spirituality, philosophy and science that was the Russian Silver Age.
As Malaev-Babel explained in a seminar at the University of Exeter, Demidov was a practitioner of yoga and his approach to acting is permeated with a sense of breath, of clearing the mind-body receptacle for inspiration, and what he termed a ‘culture of calm’. Despite all the hoopla about Sulerzhitsky and his time with the Doukhobors – a schismatic group of Christians that were purported to have taught Suler yoga – Demidov is clearly the person who introduced yoga to Stanislavsky. And not just the books by Ramacharaka (William Atkinson), but through first-hand experience.
Demidov was also a trained psychologist, and therefore the only acting teacher of the early twentieth century to have a certified medical insight into the psychophysical processes at work. In fact it was due to the efforts of medical specialists that Demidov’s book on acting was first published in Russia. As Malaev-Babel mentioned, this was because the scientific community believed Demidov was a man ahead of his time. What Demidov was researching with the many actors he worked with was a new understanding of the creative process, the foundations of a new creative psychology.
(photo of Nikolai Demidov with Konstantin Stanislavsky courtesy of Andrei Malaev-Babel)
When I was writing ‘Encountering Ensemble’ (1), I came across an obituary of Joe Chaikin, written by his collaborator Jean-Claude Van Itallie. Van Itallie writes of his first meeting with Chaikin at a rehearsal of The Open Theatre:
‘I go to an old industrial building near Eighth Avenue on 24th Street. … I enter the big dilapidated loft. Unbidden, I sit in a detached row of empty falling-apart theatre seats. Some 10 people drift in – mostly young, mostly from downtown.’ (2)
Some scrappy kids in a dilapidated room. Doing things they did not understand. Making it up as they went along.
I read of Stanislavsky feeling that he should contribute to the growth of ensemble in his new company by helping clean the floor. He had no idea how to do it. I read of Copeau, a conservative Catholic, bewildered by the permissive energy of his youthful cohort of collaborators. Both of them, quite lost.
Odin Teatret emerged from a coming-together of Drama School rejects. Their training began with an assortment of acquired exercises.
Some of this might be apocryphal. Some exaggerated. Yet there is a truth here. Scrappy kids in dilapidated rooms. Continue reading