Tributes for Ali Hodge (1959 – 2019)

Ali was a long term and loyal supporter of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training and, as an innovative and rigorous advocate of the importance of research in performer training, a significant presence on the editorial board. There is little question that Ali’s texts such as Twentieth Century Actor Training (Routledge, 1999) and the second edition Actor Training (Routledge, 2010) were acclaimed when first published and remain valued and important resources for theatre artists and researchers. So too, her work with Wlodzimierz Staniewski, Hidden Territories: The Theatres of Gardzienice (with DVD, Routledge 2003) provide detailed analyses of the Polish company’s training and performance making processes, whilst Core Training for the Relational Actor (with DVD, Routledge, 2013) revealed much about her decades long development of directorial work with her company The Quick and the Dead. However, the following series of reminiscences open up a different kind of space in which to celebrate and reflect on Ali’s lifelong journey in theatre practice, together with the impact she had on those she met. The voices of some of those who worked and lived most closely with Ali, over different periods of her life, speak out in their own manner about what was distinctive and important to each of them in their contact with her. Each emphasises the essential connection between the personal and the professional in her work, her humour, courage, generosity, insight and rigour. The series of recollections, grouped very roughly around the place, company or type of work she undertook, opens with Chris Hurford’s, Ali’s husband, invocation of her passionate drive to ensure that theatre, through its performers, communicated meaningfully and compassionately. And they end with Ruth Way’s memory of Ali’s joy in her ‘incredible vegetable patch’.

These tributes for Ali sit together with an appreciation of her life written for the journal by Katie Normington.  

Reading through these recollections reminded me of one of the aspects I found most compelling when working with Ali during her time at Royal Holloway This was her capacity to step back from an assessment or directing moment and pause before offering penetrating questions. Her own spaciousness in allowing time for the response process to happen, encouraged those she worked with the same freedom — to take time, to think, to reflect and importantly to gain perspective on even the most challenging, emotionally charged movement and vocal work.

Please feel free to comment below or contact the Blog editors to submit a post if you wish to add your thoughts, this is the beauty of a blog space.

Libby Worth Reader in Contemporary Performance Practices, Royal Holloway and Co-editor with Jonathan Pitches, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training. 

Fig 1. Ali in Poland, photographer unknown.

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Chris Hurford

I can’t speak about Ali’s work on a technical or theoretical level. But as her husband, I can speak a little about what drove her work personally. And perhaps why so many people were influenced, inspired and moved by it.

Despite her books and her time as an academic, Ali’s work was the antithesis of an intellectual exercise. Much less a career. It was way too important to her than that. She could conceptualise it if she had to. But crucially, she felt it first.

For her, drama and performance was personal. It was about the most irreducible and profound parts of us – our bodies, our felt experiences, and our relationships with each other.

This conviction was crucially borne of personal experience. She had been hurt at various times in her life, as a child and as a woman. But her bravery, intellect, her instinctive empathy and her subversive curiosity enabled her to work with these experiences, and to manifest them in a way that other people recognised, and were moved by. Her work was a personal expression of her need for intimacy, authenticity, and collective hope. It was a bodily, political, feminist, and positive endeavour. 

But above all, her work was the manifestation of her deeply humanist and spiritual instincts. It was an unflinchingly honest recognition that we all struggle, carry pain and rejection. But that these things can be overcome and transcended together. It was an attempt to call out and hear responses that gave her a sense of communion with others, and with those things that are greater than us. For Ali, this is what drama was for.

Her influences reflected this. Theatre in education. Storytelling. The deep heartbeats of folk performance and ritual. The transcendent possibilities of voice, live music and the alchemy of an actor’s presence. She loved artists that marry myth with modern experience. Her huge range of encounters and collaborators over four decades included Grotowski, Brook, Staniewski and Paula Rego. Latterly she developed Core Training, which reflected her belief that performing is a process of deep personal and communal growth, as well as a technical accomplishment.

All of which should have been enough to make a post-modernist’s toes curl. How telling, then, that her work attracted so many leading practitioners, academics, funders and young students. Not to mention the tens of thousands of children for whom a Theatre Alibi show was their first, and some of whom still write to the company as adults, over thirty years later.

Somehow Ali’s practice cut through, and reminded us of the original power and purposes of drama. And she made it current. She helped pioneer the use of digital media in theatre publications at Routledge. She was deeply engaged in teaching a new generation of academics and practitioners – as a Senior Research Fellow at Royal Holloway, at RADA and Central, and through workshops all over the world. Her book Actor Training has become a core text at many universities and drama schools, and has been translated into five languages.

People were drawn to the training and performances because of her talent, her technical skill, and her long experience in theatre. But more importantly, I believe, because of the depth of her humanity. Her authenticity, her playfulness, her belief in the healing and liberating possibilities of drama. They responded to it – as humans first, and as intellects second. Just as she would have wished.

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Dorinda Hulton Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Drama, University of Exeter.

Ali joined the Drama Department at Exeter as a student in 1977. As her teacher, she became my friend. As my friend she became my teacher. She was a woman of great courage and she shared her encouragement bountifully with me: when I became fainthearted in the process of writing a chapter for her edited volume Actor Training, she gave me confidence saying ‘top drawer Dorinda, top drawer’; when I wasn’t quite sure what to say, or do, in a situation, she gave me permission, saying ‘ speak your truth Dorinda, speak your truth’; when she coached me in preparation for sharing my family story in Lewisham on Windrush Day 2019, she reminded me ‘You’re performing Dorinda, you’re performing’, Somehow her instructions worked. I repeat them to myself still.

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Janice Barton former member of The Quick and The Dead, Head of Drama — Lower School at Markham College, Lima Peru.

I first met Ali as an undergraduate student at Royal Holloway. I worked closely with her as part of a research project with a wonderful international community of actors. We trained together and later became “The Quick and the Dead”. Through our exploration, we travelled, we discovered and we understood many things about ourselves, each other and the world around us. 

Ali always worked in an honest and whole-hearted way. We spent many an evening as a group talking about breath, musicality, movement and life. There are so many memories of Ali that will stay with me forever; perhaps the most vivid one is the time we spent together as a company in Gardzienice, our night runs and the exploration of Lorca and Rego. I understood how to work with an open heart because of Ali. Her spirit and passion for theatre inspires me to instill that in my students as a teacher. I will miss her dearly.

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Tatiana Bre Actor, Member of The Quick and Dead.

I first met Ali in a research context, during my MA in physical theatre. Since then, along with a group of other people, we worked closely towards the creation of ‘core training’.

Working with Ali at that time was a synonym to experimentation in its true sense; freedom of making mistakes, working in different directions with different tools, and, primarily, working towards an unknown destination, at times in confusion and other times in front of unexpected discoveries.

The field of a research asks for secure frames and warmness. An environment of safety and togetherness. In that sense, Ali and the group, ‘The Quick and the Dead’, were ideal, as Ali, guiding this research, kept these qualities undisputed.

For me, the basic principles of our training, mutuality, being in the present moment and keeping the encounter with people and space alive, are principles that remain the object of an ongoing exploration that moves beyond training context itself.

I feel enormously grateful to Ali for opening this door of self-exploration to me. I also feel grateful to her for being such a caring teacher and friend, but most of all, for sharing with such generosity her wonderful spirit, still present inside me.

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Chiara D’Anna  Actor, Director, Member of The Quick and The Dead.

There are lots of beautiful memories and precious moments associated with Ali and the years spent with her and the Quick and the Dead. We worked, ran, sweated, sang, laughed, travelled, cooked and drank together. Togetherness, that’s what I feel when I think about Ali and her work. It was a way of life and a founding principle of her practice; the Actor Training we were developing together.

Ali was so warm, so curious and so welcoming that you felt part of something bigger than you. This is to me togetherness…the feeling of breathing, sweating, sounding, jumping, stomping, running, crying and laughing with others, with the space, with the props, with the costumes.

And just now, many years later, I realise that the notion of living in the here-and-now, so important to Ali, was indeed ‘togetherness’. Without the dinners, the long walks, the nights in the pub, the travelling and sleeping over in her beautiful house in Devon, I don’t think we would have achieved this ‘togetherness’.

Thank you Ali, we are still together…just in another dimension.

Fig. 2 Ali with Quick and the Dead. Photo: Chiara D’Anna.

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Luis Gallo Mudarra Member of The Quick and The Dead, Theatre Director and Movement Lecturer.

One research leader, Ali; seven ensemble members, constant and committed to the work; seven years; quite a luxury, some would say when the majority of us often work with an entirely new set of collaborators on a project basis. Little time is often available for makers to build strong ensemble ties. I constantly hear myself and others say: if only I had more time to work more on this or that idea…Well, we did!  

During ‘Core Training’ we developed a profound engagement with ourselves, others, our surroundings and audiences. Intuitive interactions became a second-nature occurrence in each and every one of the members of The Quick and The Dead.

The value of this work dynamic will resonate with me for the rest of my life. We invested in discovering situations through the exercises and also grew as people. Scholarship comes with consistent attention and the desire to be transformed. Ali reconsigned this, as did many great theatre practitioners. The Relational Actor, develops their sensitivity through Polyphonic Attention, as she calls it. 

As someone with a propensity to enjoy discovering the infinite qualities of human interactions and willing to be transformed, I became aware of the benefits of sustained ensemble work. I consider this one of the richest periods in my career as a theatre practitioner but also as a human.

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Daniela García Casilda Member of The Quick and the Dead, Theatre Professional and Cultural Consultant, Madrid, Spain.

With Ali

Our work and training with Ali, I think it changed all of us in different ways. Something inside us changed thanks to her. 

Acting is about transformation, of course, but there was something deeper in our exploration of transformation. 

The training itself had this sense and reflection on transformation. Something in our breaths, or voices or emotions or bodies was constantly changing or in transformation, or at least searching for it. This search was precious, dear Ali. Something was converting us to something else or somewhere else. This was a fascinating challenge in the work, to get somewhere else. Far from the comfortable zone and well known places. Ali gave us a comfortable space with her generosity and lot of affection and care, for us to be able to change and risk this way. She guided us with delicacy to search inside us.

In relation to this sense of transformation, change and search, was the skirt work in our training with Ali. I had worked with theatre masks before but never with skirts as theatre masks. Ali made us explore this element as an investigation of femininity and women’s acting. Again we were searching what does it feel to wear a skirt, to be a woman.

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Alexia Kokkali Actor, Theatre Maker,  Member of The Quick and The Dead, Co-Programme Director of the BA (Hons) European Theatre Arts at Rose Bruford College.

It was seven years of experimentation with the significance of a lifetime.
It was Ali.
It was exploring and testing,
failing, falling and flying.
It was Ali.
We lived apart and grew together;
Ali, our lighthouse, roots that bound us.
We breathed in her inspiration
And breathed out her generosity.
She hunted for answers
And we hunted with her.
So we learned to breathe together
And Ali nurtured.
We covered our faces to reveal ourselves,
We exposed our nerves to understand each other,
We found our place in the moment;
Ali challenged.
And so we ran, sang,
whispered, exploded and barked.
We travelled in the world of poets
And in the colours of painters,
In our shared rhythm
And in the moments of communion,
Ali led.
And we discovered our wings.
And if someone asked what did I learn,
I would say,
It is not me; it is you.
And through you, it is me.
In gratitude.

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Göze Saner Ali’s PhD Supervisee 2004-2008 Royal Holloway, Member of The Quick and The Dead, Senior Lecturer, Goldsmiths, University of London.

Ali changed my life. There I was, with a rickety white paint-chipped chair. I explained quickly: I have been training with this chair, I am looking for ways of ‘usurping the throne’. And I began. No sooner was I humping the chair, now a wild steed trying to throw me off, that I heard Ali’s laughter. Like a waterfall. A crystal clear laugh with so much love and generosity. She told me I was a clown. It was the greatest gift anyone had ever given me in a training encounter. She wasn’t ridiculing me, on the contrary, she had the lucidity and respect to help me see my own work. At once, Ali gave me a threshold to step over, in order to leave behind a dead man master whose name had become a shortcut out of messier explanations. And she gifted me that distinctive clown courage to hear and respond to the joyful, messy, undignified and irreverent calling that had brought us to that moment in the first place. I am forever grateful.

Fig. 3 Photo: Chiara D’Anna.

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Helen Chadwick Singer, songwriter, composer, performance creator and recording artist.

I sometimes had the joy of working alongside Ali in a training context for Dramatic Resources. She was truly committed to each person’s development, she would probe and support, and all the time there was laughter near the surface of the room, a light touch that went deep.

When I was mid-creation of a song-theatre show or an album, I would take the ideas in me down to stay with Ali and Chris. Even though music was not her first medium, Ali gave truthful and incisive feedback that was immensely supportive yet exact and useful. She was one of just two people I trusted to do this with my work when it was still in creation mode. 

She and I would lie on sofas and free range through our personal stories of para-theatrical or dangerous theatre moments, the kinds of stories that no one would believe could actually be true. She recounted hers with the greatest wit and a sense of the absurdity of them, yet not without respect. Ali could value things and see through them at the same time and my lasting memory is of her laughter.

Fig 4. Ali and Helen July 2016 in the top of the Reichstag Berlin. Photo: Mobile selfie.

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Chris Megson Reader in Drama and Theatre, Royal Holloway, Director of Centre for Contemporary British Theatre.

When I joined Royal Holloway in 2002, Ali was leading the MA in Theatre (Directing) programme and I co-taught with her for several years. My abiding memory from that time is the quality of Ali’s verbal feedback to students, moment by moment in class, and after each performance assessment. This feedback was always sensitive and pitched appropriately, but it was laser-sharp and taught the students – and me – so much about the dynamics and possibilities of creating onstage worlds. She had this remarkable ability to speak passionately but with acute precision and directness about how a scene or sequence could be improved or amplified, the stakes raised, the scenography reworked, the rhythms nuanced, the theatrical conventions more clearly marked. She had her own language for this, born from years of experience and practical research. When she worked with students, she did so with a quality of attention that I will never forget, and this is why generations of students trusted her and took risks in their own theatre practice. Ali also had a great sense of humour: her laughter was infectious and, like me, she appreciated bathos (a very anti-hierarchical mode of comedy). Humour plays a vital, if under-reported, role in pedagogy as well as in theatre-making and I shall remember, more than anything, Ali’s laughter.

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Helen Nicholson Professor and Vice Principal (Research Impact and Interdisciplinarity) Royal Holloway.

I remember watching Ali Hodge work with her ensemble in the Boiler House at Royal Holloway. I can’t remember the exact occasion, but there was an audience present and Ali was demonstrating her relational approach to actor training. In that clear, distinctive voice, she explained that performer training focused on the self was ‘outmoded’, and suggested instead that performers might become attuned to the spaces between people – the relational dynamic of performance. The atmosphere was intense and focused. At the time I was working with people living with advanced dementia, and on the surface the two forms of theatre-making had little in common. But the emphasis on relationality, on how energy between bodies and in spaces creates meaning and connectivity, struck a chord. Characteristically, when I shared my thoughts, Ali was not only generous, but also genuinely fascinated. Sharing insights into how people who are post-verbal, with little physical movement, might find connection with others through collective forms of expression was a fleeting conversation for Ali, perhaps, but profoundly influential for me. It was a moment that, like Ali, not only shaped performance practice but also touched hearts.

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David Williams Independent Researcher/Artist, formerly Professor of Performance Practices, Royal Holloway.

I was fortunate to be able to watch Ali in action in the studio on many occasions at Royal Holloway, and to teach with her; and her very particular attributes linger with me still, despite the passage of time. They include an acutely sensitised quality of embodied attention and listening that recognised the individual predicaments of participants, and quietly devised ways to en-courage and enable them in their possibilities. Also a focused seriousness that was buoyant, joyful, ‘light’ – invariably it admitted laughter, irreverence, confusion, unravellings, doubt, in the absence of any encumbering gravity. Her sessions were playfully purposeful, demanding but generous invitations to explore the pleasures of being awake to meet the moments of difficulty and going a little further or a little closer.

Above all for me, perhaps, and something that Ali manifested in her disposition in pretty much any context, she had an evolved sensitivity to the fact that the ‘work’ of training also happens beyond the studio, in our thinking, sensing, reading, remembering, dreaming, watching, listening, conversing, hanging out. For ultimately Ali’s approach to training proposed a nuanced and ongoing tuning for an abundant life in relation to others, amplifying openness, response-ability, connection, energetic exchange and respect.

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Gilli Bush-Bailey Professor Emerita, Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, formerly Professor and Head of Department at Royal Holloway.

I didn’t have any formal training experience with Ali but then I would say that working alongside her in the department was an experience of training, a learning in the art of presence, in the power of ‘being there’ – in the moment. When I remember Ali three experiences come to mind: Ali in staff meetings with her quiet but determined insistence that the atmosphere, the feeling of the department, course, or group of students should not be overwhelmed by the political demands of the moment. The visceral pleasure of hearing Ali’s deliciously deep laugh rising from the hall in (the then) Sutherland House to the floor of offices and staff room above. Seeing the trust she engendered in her students, her generous care as she challenged and encouraged brave work. I learnt a quality of care, an integrity, for and about our work there, that matters now – more than ever.

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Konstantinos Thomaidis Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre and Performance at University of Exeter, Artistic Director of Adrit Performance Makers and editor of the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies and Routledge Voice Studies.

I met Ali in September 2006. She was my very first actor training tutor at the MA Physical Theatre at Royal Holloway, then went on to supervise my MA dissertation and Ph.D., invited me to work as her assistant, introduced me to Gardzienice, sat on the advisory board of the journal I co-founded in 2014—all profound, life-changing experiences. Yet, as I write this, I come to realise that these ‘formal’ conduits for our encounter are just a shape, like the contours a handful of warm sand comes to acquire when sitting on your palm. In it, there are countless specks, miniscule story-moments to be found and re-narrated. Today, in thinking about Ali, one that sparkles in the light of memory is the first time Ali opened her rehearsal (with The Quick and the Dead) to us, her postgraduate trainees. Throughout the session, Ali kept moving—active feet, supple spine and flexible breath hovering between sound and inaudibility—on the periphery of her actors’ physiovocal experimentation. She empathetically received the tiniest of impulses, happening metres away from her, in her body, just listening and activating each new phase of work by radiating the right kind of energy, prompting the actors into the next exercise or section of compositional improvisation. Watching Ali firmly instructing by not verbalising any instruction, tuning into and listening to all action, knowing its most intimate qualities through her own body, before responding through subtle changes of her energetic state, was a breathtaking experience. It probably taught me—in Ali’s intuitive-but-no-beating-around-the-bush way—more about the ethics of teaching, training and directing (as well as encountering the other) than I can admit. And that’s how I want to remember and celebrate her presence. Care-fully along the periphery but firmly in the heart of action. Listening and radiating.

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Rebecca Loukes Associate Professor of Performance Practice at University of Exeter teaching and researching on theatre making, acting and performer training. 

Ali Hodge’s influence on me and my work was rooted in her attitude to both practice and life.  Although I was lucky to have participated in her workshops over the years, in which she sensitively and rigorously guided performers through the Core Training work, her legacy, for me, was the way she encouraged and advised me as a theatre maker, trainer and mother. 

I met Ali in 1999 at my audition for the MA in Physical Theatre at Royal Holloway, University of London and University of Surrey.  She supervised my dissertation and we stayed in touch over the following years.  When she moved back to Devon and I began working at the University of Exeter, I invited her to lead regular workshops with our own MA students.

Ali was a model for me – a female practitioner/academic balancing the see-saw of work and family.  She trained, made professional performance and wrote and reflected on that work (and other training practices, of course) while placing family life at the front and centre of her world.  Thank you Ali, for inspiring me and others to follow.

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Włodzimierz Staniewski founder and director of the Gardzienice Centre for Theatre Practices.

Alison Hodge was wise and fast in practising wisdom.

She used to observe, listen, and suddenly ask the question that either tripped one up, or channelled one’s reasoning into an appropriate track.

This is a great quality of a theatre director; the skill of asking the questions that incite.

Through all those years of our friendship, both within theatre work and in life, I was filled with increasing admiration towards Alison.

She collaborated with us in Gardzienice on the performance Carmina Burana, built on music and movement and based on an anthology of medieval poetry as well as on Tristan and Isolde.

The work lasted very long and we unravelled plenty of threads and produced dozens of scenes. This resembled the system of film-takes.

I had a dilemma with making decisions; which of the ‘takes’ should finally constitute the structure of the performance, and which have to be abandoned.

Analytical discussions with Alison offered distinct support in making appropriate choices.

Thanks to Alison, a great number of actors, practitioners and theoreticians came to work with “Gardzienice” from the UK.

Thirty years have passed, and I can see this situation as if it happened today.

The late 80s of the XX century. The whole ensemble makes an artistic-research expedition to the border of Soviet Union, somewhere east from Białystok. We travel by Żuk, the legendary van that we uneasily managed to get from the military surplus. Back seat-rows dismantled (the vehicle used to serve the transport of goods), we had packed over 10 people on the tin floor. Illegally. The legal was an ambivalent idea at those times. Actors and musicians were singing and reciting poems all the way, loud and cheerful; one minute in beautifully harmonised choirs, the next minute in an ambitious row. Mixed group of Poles and English (including Catherine Corrigan and Emma Rice, it’s worth mentioning). Young and ambitious maidens, passionate for such flames of love that were bursting out of the anthology of Carmina Burana.  After the 6-hour drive we had to walk kilometres on foot to get to the village that does not even exist on maps.

I hold in my hand a thick volume, Carmina Burana – Die Lieder der Benediktbeurer Handschrift. Zweischprachige Ausgabe, edited by A. Hilka and O. Schumann.

Leaning against the wall of the rocking Żuk, I’m muddling through bushes of Latin and the Upper-Bavarian language. And Alison Hodge sits across and is even more ruthlessly rocked from side to side in this rocking Boshian “Ship of Fools”; she makes her best to find the English equivalents in the English edition of the Carmina Burana (vaguely equivalent to the original), edited by David Parlett and released by Penguin Classics, 1986.

We also search for the most delicious morsels in Béroul’s The Romance of Tristan and The Tales of Tristan’s Madness, released by Penguin, 1970; in that bone-jarring and filled-with-singing van.

I have just taken this volume from my bookshelf and I found a tiny piece of paper, inserted between pages 154-155, with Alison’s hand-re-writing of these verses:

“Fool, what is your name?” 

→  “I will enjoy ourselves.”

Fig 5 Photo: Wlodzimierz Staniewski.

And I am contemplating this question tonight, July 6th/7th  2020, in Gardzienice. Gale-force winds and torrential rains outside… 

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Fig 6. Ali with Wlodzimierz Staniewski. Photo: Chris Hurford.

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Anna-Helena McLean. Founding director of Moon Fool and the ACT Ensemble Practice. Currently doctoral student in performance practice at Guildhall School of Music and Drama. www.moonfool.com

I went to talk to Ali in my second year of undergraduate study at Royal Holloway asking for advice about my future because I had heard about her reputation throughout the Drama department. Ali pointed me in the direction of her Boilerhouse Project and I took part in a life changing 2-week workshop with Anna and Grzegorz Bral. I found myself in Grotowski’s rural base outside Wroclaw, Brzezinka that September working on scenes for Chronicles: A Lamentation. Ali later recommended me as a cellist and actor to Wlodzimierz Staniewski knowing that he was looking to fill a role with those requirements. I went to Gardzienice 3 days after graduating and didn’t return for 7 years to the day! Her position in life, connection to Polish theatre and her piercing and precise ability to listen-in to an individual enabled me the greatest opportunity I could imagine. Over 20 years I worked with Ali a handful of times, contributing to her book Hidden Territories during my time in Gardzienice. Later when I again sought advice from her, spending hours talking in her garden and reviewing the diaries she asked me to send her while I was in Poland and most recently we connected as contributors in the Laboratory Theatre Network where again she listened in more quietly, deeply and with more encouragement than anyone I have met on my path. Ali brought Polish theatre to me and in it I found a creative home and have forged my life and identity. I had hoped to work with Ali in my PhD research looking to ‘feminize’ the post-Grotowskian laboratory but her vision, support and hope for theatre and women’s part in that remains with me, pressing, sharp and full of light. As for so many others my life work was found and made thanks to Ali and I was hoping above all hopes to bring that full circle. Ali’s influence lives on in us, a beacon and inspiration.

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Ian Morgan Course leader for MA Theatre Lab, Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.

I had the pleasure of teaching with Ali from 2013 -17, on RADA’s collaborative theatre making, ensemble-based MA in Theatre Laboratory.  We taught the students 3 times a week over the Autumn term for 12 weeks.  Either Ali or I would do the first 6 weeks, with the other taking the second half of the term. For the first few years I led them first and in week 5 or 6 she would observe a couple of sessions before taking them on.  These sessions, sharing the space with Ali, held some precious learning experiences, learning from her presence.  Her attentiveness, energetic stillness, warmth and sharpness gave something extra to the space.  Simply we were all better.  As the ensemble flowed through games and connections, impulse work and contact, all took on a refreshed lightness and grounded quality.  I remember crouching down beside her and she would whisper clear advice, encouraging me to help them soften and invite their breath to drop-in. What struck me the most was her joy in the students as they discovered what was possible.  When she led the first weeks some years later, I remember receiving into my care this attentive, ready and receptive ensemble, playful and responsive to each other in the space.  I observed their stick work, shared tempo work on the ‘breath’, admiring their listening. They would flow and then pause in an instant together, knees softly bent and feet alive into the floor, ready to spring.  They echoed her attentiveness. We were lucky to learn from and with her.

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Talia Rodgers Editorial Director for Higher Education at Digital Theatre, formerly Publisher of Theatre & Performance Studies at Routledge, 1991-2015.

I worked with Ali for nearly two decades, on several projects from books to DVDs, and we became friends during that time. 

I’ve never enjoyed working with anyone more – she was earnest and hard-working but also so much fun. Totally inspiring and uplifting, but at the same time completely down to earth. She held all these qualities in balance, which is one of the things she spoke about in the interview she gave on camera about her actor training work, after I moved to Digital Theatre in 2016. 

The other qualities she held beautifully in balance were critique and practice – always bringing a critical perspective but never allowing it to squash her creative sensibilities. 

As well as a woman of intelligence and talent, we’ve lost a tremendously generous hearted, thoroughly good person, whose integrity shone through everything she did. And we’ve lost a friend. 

Fig. 7 Ali in studio. Photographer unknown.

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Lisa Peck Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Practice, University of Sussex.

Ali changed the way I thought about and practiced actor training. She taught me that we are fundamentally relational, to be alert to and challenge individualistic perspectives, and to give and receive energy with positivity and love. This went beyond a training practice. It held the promise of a better way of being together in the world.

We shared a commitment to seek out and celebrate a female genealogy of actor training as an alternative to dominant male lineages. In 2015, talking about her work with The Quick and The Dead Ali reflected:

The female body and the notion of the female actor is under-researched and under-celebrated. I was really sure when I’d seen it in drama schools here [in the UK], that there were quite clichéd notions of what a female actor is, whether it’s the old crone or the character actor or whatever… [T]here was an absence of the female body and female presence in a lot of actor training full stop…One of the impulses for our work is to celebrate the female body, female ugliness, female imperfections, the non-traditional archetypical female stuff and try to explore femaleness in artistic ways that are not ‘traditional’.

Whilst she didn’t want her practice to be seen as exclusively female, she recognised that it offered ‘something particular’ for women. I was provoked, inspired and, as with all the best teachers, Ali passed on the baton.

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Ruth Way Associate Professor and Co-Director of Plymouth Conservatoire, University of Plymouth.

Ali was a dear friend of mine, we shared a passion for good grub, being in movement and standing up for what we believed in. Ali created many beautiful moments and transformative experiences with those she connected with through her teaching and creative projects and always with a spirit of playfulness and that resounding warm laugh of hers when she would sometimes probe and ask those more difficult questions.

Our long chats returned to practice and knowing oneself more deeply through these training processes. When you were with Ali, she was with you, attentive to what was unfolding and held the space in such a way as to support you in your own process.

Ali was deeply concerned about the planet and how many of us are finding it harder to experience downtime, the ‘slack’ when we can breathe more deeply and find time to reflect, recover and renew our energies to stay well and creative.

I see her finding such strength in the moment when her garden spade breaks through the Devon soil, we stand back beaming at her incredible vegetable patch! I see her sweet smile, her appreciation for the earth and taking the time to be and live.

Thank you Ali for your wisdom, deep friendship, for moving with me, for reminding me to take rest.

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