Stylistic Resonances: using martial arts to develop understanding and curiosity within a Higher Education dance curriculum

My journey to writing this post was far from straightforwards. I became a martial arts instructor in 1998, almost fifteen years before I became a dance lecturer in 2012 Naturally I found that much of my dance teaching approach was infused by my martial arts background. With the release of the TDPT special edition in September 2022 focusing on the influence of martial arts with theatre, dance and performance training I felt that it would be useful to share with my experiences with others. As an academic I wanted to delve into the fundamental underpinnings of movement practices to highlight the strong similarities and cross-influences these two movement forms have had on each other. This article may still come! As a practitioner on the other hand I wanted to share how this philosophy can be actualised in real world, studio-based work. It is a dilemma I often face with my students: action without understanding has as little value as understanding without application.

This blog gave me the opportunity to try and share my work in a tangible way, to highlight the practice but also to address where it came from. I have chosen to focus on an issue to which hopefully others can relate, and to show how my approach through martial arts helped address this issue. Of course everyone has their own unique movement history but hopefully this approach can be generalised to wherever you find yourself in your movement journey.

The issue I have chosen to consider is technical (technique) training. The role of this kind of training within Higher Education dance degrees is still an area of some debate. There is clearly a need to develop the students’ technical abilities so as to equip them with the skills they need to function within the industry. However universities (as opposed to conservatoires) have traditionally had wider goals than technical training, aiming to develop the ability to question, explore, discover and understand rather than simply acquire knowledge and skills.

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Video of the Performance Training and Well-Being Special Issue Launch

The virtual launch of the Special Issue “Performance Training and Well-Being” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training (13.2) took place on June 28, 2022, with keynote addresses by Eugenio Barba (https://fondazionebarbavarley.org/en/team/eugenio-barba/) and Matthieu Ricard (https://www.matthieuricard.org/en/).

This special issue, co-edited by Virginie Magnat (University of British Columbia) and Nathalie Gauthard (Université d’Artois), features thirty-eight contributors from eleven countries. The virtual launch was hosted by the Université d’Artois in France and sponsored by the UBC-funded “Culture, Creativity, Health and Well-Being” Research Cluster (https://eminencecluster.weebly.com/) in partnership with the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (https://catracrt.ca/).

Martial Arts Revisited: Bibliography

A bibliography of selected English-language sources on intersections between acting, actor training and martial arts.

Compiled by Grzegorz Ziółkowski.

All online sources were active as of 31 March 2022.

Błaszczak, P. 2021. “Aikido in Actor Training: A Personal Perspective.” In The Paper Bridge: Contemporary Theatre and Film Interconnections Between Japan and The West, edited by W. Otto and G. Ziółkowski, 87–95. Poznań: Wydawnictwo Naukowe UAM.

Blau, H. 1973. “Shadow Boxing: Reflections on the T’Ai Chi Chuan.” In Break Out!: In Search of New Theatrical Environments, edited by J. Schevill, 360–362. Chicago: Swallow Press.

Conaway, L. 1980. “Image, Idea and Expression: T’ai Chi and Actor Training.” In Movement for the Actor, edited by L. Rubin, 51–69. New York: Drama Book Specialists.

De Miranda, M. B. 2010. Playful Training: Towards Capoeira in the Physical Training of Actors, Saarbrücken: Lambert Academic Publishing.

De Miranda, M. B. 2012. “Jogo de Capoeira: When Actors Play a ‘Physical Dialogue’.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 3 (2): 178–191.

De Roza, E., and B. Miller. 2018. “The Lion and the Breath: Combining Kalaripayattu and Fitzmaurice Voicework Techniques Towards a New Cross-Cultural Methodology for Actor Training.” Journal of Embodied Research, 1 (1). Video article: https://jer.openlibhums.org/articles/10.16995/jer.6/.

Delza, S. 1972. “T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Integrated Exercise.” The Drama Review: TDR, 16 (1): 28–33.

Dillon. R. W. Jr. 1994. “Beyond Acting in Fights: Stage Combat as a New Martial Art.” The Fight Master: Journal of the Society of American Fight Directors, 17 (1): 17–19.

Dillon, R. W. Jr. 1999 [2000]. “Accounts of Martial Arts in Actor Training: An Enthusiast’s Critique.” Journal of Theatrical Combatives, Dec. https://ejmas.com/jtc/jtcframe.htm. Accessed 31 March 2022. A shorter version of the text with the same title was published in 2000: The Fight Master: Journal of the Society of American Fight Directors, 23 (2): 19–23.

Edinborough, C. 2011. “Developing Decision-Making Skills for Performance Through the Practice of Mindfulness in Somatic Training.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 2 (1): 18–33.

Kapsali, M. 2013. “Rethinking Actor Training: Training Body, Mind and… Ideological Awareness.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 4 (1): 73–86.

Karczag, E. with G. Geddes. 1999. A Preparation for the Walk in Tai-Chi. Exeter: Arts Documentation Unit. Video material.

Latiff, Z. A. 2012. “Revisiting Pencak Silat: The Malay Martial Arts in Theatre Practice and Actor Training.” Asian Theatre Journal, 29 (2): 379–401.

Lindner, D. 1975. “Martial Arts and Dance.” Dance Life, 1 (Fall): 31–49. 

Mroz, D. 2008. “Technique in Exile: The Changing Perception of Taijichuan, From Ming Dynasty Military Exercise to Twentieth-Century Actor Training Protocol.” Studies in Theatre and Performance, 28 (2): 127–145.

Mroz, D. 2009. “From Movement to Action: Martial Arts in the Practice of Devised Physical Theatre.” Studies in Theatre and Performance, 29 (2): 161–172.

Mroz, D. 2011. The Dancing Word: An Embodied Approach to the Preparation of Performers and the Composition of Performances, Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Nichols, R. A. 1980. “Empty-Handed Combat in Actor Training Program.” In Movement for the Actor, edited by L. Rubin, 87–98. New York: Drama Book Specialists.

Nichols, R. A. 1991. “A ‘Way’ for Actors: Asian Martial Arts.” Theatre Topics, 1 (1): 43–59. Reprinted in: Zarrilli, P. B. (editor), 19–30.

Nichols, R. A. 1993. “Out of Silence… Action: Kendo and Iai-do.” In Zarrilli, P. B. (editor), 104–113.

O’Shea, J. 2019. Risk, Failure, Play: What Dance Reveals about Martial Arts Training. Oxford, New York: Oxford UP.

rayambrosi. 2019. “The Role of History in Motivating Meihuaquan Martial Arts As a Somatic Method for Performers.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training Blog. 1 August. http://theatredanceperformancetraining.org/tag/martial-arts-and-theatre/.

Richmond, P. G., B. Lengfelder 1995. “The Alexander Technique, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, and Stage Combat: The Integration of Use, Somatics, and Skills in the Teaching of Stage Movement.” Theatre Topics, 5 (2): 167–179.

Ruffini, F. 1995. “Mime, the Actor, Action: The Way of Boxing.” Translated by D. Salgarolo. Mime Journal (special issue titled Incorporated Knowledge), Claremont, CA: Pomona College, Theatre Department, 54–69.

Ruffini, F. 2014 [1994]. Theatre and Boxing: The Actor Who Flies. Translated by P. Warrington, Holstebro, Malta, Wrocław, London, New York: Icarus Publishing Enterprise, Routledge. Italian edition, 1994: Teatro e boxe. L’‘atleta del cuore’ nella scena del novecento [Theatre and boxing: The ‘athlete of the heart’ on the 20th century stage]. Bologna: Società editrice il Mulino.

Scott, A. C. 1993. “‘Underneath the Stew Pot, There’s the Flame…’: T’ai Chi Ch’uan and the Asian/Experimental Theatre Program.” In Zarrilli, P. B. (editor), 48–59.

Smith, H. 1997. Breath and the Actor. Exeter: Arts Documentation Unit. Video material.

Turner, C. 1993. “Aikido: A Way of Coordinating Mind and Body”. In Zarrilli, P. B. (editor), 90–103.

Turner, C. 2000. “The Intersection Between Combative and Theatrical Arts: A View.” Journal of Theatre Combatives, Feb. https://ejmas.com/jtc/jtcframe.htm.

Turse, P. 2003. “Martial Arts and Acting Arts.” Journal of Theatre Combatives, May. https://ejmas.com/jtc/jtcframe.htm.

Wedderburn, E. 2016. “Violence in Martial Arts Actor Training: A Dialectical View.” Performance Research, 21 (3), 84–91.

Weiler, Ch. 2019. “Grasping the Bird’s Tail: Inspirations and Starting Points.” In Intercultural Acting and Performer Training, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, T. Sasitharan, and A. Kapur, 167–178. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.

Zarrilli, P. B. (editor). 1993. Asian Martial Arts in Actor Training, with a foreword by R. Benedetti, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for South Asian Studies.

Zarrilli, P. B. 2002 [1995, 1993]. “‘On the Edge of a Breath, Looking’: Cultivating the Actor’s Bodymind Through Asian Martial/Meditation Arts.” In Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, 181–199, 355–358. London, New York: Routledge. First edition 1995. First published as “‘on the edge of a breath, looking…’ Disciplining the Actor’s Bodymind Through the Martial Arts in the Asian Experimental Theatre Program.” In Zarrilli, P. B. (editor), 1993, 62–89.

Zarrilli, P. B. 2009. Psychophysical Acting: An Intercultural Approach after Stanislavski, with DVD-ROM by P. Hulton, Abingdon, New York: Routledge.

Zarrilli, P. B. 2015. “‘Inner Movement’ Between Practices of Mediation, Martial Arts, and Acting: A Focused Examination of Affect, Feeling, Sensing, and Sensory Attunement.” In Ritual, Performance and the Senses, edited by M. Bull and J. P. Mitchell, 121–136. London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Ziółkowski, G. 1997. “The Role of Martial Arts in the Actor’s Training.” In Modern Theatre in Different Cultures, edited by E. Udalska, 219–224. Warszawa: Energeia.

The compiler wishes to thank Laura Wayth for her help in accessing some materials.

Voices Advocating Martial Arts in Actor Training

Compiled by Grzegorz Ziółkowski

Sophia Delza (1972): “The simultaneous use of mind and body is where the value [of Wu style of taijiquan] lies for the actor. The exercise frees the actor to become what [s]he needs or chooses to be through the mastery of the physical body so that it can function with correct or easy energy, simultaneously making the mind concentrate. The use of the body and mind then helps to put one into a state of calmness. The actor feels ‘whole’ and totally confident, not distracted by random thoughts and victimized by irrelevant emotions. It is this ‘state of well being’ that acts as a tranquil base of creativity”. (p. 29)
Delza, S. 1972. “T’ai Chi Ch’uan: The Integrated Exercise.” The Drama Review: TDR, 16 (1): 28–33.
Linda Conaway (1980): “T’ai Chi [taiji] encourages the actor to discover the physiological center of his [sic] person because all activity grows out of the center (tant ien) [dantian – energy centre two inches below the navel and centre of gravity of the human body]. In applying the teaching and movements of T’ai Chi the actor not only intellectually understands the center but utilizes it in motion”. (p. 55)
Conaway, L. 1980. “Image, Idea and Expression: T’ai Chi and Actor Training.” In Movement for the Actor, edited by L. Rubin, 51–69. New York: Drama Book Specialists.
Richard Nichols (1991): “Martial arts training can play a formative role in the establishment of new physical horizons for the actor. The physical forms required, the intense physical commitment, and the intense mental focus can lead the student away from restrictive habitual movement/behavior patterns towards creation of a more positive personal view of one’s mental and physical capabilities – present and future. There is no reason to believe that a more positive outlook should not carry over into the actor’s work as well”. (pp. 51–52)
Nichols, R. A. 1991. “A ‘Way’ for Actors: Asian Martial Arts.” Theatre Topics, 1 (1): 43–59.
Adolphe C. Scott (1993):T’ai chi ch’uan [taijiquan] … has a great deal to offer in helping to develop the mental and physical counterpoise that is the mark of a good stage presence. Most student actors tend to overdo their movements and gestures in the belief they are being natural. In their concern for realistic characterization, however, they rely far too heavily on facial expression and fragmented bits of business and, in the process, sacrifice the rhythmic unity that is the result of a perfect coordination of internal and external behavior. Pauses and silences make them nervous; they are uneasy onstage when confronted by the necessity of standing still. At first it is difficult for them to realize that elimination is a positive force in acting, which is a skill acquired not so much by learning what to do as what not to do. These are the problems that the practice of t’ai chi ch’uan helps to eliminate in the serious student of acting”. (p. 55)
Scott, A. C. 1993. “‘Underneath the Stew Pot, There’s the Flame…’: T’ai Chi Ch’uan and the Asian/Experimental Theatre Program.” In Asian Martial Arts in Actor Training, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, 48–59. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for South Asian Studies.
Phillip B. Zarrilli (1993): “Practice of disciplines such as t’ai chi ch’uan [taijiquan] and kalaripayattu allow students to discover the breath-in-the-body and, through acting exercises, to apply this qualitative body-awareness to performance. Working toward mastery of embodied forms, when combined with the ability to fix and focus both the gaze and the mind, frees the practitioner from ‘consciousness about,’ allowing the person instead to enter into a state of ‘concentratedness’ focused on the performer’s relationship to his or her breath, its circulation through the body, and the deployment of this energy and focus through the body into the performance space. Training in the martial arts … empowers the actor with a means of making embodied acting choices, and not simply choices that remain empty ‘mind-full’ intentions”. (2002, p. 194)
Zarrilli, P. B. 2002 [1995, 1993]. “‘On the Edge of a Breath, Looking’: Cultivating the Actor’s Bodymind Through Asian Martial/Meditation Arts.” In Acting (Re)Considered: A Theoretical and Practical Guide, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, 181–199, 355–358. London, New York: Routledge. First edition 1995. First published as “‘on the edge of a breath, looking…’ Disciplining the Actor’s Bodymind Through the Martial Arts in the Asian Experimental Theatre Program.” In Asian Martial Arts in Actor Training, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, 62–89. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Center for South Asian Studies.
Phyllis G. Richmond and Bill Lengfelder (1995): “Studying somatics [such as taijiquan] develops kinesthetic sensitivity, an understanding of personal movement habits and preferences, a body-level sense of how movement is put together, and an awareness of the mind-body link”. (p. 168)
Richmond, P. G., Lengfelder B. 1995. “The Alexander Technique, T’ai Chi Ch’uan, and Stage Combat: The Integration of Use, Somatics, and Skills in the Teaching of Stage Movement.” Theatre Topics, 5 (2): 167–179.
Daniel Mroz (2008): “Much of actor training is directly concerned with de-conditioning the stress-response. Actors’ lack of physical ease, vocal projection and ability to respond creatively to their fellow players are all caused by habituated over-reaction to actual or anticipated stressors. This in itself is enough to recommend traditional taijiquan to any actor-training programme”. (p. 139)
Mroz, D. 2008. “Technique in Exile: The Changing Perception of Taijichuan, From Ming Dynasty Military Exercise to Twentieth-Century Actor Training Protocol.” Studies in Theatre and Performance, 28 (2): 127–145.
Campbell Edinborough (2011): “A martial situation, much like the situations presented by live performance, necessitates the ability to respond clearly and instantly to constantly changing events. Indeed, the dangerous nature of any martial situation emphasises the importance of effective decision-making and the avoidance of mindless behaviour”. (p. 28)
Edinborough, C. 2011. “Developing Decision-Making Skills for Performance Through the Practice of Mindfulness in Somatic Training.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 2 (1): 18–33.
Maria Brigida de Miranda (2012): “Jogo [game, play] de capoeira, adopted for the purposes of training actors, has the potential to develop a performer’s physical connection with a partner without submitting the performer to actual physical contact. This is because the physical response to an attack in the jogo is to evade, rather than to block, absorb or redirect the blow. … In relation to training of actors, this ‘non-contact’ principle of capoeira is an advantage over a great number of other martial arts. It favours a gradual development of confidence for performers wishing to avoid injuries and/or who are not used to physical training with partners”. (p. 184, 189)
De Miranda, M. B. 2012. “Jogo de Capoeira: When Actors Play a ‘Physical Dialogue’.” Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 3 (2): 178–191.
Zainal Abdul Latiff (2012): Silat can help achieve a balance in which the physical, psychological, and moral all merge in the actor. Silat can form the basis for evolving a distinct training method for the performer since techniques instill discipline and dedication. Silat is useful for developing sensitivity towards the body, improving the body’s mechanics, and freeing up the body for a better stage presence. Among its benefits are full-body physical training with balance and body control, correct alignment, groundedness, flexibility, coordination, kinesthetic awareness, relaxation, and breath work. This training leads to total awareness and efficiency in movement as well as improved physical control. This develops self-confidence, and actors face and overcome fear”. (pp. 392–393)
Latiff, Z. A. 2012. “Revisiting Pencak Silat: The Malay Martial Arts in Theatre Practice and Actor Training.” Asian Theatre Journal, 29 (2): 379–401.
Christel Weiler (2019): “… practising Taijiquan [taijiquan] means to give oneself up to a never-ending process of learning, searching and transformation. Insight and intuition could only be reached by doing, by acting in the double sense of the word; they would neither be the result of rational knowledge nor correspond to skills or tricks”. (p. 176)
Weiler, Ch. 2019. “Grasping the Bird’s Tail: Inspirations and Starting Points.” In Intercultural Acting and Performer Training, edited by P. B. Zarrilli, T. Sasitharan, and A. Kapur, 167–178. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.

The compiler wishes to thank Laura Wayth for her help in accessing some source materials.

Monika Pagneux at the Soho Laundry

Thank you, Mark, for your article about Monika Pagneux, in the ‘Against the Canon’ TDPT Special Issue, and for so beautifully providing a description of the essence of her work. I am one of those many people who were deeply and profoundly affected by her teaching.

In the autumn of 1992, as a young movement coach at the Stratford Festival, Canada, I had the good fortune to study with Monika Pagneux at the Soho Laundry in London, as part of two intensive three-week courses that she co-taught with Rick Zoltowski. One three-hour class occurred each morning (Movement and Clown) and another three hour class occurred each evening (Movement, Rhythm & Performance). Each afternoon I would return to the garden flat where I was living for those three weeks, eat lunch, and in front of the warmth of a gas fire, spend the remainder of the afternoon recording into my notebook the exercises and explorations that we had worked on in class that morning, as well as on the previous evening.

My classmates included Rachel Weisz, Irina Brook, Hélène Patarot, and Greg Thompson, amongst many others.

My first impression:

Upon entering a studio I see an older woman, wearing a black tunic and trousers, sweeping the studio floor; I assume she is the custodian. Much to my surprise, this woman puts the broom aside, walks over to a group of us who have assembled, and introduces herself as Monika Pagneux. She asks if any of us know anything about Clown. You could hear a pin drop. Then she says, “good, let’s learn about it together.” That was the spirit in which she worked: with a genuine passion and curiosity that was grounded in extensive experience and masterful teaching.

Over those three weeks, Monika changed how I saw movement for actors; her work elicited simple, beautiful authenticity. Although I did a lot more training after those courses at the Soho Laundry, I continue to teach material that I learned from her all those years ago, and to be inspired by the spirit in which she taught.

Embodied and Oral Land Acknowledgement

Virginie Magnat (France/Canada): “HÍSW̱ḴE (SENĆOŦEN word used to express gratitude, to give thanks)”

Embodied Land Acknowledgement:

Oral Land Acknowledgement:

Virginie Magnat’s training is rooted in the teachings of Rena Mirecka and Zygmunt Molik, two founding members of Jerzy Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre (https://virginiemagnat.space/about).

Warming up our hearts

“Warm up the body,
but not only the body,
because all inner motivations
are full of joy.”

Rena Mirecka is a founding member of Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre. She is the only woman to have performed in all of its productions, and is a specialist in the physical exercises known as plastiques.

https://grotowski.net/en/encyclopedia/mirecka-rena

http://en.grotowski-institute.pl/projekty/the-sun-the-school-of-rena-mirecka/

https://www.routledgeperformancearchive.com/browse/practitioners/mirecka-rena

Never Ending Narrative Video showcase

Never Ending Narrative is a video showcase created by the Wayne State University Virtual Dance Collaboratory (VDC)—a student-led dance company dedicated to digital media creation. The video series includes original screendances and video interviews of students speaking honestly about their experiences making art during the pandemic. The entire showcase was created during the Winter 2021 semester and exemplifies students’ desires to cultivate joy in the midst of deep frustration and loss.

https://vimeo.com/showcase/never-ending-narrative

For the authors’ discussion of this video showcase, please see their article in TDPT’s special issue on Wellbeing: Jessica Rajko et al. (US) “Reimagining Dance and Digital Media Training in an Era of Techno-Neoliberalism: Collective Pedagogical Models for Digital Media Education in Dance”

Notes on Contributors:

Jessica Rajko is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University. Her research includes critical scholarly and artistic approaches to research at the intersection of dance and computing. Her most recent research investigates how and why dance-based practices are integrated, adopted, and at times appropriated in computing research. She has presented and performed nationally and internationally, including Amsterdam’s OT301, Toronto’s Scotiabank Nuit Blanche festival, and The Joyce Theatre’s Gotham Festival. Author 1 has also presented her research at several transdisciplinary institutional programs such as Harvard’s Digital Futures Consortium, UPenn’s Price Lab for Digital Humanities, and University of New Mexico’s ART Lab.

Alesyn M. McCall is the Media and Production Coordinator in the Maggie Allesee Department of Theatre and Dance at Wayne State University. A multidisciplinary artist, Alesyn is passionate about producing and promoting media designed to empower marginalized communities. Since 2010, McCall has worked professionally as a videographer, photographer, cinematographer, hip-hop artist, and editor for numerous documentary, experimental and promotional films. McCall obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, DC with a major in Radio, Television and Film Production and will complete her Master of Arts in Arts Administration from Wayne State University in Spring 2022.

Ethan Williams is a recent graduate of Wayne State University with a Masters in Fine Arts in Theatre Management. His primary focus during his degree was photography and videography to market theatre and dance performances. Ethan hopes to continue to use these content creation skills in the future to market the arts in a visually compelling manner. He is currently pursuing career options in New York City, where he will be moving in October of this year, and is MS in Camp Administration from Touro University of Nevada. Lindsey has experience stage managing plays, musicals, dance concerts, opera, and special events. She has spent her professional career working in theatre as a project manager, as a teacher, and as a camping professional where she served as the head of the theatre department and production manager at French Woods Festival of the Performing Arts.

Introducing the Barba Varley Foundation Website

The Barba Varley Foundation has been created to promote the vision, the causes and the values developed by the Odin Theater since its foundation. It continues a vision of groups and theatre artists who demonstrate the transformative function of theatre and establish themselves as autonomous cells of another system of production and relationships. In particular, the Foundation aimed at the « nameless » of theater. Its purpose is to support fields of action animated by people who are disadvantaged by gender, ethnicity, geography, age, ways of thinking and acting inside and outside theatre.

https://fondazionebarbavarley.org/

For more context around the Barba Varley Foundation, read the Extended Conversation with Eugenio Barba and Nathalie Gautard in TDPT’s special issue on Wellbeing.

Training to Grow into Our Imaginations 

There’s a story about my great-great grandfather and a group of wild, shipwrecked Shetland ponies. Apparently, they were untameable, but he managed to train them and even hitch them up to a large wagon cart. There are newspaper accounts with photos and a sense that the locals in the area were a bit in awe of him. Training in this instance is a kind of domesticating process, a moulding and shaping, but it is also one of relationality and understanding between person and ‘animal’. My great-great grandfather was of full settler ancestry but raised by Wabanaki peoples in what is commonly referred to as Northeastern Canada and Maine. He integrated into the white settler world in his mid-twenties, training himself in settler customs and beliefs, but throughout his life he always lived between both worlds. 

As an acting teacher in the 21st-century, I am acutely aware that training, particularly in a workshop or educational setting, is saturated with the expectation of acquisition: participants hope to gain a new skill or a new ‘key’ to unlock their abilities. Even in situations where performers might respectfully learn another’s cultural heritage, such as songs or dances, there is still the expectation of acquiring that particular cultural artifact. 

In the workshop exchanges between K’ómox Kwakwaka’wakw and Coast Salish Kumugwe Cultural Society representatives Jesse Recalma and Karver Everson, the University of Exeter and MED Youth Theatre, a different mode or approach to training was evident. This was brought to the sessions by Jesse and Karver who embody their traditional sense of potlatch: a long ceremony of gift exchange that reinforces traditional bonds. During a Northwest Coast potlatch, one watches and listens respectfully for hours, if not days on end. The songs, dances and other displays of cultural heritage are infused with the pride, knowledge and respect of one’s clan and one’s nation. 

In the workshop with young Devon theatremakers who explicitly use myth in their processes, one of Jesse’s gifts was to speak about his belief in beings from the world that sits just on the edge of ours – what we in a colonized world might consider the supernatural. For Jesse, these beings are an integral part of one’s cultural heritage, are in fact an integral part of reality. Seeing how he offered himself to the space, listening to how he sang and drummed and observing how he interacted with the students, it was clear to me that Jesse’s sense of self is informed by a rich imaginative relationality to the world. 

Jesse didn’t use the word ‘imagination’, but sharing space with him and Karver reminded me of how, for the Haudenosaunee (The Six Nations Confederacy), imagination is not bound within an individual’s skull. Rather, according to Joe Sheridan and Roronhiakewen ‘He Clears The Sky’ Dan Longboat, imagination is a growing into one’s being through one’s relationality with place: the land and ecology one is surrounded by.

In my own work as a performer and in particular as a trainer of performers, I focus on imagination and the importance of associations as stimuli for impulse and action. I’ve always tended towards the mythic, the speculative, the intimations of a world that sits just at the edge of our own, and I encourage my students to lean into these associations because I often find they can be powerful catalysts to changing the dynamics of the space and the ways in which the individual and the ensemble relate to, and synthesize, the training. However, in these instances, training is still primarily related to expanding and challenging the body to awaken and interact with an enlarged sense of imagination, as something that might not be fully contained within you but rather that you are contained within.  

Listening to Jesse speak about his understanding of the beings on the edge shifted even further my own sense of relations. I’ve often considered the narrative that my great-great grandfather ‘tamed wild animals’ part of the paradigm of colonization, but through witnessing Jesse and Karver’s workshops and sharings, I realized that my great-great grandfather was quite possibly consciously collaborating with other-than-human persons, i.e. that he knew and respected the ‘animal’ as a ‘person’. Such a shift in language is essential as it shifts our imaginations. Thinking this way about my great-great grandfather and the training of ponies, made me consider training and the environment one trains in as an even more holistic enterprise than I have heretofore believed – one in which we might not simply be taking inspiration from something or someone but learning how to be responsible for that other and our relations to it.

I’m indebted to Jesse and Karver for the generous sharing of their cultural heritage and artistic practice. It fortified in me the essential need for relational and reciprocal work in all aspects of our lives, but particularly in our artistic and educational practices. The time with them provoked questions for me that I hope to take into my teaching and practice this year:  

  • How might the act of training in artistic contexts become less about acquisition and more about the art of gift exchange?  
  • Without discrediting the importance of mastery and pedagogical necessity – how might the conditions for deep reciprocity be enacted in a ‘training space’?  
  • How might our quality of listening change in such a space if we are not focused on what we are ‘taking’ from this moment but rather what we are receiving?  
  • Might such a space of exchange between ‘teacher’ and ‘students’ allow everyone to imagine differently, and for such imaginings to inform the work being made to be more ecologically and holistically mindful? 

Reference

Joe Sheridan and Roronhiakewen ‘He Clears the Sky’ Dan Longboat, ‘The Haudenosaunee Imagination and the Ecology of the Sacred’ Space and culture, 9 (2006), p.365-381.

Notes on Contributors: 

Bryan Brown 

Bryan Brown is an artist-scholar, currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, co-director of visual theatre company ARTEL (American Russian Theatre Ensemble Laboratory), and advisor to cultural laboratory Maketank. He is an editorial board member of Theatre Dance and Performance Training and co-curator of the journal’s blog. 

OrcID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7033-4813 

Cultivating Vessel and Voice: Three Videos

This video demonstration connects to the essai “Cultivating Vessel and Voice: Embodiment as a Way of Being in Performer Training” by Gey Pin Ang and Ranice Tay in TDPT’s special issue on Wellbeing. 

Both practitioners shared their experience beyond paradigms of performer training by drawing on their physical and vocal practices stemming from Sourcing Within’s notion of “care of self”. 

Care of Self in Physical Training:

Care of Self in Song:

Care of Self – from Vessel To Voice:

Gey Pin Ang 

Gey Pin is a practice-researcher from Singapore. She co-founded and was the artistic director of Theatre OX. Formerly, she was an actress with the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards, Italy, under the company’s Project The Bridge: developing theatre arts. Since 2016, she initiated Sourcing Within comprising of international workshops, cross-disciplinary embodied researches in performing arts and anthropology. Her works are featured in journals and books dedicated to intercultural theatre and anthropology. She holds a PhD in Drama by Practice-as-Research from the University of Kent. 

Tay Kai Xin Ranice 

Ranice is a multi-disciplinary theatre and martial arts practitioner from Singapore. She graduated from the National University of Singapore with a BA (Hons) in Theatre Studies, where she was also a recipient of the NUS CFA Performing and Visual Arts Scholarship. She collaborates avidly with Ang Gey Pin, and has worked internationally as a teacher and performer. Her artistic practice is rooted in primality, embodiment, and surrender. She perceives the body as an open vessel, and creates to invite the encounter inside and beyond the self. 

Relational Performance Pedagogy: Documentary Film

This two-hour documentary film is linked to the essai “Relational Performance Pedagogy: North American Innovations in the Lineages of Decroux and Grotowski” in the TDPT special issue on Wellbeing. The film features the pedagogical innovations of the four teachers, Dean Fogal, Linda Putnam, Kathleen Weiss, and David MacMurray Smith. It includes footage gathered during a week of shared participatory research in July 2018 which I hosted with these senior artists, plus a subsequent three-day intensive workshop that three of the teachers led for twenty-three participants.  

Claire Fogal:

Supported by SSHRC and the Public Scholars Initiative, Claire Fogal’s doctoral work at UBC celebrates her father Dean Fogal and the other senior Grotowski and Decroux based theatre artists who are her primary mentors. A Vancouver director, actor, teacher and creator, Claire is a graduate of UBC (BA in Theatre and English Literature), UAlberta (MFA in Directing) and Tooba Physical Theatre Centre (where she became the Director of Educational Programming). Claire is Artistic Director of Minotaur’s Kitchen, supported by Cor Departure Physical Theatre Society, which she co-founded in 2000, and contract faculty at Douglas College. Portfolio: clairefogal.com. 

Performance Training as Healing

Sonia’s Monologue:

This is an excerpt of Sonya’s monologue from the Indigenous adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Floyd Favel and performed by Sabina Sweta Sen-Podstawska. This video was recorded by Adam Podstawski. Originally the adaptation took place on the Poundmaker Reserve, on the land by a lake. This excerpt was recorded in a park in Chorzow, Poland as Sabina tried to remember and recreate the original performance to demonstrate the use of Plains Indigenous Sign Language (PISL) in indigenous performance. Some of the PISL used in this excerpt are: time, before, know, woman and the dance mudras from Indian classical dance Odissi, incorporated are: flower, bird, mirror. The gestures, action signs from the sign language and dance mudras are used according to their original ways but also as impulses and half formed gestures that originate in the body as it connects with the land through movement. In this process, traditions, cultures and languages meet: English and Bengali language in a Tagore song meet the Plains Indigenous Sign Language and mudras from Indian classical dance Odissi.

Excerpts from Uncle Vanya:

This video presents excerpts from an Indigenous adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” by Floyd Favel as a tale of colonization. It was part of performance training workshops and festivals organized by Miyawata Culture on Poundmaker Reserve in Canada in the summer of 2018 and 2019. Participants included artists, theatre directors, performers and academics from Canada and Poland. The video was recorded and edited by Noah Favel. The adaptation focuses on a healing journey of two protagonists: Uncle Vanya and Sonya. Sonya returns back to her home and land to honour her beloved uncle on his funeral. As she enters the abandoned house, she encounters the memories of her own lost soul, younger Sonya who is stuck in the old house along with the spirit of her deceased uncle. According to Indigenous shamanistic beliefs, one of the major causes of life’s illness is we leave a part of our spirit behind, that does not grow. Re-living the story of colonization offers a healing process for Sonya and sets free the uncle Vanya’s spirit.

About the Practitioners:

Sabina Sweta Sen-Podstawska, an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Humanities, University of Silesia in Poland, holds a PhD in Drama from the University of Exeter, an MA in South Asian Dance Studies from the University of Roehampton in London and BA-MA in English Literature and Culture from the University of Silesia in Katowice. Her research interests embrace sensory-somatic awareness in Odissi dance, body-mind relationship, somatic studies, and psychophysical training and performance, minority cultures, and dance and performance of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. As a dancer and performer, she continues her embodied explorations through Odissi dance crisscrossing disciplines and mediums. 

Floyd Favel is a theatre theorist and Cree cultural leader based in Saskatchewan. He studied theatre in Denmark at the Tukak Teatret and in Italy with Jerzy Grotowski. He has developed his own theatre process he entitles ‘Native Performance Culture’, or NPC. He is the curator of the Chief Poundmaker Museum (winner of the 2018 International Indigenous Tourism Award). In 2020 he was awarded the Multi-Cultural Leadership Award in Saskatchewan. He produced a documentary on the Delmas Indian Residential School which opened the Presence Autochtone Film Festival in Montreal in 2021.

TDPT Issue 12.2 – Independent Dance and Movement Training, Now Published

What is independence? Independent from what or whom? And what is training, learning and knowing?

These questions have formed the basis of our approach to this issue. Seemingly simple, these questions have been at the heart of Independent Dance’s work since 1984, when the organisation emerged out of informal collaborations between artists seeking a common ground to share training opportunities across dance forms. Remaining artist-led ever since, ID is preoccupied with supporting learning through dance, and with articulating what that might mean, and for whom.

We were therefore delighted to accept the invitation to guest-edit Theatre, Dance and Performance Training and have aimed to carry these threads throughout. We were also keen to reach beyond the boundaries of our own context and traverse borders between fields and forms. While ID has historically been associated with somatic practices, the range of practices featured in this issue is true both to the original intention of ID to support a very wide breadth of forms, and to our current commitment to supporting research across forms of dance, with questioning and open-ended curiosity being key ingredients, rather than an emphasis on product or aesthetic.

Through an international call-out, we invited proposals illuminating as broad a range of perspectives as possible, exploring how artists create, practice, and develop independent training forms, and what current practitioners consider relevant.

The resulting issue, published in July 2021, includes contributions ranging from articles to one-page ‘postcards’, by the following artists and writers: ‘Funmi Adewole, Casey Avaunt, Katrina Brown, Laura Cervi, Guy Dartnell, Thomasin Gülgeç, Stefan Jovanović, Lliane Loots, Simone Kenyon, Georgia Paizi, Helen Poynor / Hilary Kneale / Paula Kramer, Aswathy Rajan, Carolyn Roy, Stephanie Sachsenmaier, Niamh Dowling / Miranda Tufnell / Lucia Walker, Rebecca Weber, Simon Whitehead. It concludes with an obituary for Nancy Stark Smith written by Colleen Bartley.

The editors have selected the following two articles to be free to access until the end of October:

‘The dance artistry of Diane Alison-Mitchell and Paradigmz: Accounting for professional practice between 1993 and 2003’ by ’Funmi Adewole

‘Impermeable bodies: Women who lion dance in Boston’s Chinatown’ by Casey Avaunt

Contents:

EditorialHenrietta HaleNikki TomlinsonGitta Wigro & Sara Reed

The Companionship ScoresCarolyn Roy (Article)

Impermeable bodies: Women who lion dance in Boston’s ChinatownCasey Avaunt (Article — free to access in September and October 2021)

‘Critical Pathways’ – Training and Investigating the Art of Choreography-Making with Rosemary ButcherStefanie Gabriele Sachsenmaier (Article)

Decolonising dance pedagogy? Ruminations on contemporary dance training and teaching in South Africa set against the specters of colonisation and apartheidLliane Loots (Article)

Tik Tok and generation ZLaura Cervi (Essai)

“From ‘Guru-mukha’ to Contemporaneity”: metamorphosing divergent trajectories of Mohiniyattam pedagogy and performativityAswathy Rajan (Article)

StandingThomasin Gülgeç (postcard)

Getting into your head: social distancing and the intimacy of audio-only movement sessions on earpodsGeorgia Paizi (postcard)

.Behind from Appears NoticingKatrina Brown (postcard)

Post card from an insider artistGuy Dartnell (postcard)

Journeying towards multitudinous bodies: working with body weather practices through the creation of Into the MountainSimone Kenyon (Essai)

Walk of Life Training in Non-stylised and Environmental MovementHelen PoynorPaula Kramer & Hilary Kneale (Article)

The dance artistry of Diane Alison-Mitchell and Paradigmz: Accounting for professional practice between 1993 and 2003Funmi Adewole (Article — free to access in September and October 2021)

Holding the edge: between embodied trauma and choreographic learningStefan Jovanović (Essai)

Shared discoveries in theatre and danceNiamh DowlingMiranda Tufnell & Lucia Walker (Article)

LocatorSimon Whitehead (Essai)

Social (distance) dancing during covid with project trans(m)itRebecca Weber (Essai)

Nancy Stark Smith February 11, 1952 – May 1, 2020. Dancer, Teacher, Writer, Curator, Editor, PhenomenonColleen Bartley (Obituary)

Notes on Contributors:

Guest editors, special issue

Henrietta Hale is co-director of Independent Dance (ID) since 2018, leading the curation of an artist-led, dance development and research organisation. She has a 25 year dance artist practice, most significantly as founder member of collective Dog Kennel Hill Project since 2004, creating performance research across theatre, gallery, screen and unusual sites, within a range of producing partnerships such as Whitechapel Gallery, Dance Umbrella, and Brighton CCA. Roles as a dancer/collaborator include Ricochet Dance Productions and Rosemary Lee projects and movement direction with visual artists. She has taught regularly in higher education contexts, significantly, Trinity Laban (2002 − 2013).

Nikki Tomlinson is a producer and dramaturg with a background in curation and performance-making. Over the past 20 years she has developed interests in performance, participation, social justice and interdisciplinarity, advocacy for and with artists and widening access in every sense to experimental work. Her previous roles include Lead Artist Advisor/Producer at Artsadmin, Programme Manager and later co-chair of Chisenhale Dance Space, ESOL Course Leader and Refugee Advisor at Hackney Community College. She joined Independent Dance as co-director in March 2020. Alongside her role with ID she is a Trustee of Home Live Art and continues to work freelance across the UK and internationally.

Sara Reed is an independent academic, researcher, writer, project manager and a qualified Feldenkrais practitioner. With a career that has spanned a wide range of dance, performance, arts and education contexts, she has published widely in the area of embodied-movement, dance, somatic practices and pedagogy. Her experience includes interdisciplinary teaching across art forms. Sara is an Associate Editor for TDPT Training Grounds and on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Dance & Somatic Practices and Dance, Movement & Spiritualties. She is Co-chair for Independent Dance and a trustee for Wriggle Dance Theatre – for children and families.

Gitta Wigro is a former co-director of Independent Dance. She is a freelance dance film programmer and curator, and part of the team behind the MA Screendance at London Contemporary Dance School. She has worked in artist and artform development at The Place, Arts Council England, and Independent Dance, as well as in freelance roles. As a dance film specialist, she has worked with many international festivals, including Leeds International Film Festival (UK), COORPI (IT), Festival Quartiers Danses (CA) Dance Umbrella (UK), among many others. She co-ordinates the International Screendance Calendar and other resources to support the dance film field.

The editors

Jonathan Pitches is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds and Head of School of Performance and Cultural Industries. He specialises in the study of performer training and has wider interests in intercultural performance, environmental performance and blended learning. He is founding co-editor of the TDPT and has published several books in this area: Vsevolod Meyerhold (2003), Science and the Stanislavsky Tradition of Acting (2006/9), Russians in Britain (2012) and, Stanislavsky in the World (with Dr Stefan Aquilina 2017). His most recent publications are: Great Stage Directors Vol 3: Komisarjevsky, Copeau Guthrie (sole editor, 2018) and the monograph, Performing Landscapes: Mountains (2020).

Libby Worth is Reader in Contemporary Performance Practices, Royal Holloway, University of London. She is a movement practitioner with research interests in the Feldenkrais Method, physical theatres, site-based performance and in folk/traditional and amateur dance. Performances include co-devised duets; Step Feather Stitch (2012) and dance film Passing Between Folds (2017). She is co-editor of TDPT and published texts include Anna Halprin (2004, co-authored), Ninette de Valois: Adventurous Traditionalist (2012, co-edited), Jasmin Vardimon’s Dance Theatre: Movement, Memory and Metaphor (2016). Chapter contributions include on clog and sword dancing for Time and Performer Training (2019, she co-edited) and ‘Improvisation in Dance and the Movement of Everyday Life’ for the Oxford Handbook of Dance Improvisation (2019).

Contributors

Funmi Adewole moved from Nigeria to Britain in 1994. She performed with African dance drama and physical theatre companies in Britain for several years before studying for a doctorate in Dance Studies. She is a senior lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Casey Avaunt is Assistant Professor of Dance in the Department of Performing Arts at Elon University. Her research interests include critical dance theory, Asian and Asian American performance, and the role of culture and gender in the production of choreography.

Colleen Bartley is an independent dance artist and improviser who lives with an invisible disability. She co-edited Contact Quarterly CI Newsletter (US) with NSS & co-organises London Contact Improvisation (UK). She holds a degree from Swarthmore College and a diploma from Laban Centre London. She teaches movement & dance and creates film and performance.

Laura Cervi is Serra-Hunter Lecturer at the Department of Journalism and Communication Sciences of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain. PhD in Political Science from the University of Pavia (Italy) and the Autonomous University of Barcelona (Spain). Journalist and amateur dancer. Her main research interest is media literacy and citizen participation.

Niamh Dowling is Head of School of Performance at Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in London. Niamh trained with Monika Pagneux in Paris, Anne Bogart, Nancy Topf and Eva Karczag in New York and as a teacher of the Alexander Technique with Don Burton. She collaborated closely with Teatr Piesn Kozla in Poland for fifteen years. Niamh has been training in Systemic Constellations for 8 years, which has deeply influenced her practice and supported her holistic approach to education and performance training. Niamh is one of the practitioners on the online Routledge Performance Archive.

Stefan Jovanović is a queer-neurodivergent performance-maker who designs spaces and site-specific performances. His artistic practice embraces a maximalist aesthetic, creating speculative fabulations about future-forms of kinship and social healing. As a trained trauma therapist and architect, he incorporates spatial dramaturgy and philosophies of well-being into spaces of cultural production.

Simone Kenyon is an intra-disciplinary artist, dancer and Feldenkrais practitioner. For over twenty years she has developed a practice of expanded choreographies; encompassing movement, ecology, cultural geographies and walking arts to create participatory events for both urban and rural contexts. She is a current PhD researcher at the University of Leeds.

Hilary Kneale is an independent interdisciplinary artist, who works in collaboration with others from different fields. She is a published writer, movement practitioner, educator, guardian of Vision Quest, and healer, living within her own quest to remember the true nature of interrelatedness. Her work is widely body based and includes performance and ritual in the landscape, calling strongly to the ancient stories held deep within the earth. Having trained to embody, develop and teach practices with support of the work of Helen Poynor, and Northern Drum Shamanic Centre, she inhabits ways of opening the body, heart and mind, that reawaken the native soul.

Paula Kramer is an artist-researcher and movement artist based in Berlin. She holds an artistic PhD in Dance (Coventry University) and was a post-doctoral researcher at Uniarts Helsinki (2016–2019). Her work explores intermateriality through site-specific outdoor movement, rooted in Amerta Movement (Suryodarmo) and Non-stylised and Environmental Movement (Poynor). She collaborates with materials of many different orders as active agents in the creation of movement, performance and choreography; as well as daily life practices and sense-making. She publishes widely in the context of artistic research through bodily practices and is a board member of the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices.

Lliane Loots holds the position of Dance Lecturer in the Performance Studies Programme at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. She completed her PhD in 2018 looking at contemporary dance histories on the African continent. As an artist/scholar her PhD research is framed within an ethnographic and autoethnographic paradigm with a focus on narrative as methodology. Loots founded Flatfoot Dance Company as a professional dance company in 2003 when it grew out of a dance training programme that originally began in 1994. As the artistic director for Flatfoot, she has travelled extensively within the African continent with her dance work.

Helen Poynor is an independent movement artist specialising in site-specific and autobiographical performance and cross-artform collaborations. She runs the Walk of Life training and workshop programmes in Non-stylised and Environmental Movement on the Jurassic coast in East Devon/West Dorset. Helen is acknowledged as a teacher by Anna Halprin and Suprapto Suryodarmo, with whom she trained. She is a mentor for established and emerging dancers and practitioners and a guest associate teacher with Tamalpa UK. Helen has contributed chapters and articles on her work to numerous dance publications including the Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices. Helen is a registered dance movement therapist and somatic movement therapist. www.walkoflife.co.uk

Aswathy Rajan is a Lecturer in Dance at the International School of Creative Arts, Cochin, Kerala. She received BPA in Mohiniyattam from Kerala-Kalamandalam (2009) and MPA Dance from University of Hyderabad (2012) with First Rank. She qualified for UGC- Assistant Professor in Dance and started her Ph.D. as a UGC-JRF/SRF at the University of Hyderabad in 2020. During her Ph.D., she worked as a teaching assistant at the Dept. of Dance, UOH. She authored two books; “Dancethesis: An Amalgam of Dance perspectives” and “Aesthetics of Kuchipudi” besides writing several articles.

Carolyn Roy is a London based dancer who performs and teaches in the independent dance sector. Her work is concerned with attention, perception, being-with others and encountering our environment. Her current preoccupation is the political agency of dancing. She has recently completed a PhD at the University of Roehampton.

Stefanie Sachsenmaier (PhD Middlesex University, DEA Sorbonne Nlle, MA Goldsmiths College, SFHEA) is Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts at Middlesex University and Programme Leader of BA Theatre Performance and Production. Her research centres on the processual in creative practice, with a particular interest in the ways that performance extends into the socio-political context. She co-edited Collaboration in Performance Practice (Palgrave 2016) and published a series of writings related to her long-term research with British choreographer Rosemary Butcher. She has a background as a performer and is an experienced practitioner of Wu Style tai chi chuan.

Miranda Tufnell is a dance artist, writer and teacher in movement and imagination and also an Alexander teacher and cranio-sacral therapist. She has been teaching and making performances for 40 years. Her work explores the ways movement shapes our sense of meaning, language and perception. With Chris Crickmay, she created a film Dance Without Steps and co-authored two handbooks on sourcing creative work: Body Space Image (1990) and A Widening Field (2004). She has worked extensively in the field of arts and health as documented in her most recent book, When I Open My Eyes – Dance Health Imagination (2017)

Lucia Walker has been teaching Alexander Technique internationally to both individuals and groups since 1987. She is also a movement artist and teacher specialising in contact improvisation and ‘instant’ composition, teaching and collaborating in dance, physical theatre, communication and movement research projects (Forgotten Angle Theatre Collaborative and Flatfoot Dance Company, South Africa, Rosetta Life, England). She works with a wide range of people including young people, people with chronic illness, professional musicians and singers. Working with performers is a particular interest and Lucia works regularly with classical musicians, singers, actors and dancers. She is also involved in Alexander Technique teacher training and assessment of readiness to teach Alexander Technique.

Rebecca Weber, PhD, MFA, MA, RSME/RSMT/RSDE, THE, FHEA is a Dance Studies lecturer at the University of Auckland. Co-director of Project Trans(m)it, director of Somanaut Dance, and editor for Dance, Movement, and Spiritualities, Weber’s research interests include: somatics, technology, choreography, cognition, and pedagogy.

Simon Whitehead is a movement artist and craniosacral therapist living in west Wales. Simon hosts the Locator workshop series and is a member of Maynard, an interdisciplinary artist collective that collaborate on a programme of engaged dance activity in the village of Abercych, working through on-going residencies, the village dance, workshops, local and international partnerships. As part of an AHRC-funded PhD(PaR), based at the University of Glasgow, he is currently exploring what posthuman ecology means with reference to an expanded choreography of touch.

Training as Vocal Archaeology

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’

Over the last decade, I have been developing the project Listening Back: Towards a Vocal Archaeology of Greek Theatre. The project seeks to uncover the materiality of the voice in 5th century BCE theatre and to design a methodology for conducting vocal archaeology.[i] From oratory to musical competitions and from symposia to religious ceremony, voice was practised, conceptualised and trained in plural ways in 5th century BCE Athens. Foundational ideas around selfhood and citizenship that emerged in classical antiquity and still resonate today centre on voice: the inner voice of conscience, the voice of the people, God’s voice, the voice of the Law. Theatre played out, reflected and debated these ideas through a wide range of vocal performances. Yet, in discussions of Greek classical theatre, voice is routinely considered irretrievably lost and most research focuses on the surviving literature or visual depictions instead.[ii]

Listening Back: Towards an Archaeology of Greek Theatre tackles the challenge of upturning such established attitudes and asks: 

  • Which social, political, philosophical and aesthetic trainings shaped the production and reception of theatre voice in the 5th century BCE? 
  • How can the sound qualities of the performed voice be retraced through pioneering methodologies? 
  • Can we listen back to such on-stage voices not only through the philological, visual and musical evidence but also through the work of theatre practitioners engaged in reconstructing the classical voice? 
  • How can this ‘listening-back’ lead to new understandings and performances of the links between voice, self and collectivity? 
  • How can we examine, more broadly, the embodied sound of voices past? 
  • Which approaches can be pioneered to overturn the widely-circulated assumption that such voices have been irrevocably lost?

In response to this set of questions, the project proposes a conceptual shift and a new methodology. Rather than considering vocal practice from the past as irretrievable, this research advances an understanding of voice as an in-between not exclusively defined by either production (speaking/singing) or reception (listening). In this sense, voice is jointly constructed by aesthetic production and ideological environment, and voice training is a process that materializes both at a bodily level. To deploy an example perhaps more immediately graspable: the emergence of the operatic voice was the outcome of the increase in size of accompanying orchestras and the construction of larger auditoria (vocal volume), neoclassical aesthetics (appoggio breathing and the immobile torso of the ‘noble posture’), the use of colour in 17th- and 18th-century painting and first experiments in photography (chiaroscuro vocal onset), the scientific examination of vocal physiology (Garcia created both the laryngoscope and techniques for operatic training) and the genesis of the Romantic individual (notion of the operatic feat through melismas, pitch and duration). Even if operatic vocal performance was not an unbroken tradition, researching the music and texts it performed, the spaces in which it sounded and the aesthetics or ideas privileged at the time, alongside testing ways of voicing the repertoire within these spaces, could generate strong indications, if not certainties, about how the operatic voice functioned. 

To return to 5th century BCE, this project radically departs from previous studies in suggesting that, although Greek vocal performance is not an uninterrupted tradition, if voice is examined as an in-between, then its material practice must not be treated as irreversibly vanished. Gathering information about how voice was perceived and aesthetically appreciated, the texts which it communicated and the spaces within which it reverberated can generate information about specific ways and techniques of voicing. Reversely, experimenting with vocal practice within the sites of its original production and using texts in the original, while receiving consultation from experts in 5th century antiquity, can unearth novel findings about embodied vocality in Greek theatre from the past.

In this sense, voice pedagogy can act as a practice-research methodology of primary importance for understanding the bodily processes through which aesthetic modes of voicing instantiate, amplify or contest ideological discourses on vocality. To this day, my PaR has taken the form of:

(1) performance ethnography: this included training with (a) theatre and music practitioners that reconstruct and perform Greek texts, including Polish company Gardzienice (2009, 2011) and actor-musician Anna-Helena McLean(2010) (see Thomaidis 2014); and (b) directors-researchers that have developed unique methodologies of actor training also concerned with the sounding body and/or the aural qualities of surviving texts (ATTIS Theatre/Theodoros Terzopoulos, 2017; National Theatre of Greece Lab/Mikhail Marmarinos, 2017, 2019);

(2) upon conducting transdisciplinary readings (from poetics, politics, anthropology, psychology, drama, archaeology, sound studies, music, physiology, architecture, rhetoric, philosophy) and analysis of non-textual evidence (music fragments, visual archive), teaching ancient Greek text and existing musical fragments in the original (BA Vocal and Choral Studies, University of Winchester, UK, 2012-2013; MA Physical Theatre, Estonian Academy of Music and Drama, Estonia, 2017; BA Drama, University of Exeter, UK, 2016-2020);

(3) acting as voice consultant and sound dramaturg for the development of professional Greek theatre productions (Trackers by Sophocles, Epidaurus, 2020/21; Ajax by Sophocles, Athens Festival 2021);

(4) leading embodied experimentation with professional actors in an archaeological theatre site based on vocal techniques I developed (Ancient Theatre of Dodoni/Therino Manteio Workshop, 2018 & 2019). This stage was particularly concerned with a concept I created around voice as cognitive space: voice encapsulates ideological and aesthetic spaces, materially resounds in given architectures, and brings forth imagined spatialities/social and political spaces-yet-to-be. In this light, I reworked findings from previous stages of this artistic research to investigate vocal directionality, physio-vocal proxemics, emergent vocal relationalities, and the co-devising of voice quality by bodies, props and sites.

Voice as Cognitive Space explorations, Therino Manteio Workshop, 2018 & 2019,
photos by (and courtesy of) Aristoula Beti and Katerina Kourou.

This summer I enter a new phase of the project (further fieldwork with artists working with reconstruction and re-enactment; transdisciplinary collaborations with archaeologists, philologists, musicians and mask-makers; systematization, documentation and dissemination of the training). The hope is to dismantle the belief that voices from the distant past remain essentially unknowable, to challenge the presentist views of predominant voice trainings, and to reclaim vocal practice as central to an epistemic move beyond a (conceptual, archival, logocentric) voice historiography and towards an (embodied, material, sonorous) vocal archaeology.

References

Butler, Shane. 2015. The Ancient Phonograph. New York: Zone Books.

Comotti, Giovanni. 1991. Music in Greek and Roman Culture. Trans. Rosaria V. Munson. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

D’Angour, Armand. 2017. Rediscovering Ancient Greek Musichttps://youtu.be/4hOK7bU0S1Y.

Hall, Edith. 2002. ‘The Singing Actors of Antiquity,’ Pat Easterling and Edith Hall, eds, Greek and Roman Actors: Aspects of an Ancient Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 3-38.

Havelock, Eric. 1963. Preface to Plato. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ley, Graham. 2015. Acting Greek Tragedy. Exeter: University of Exeter Press.

Pöhlmann, Egert, and Martin L. West. 2001. Documents of Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Thomaidis, Konstantinos. 2018a. ‘Voice, Sound, Music & Theatre, A Provocation: Common Assumptions in Performance Studies’. Inaugural Meeting of the ‘Sound, Voice & Music’ working group, Theatre & Performance Research Association Annual Conference, Aberystwyth, UK.

— 2018b. ‘Listening Back: Towards a Vocal Archaeology of Greek Theatre’. Pre-Sessional Conference, Drama Department, University of Exeter.

— 2015. ‘What is Voice Studies? Konstantinos Thomaidis’, in K. Thomaidis and B. Macpherson (eds), Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 214-16.

—. 2014. ‘Singing from Stones: Physiovocality and Gardzienice’s Theatre of Musicality’, in D. Symonds and M. Taylor (eds), Gestures of Music Theater: The Performativity of Song and Dance. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 242-58.

Vovolis, Thanos. 2009. Prosopon: The Acoustical Mask in Greek Tragedy and in Contemporary Theatre. Stockholm: Dramatiska Institutet.

West, Martin. 1992. Ancient Greek Music. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wiles, David. 2000. Greek Theatre Performance: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Bio

Konstantinos Thomaidis is Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance at the University of Exeter. His books include Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (Routledge 2015, with Ben Macpherson), Theatre & Voice (Palgrave Macmillan 2017) and Time and Performer Training (Routledge 2019, with Mark Evans and Libby Worth). He co-founded the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, the Routledge Voice Studies book series, and the Sound, Voice & Music Working Group at TaPRA. He is Artistic Director of Adrift Performance Makers.


[i] I first proposed the term ‘vocal archaeology’ in Thomaidis 2015: 215 and outlined it as a methodology in Thomaidis 2018a and 2018b.

[ii] Localized studies in classics and musicology have illuminated aspects of vocal phenomena in antiquity but without a sustained focus on vocal practice or, more specifically, the aural aspects of theatre performance. Comotti (1991), West (1992), Pöhlmann (2001) and D’Angour (2017), among others, have provided close insights into the modes, melodies, rhythms and instruments used in Greek music from the period. Hall (2002) has gleaned information from classical and Hellenistic literature about singing in antiquity, and Vovolis (2009) has drawn on vase iconography to construct masks similar to those worn by performers at the time. Within studies about performance in antiquity, the general problem of lacking immediate access to theatre voices from pre-technological eras has led to the exclusion of vocal production from analyses of Greek theatre (Wiles 2001), to emphasizing subsequent periods and other genres (Butler 2015) or to redirecting attention towards contemporary speaking and voicing of this repertoire (Ley 2015). In many ways, Greek theatre vocal practice in 5th century BCE is a problem yet to be explored.

Voicing Across Distance

by Masi Asare

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’

As part of the act of commemorating and reanimating this exciting special issue on voice training, I am honored to share some notes on the voice study I am presently undertaking.

In the early weeks of the pandemic, isolating alone in my home in Chicago, I faced the challenge of pivoting from swiftly-cancelled plans for the rehearsal and production of a musical for which I am a co-author to diving headlong into my scholarly work on race, musical theatre, and voice—which suddenly felt arbitrary and removed from the specifics of a sharply reconfigured world. In April 2020, in response to these circumstances, I launched Voicing Across Distance, a new podcast on listening for voices and vocal sound in our historical moment, across social distance. Bringing together voice scholars and practitioners, I settled into a rhythm of structuring each episode in three parts—a reading from a theoretical text on voice, a conversation with a scholar on voices in our time of Covid19, and a practical vocal exercise from an expert. Reflections of my own are also woven throughout.

Voicing Across Distance episode 4 promotional image. 7 May 2020, Episode 4. Headshot photos of guests Dr. Shana Redmond and Robert Sussuma, plus host Masi Asare with microphone, in color-block rectangular pattern.

Across its 11 episodes to date, guest scholars have included musicologists Nina Sun Eidsheim, Katherine Meizel, Shana Redmond, Ryan Dohoney, and Dylan Robinson, media scholar Neil Verma, sociolinguist Anne Charity-Hudley, and theatre and performance studies scholars Donatella Galella, Elena Elías Krell, and Katelyn Hale Wood. Practitioners have ranged from virtuosic experimental singers Joan La Barbara and Abigail Bengson to theatre voice and speech educators Stan Brown, Julie Foh, Linda Gates, and Jonathan Hart Makwaia, Feldenkrais practitioner and voice teacher Robert Sussuma, musical theatre voice professor Jeremy Ryan Mossman, choral director Derrick Fox, and sound designer Andy Evan Cohen.

How might these episodes be useful for voice training? The vocal exercises are generative and wide-ranging, from Jonathan Hart Makwaia calling for “following the voice” beyond where the voicer can exert control (Episode 8), to Andy Evan Cohen coaching listeners on how to optimize Zoom settings for voice practice (Episode 9), to Robert Sussuma leading a meditative vocal experiment in pharyngeal ventriloquism (Episode 4). The theoretical contributions of guest scholars are also stunning, lucid, and timely, from Neil Verma connecting the kaleidosonic aims of 1930s and 1940s nationalist radio performance to Zoomboxed vocal performances of unity (Episode 2), to Katherine Meizel reflecting on what it means to understand voices as virus-aerosolizing agents of danger (Episode 6), to Anne Charity-Hudley inviting theatre educators to attend to language attitudes—racially-inflected beliefs about which kinds of voices are beautiful or strong, and why (Episode 10).

How does these sessions offer something new for voice training and study? I have found that they allow space for thinkers and voicers to grapple with what it means to do our work—and why it still has value—in the new and previously unimaginable circumstances of the pandemic and amid the full-throated, international outcry against racism. Whether figured as dangerous, Zoomboxed, or socially distanced, vocal sound still resounds. Voicing Across Distance is a love letter to ongoing practice and study of the voice, and to voices firmly situated in an ethical relationship to our historical moment.

MASI ASARE is Assistant Professor of Theatre and Performance Studies at Northwestern University. As a composer and writer, she holds commissions from Broadway producers and Marvel, and is a lyricist for Monsoon Wedding the musical; her voice students have appeared on Broadway and in international tours. Masi’s scholarly book project examines the impact of blues singers on Broadway belting and makes the case for the need to feel the racial history in contemporary musical theatre performance. She holds degrees from Harvard and New York University, and has published with Samuel French, The Dramatist, and Journal of Popular Music Studies,with forthcoming writing in Performance Matters, TDR, and Studies in Musical Theatre.

Voice and Body

by Margaret Pikes and Patrick Campbell

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’

Linking body and voice in vocal training is a complex process and, at times, little more than lip service has been paid to the labour necessary to actually embody this connection. The complexity of this task is often reduced by a limited understanding of the psychosomatic nature of vocal expressivity. In the book Owning our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, which Dr Patrick Campbell and I have recently published in the Routledge Voice Studies Series, we discuss this link in closer detail. 

Figure 1 Margaret Pikes at work with a student. Source: Susanne Duddeck.

Given that the voice is a nexus of psychophysical activity, rather than a singular ‘organ,’ building awareness of and access to the deep and varied vocal sources in the body involves more than a series of mechanical exercises or simply ‘sounding out’.

When speaking of vocal sources in relation to the Wolfsohn-Hart tradition of extended voice, we refer to ‘spaces’ in the body and along the spine, broadly corresponding to the lower abdominal (belly), chest and head regions, which:

 …are psychosomatic in nature and correspond both to qualities of timbre and ranges of pitch and feelings (both emotional and physiological) and images … Vocal sources serve as both evocative, imaginary frames for vocalisation and somatically identifiable nexuses of muscular engagement and sonorous vibration, which are consciously activated physiologically during breath-work and vocalisation.

(Pikes and Campbell, 2021: 102)

In order to connect to and integrate these vocal sources, a level of reflexive listening and discrimination needs to be developed through practice and experience of connecting with inner space, as well as with external space through movement. Both of these dimensions are activated through attention to the soma, with a focus on the feelings and images evoked while vocalising.

Embodying and owning our voices requires this dynamic and experiential work, which eschews cartesian duality. This painstaking, creative process can, eventually, enable us to reconnect with the feeling-ful core of our being, that which phenomenologist Michel Henry describes as ‘the pathetic immediacy of life’ (Henry, 2008: 2), which is manifest in the affective, psychosomatic layers of the libidinal drives that haunt the voice. This holistic process of vocal exploration and discovery, although requiring practise, guidance and assiduity, is deeply rewarding and life giving.

References

Pikes, M. and Campbell, P. (2021) Owning Our Voices: Vocal Discovery in the Wolfsohn-Hart Tradition, Abingdon: Routledge.

Henry, M. (2008) Material Phenomenology, New York: Fordham University Press. 

Biogs

Margaret Pikes is a founding member of the Roy Hart Theatre who trained with Roy Hart and participated in all of the Roy Hart Theatre’s early experimental performances. She has been teaching the Wolfsohn-Hart approach to vocal expression internationally for more than 50 years and regularly leads workshops in the UK, France and Germany. 

Patrick Campbell is Senior Lecturer in Drama and Contemporary Performance at Manchester Metropolitan University. He is a core member of Cross Pollination, an expanded, nomadic laboratory for the dialogue in-between practices, and is Associate Editor of the Brazilian Journal on Presence Studies

Who’s talking

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?’

The relationship between the voice and the body in the theatre has revealed that, through the latter, the voice subscribes the notion of presence within the spectator, while also, the paradox of dislocating itself from the body remains. The acousmatic turn—from which authors such as Michel Chion (1993) or the Chilean Andrés Grumann (2020), to name a few, have examined the hegemony of the body over the voice in contemporary theatre—has allowed to put into the debate of vocal pedagogy new ways of dealing with body/voice training and of challenging the installed anthropocentric logic of the voice as a production of the body.

In a general, the central concern of these authors has been to think about, and problematise, the paradox of a voice belonging to the wrong body and/or the dislocation of the body from which it emanates. This acousmatic split—between the presence of the body and the mediation of the voice in the theatre—has generated an auditory and visual enigma that has not yet been resolved by most theatre schools in Chile. With the appearance and incorporation of electroacoustic technologies, audiovisual devices and the diverse theoretical matrices from which the body has been studied, new forms of understanding and approaching the voice and the body in performance have been triggered. Therefore, the voice & body equation in vocal pedagogy demands a constant and synergistic dialogue with the becoming of stage practices.

Part of my doctoral research (PaR) centres around these issues and proposes that the voice, as a phenomenon and a force is not bound by delimitations and/or hierarchies but, rather, to strategies of associativity engaged in stage work. Thus, the associative conjunction ‘&’ operates as a portal for the various entrances of the vocal in the performative space. Likewise, it demolishes the need to annex voice to the body and language as the only source for its training and study.

In Sistema Sonoro (2020), the introductory project to my doctor PaR, I tried to echo such (and other) reflections and concerns:

Sistema Sonoro teaser

In this line of thought, the Argentinean Silvia Davini (2007) has established that, in light of the modern project and the expansion of the limits between the human and the non-human, the concept of body and instrument for the deployment of the voice in the performance scene has also been placed in the debate on vocal pedagogy. In a curious topology of the body, it has evolved from Cartesian automata to the virtual body, a body of multiple enjoyments, a multi-sexed body, a Cyberbody, among other categorisations. Here, the problem of voice attachment to these bodies is presented and revealed as a still unsolved issue.

How, then, is vocal pedagogy to face these other types of body? If every time we listen to a voice, it invokes and calls for a body (Lagaay 2011), then we should ask ourselves: what kind of body is this voice attached to, and what should be the strategies and approaches for teaching its applications in performance?

References

Chion, M. (1993). La Audiovisión: Introducción a un análisis conjunto de la imagen y el sonido (2ª edición al español). Barcelona, España: Paidós. Trans. Antonio López Ruiz.

Davini, S. (2007). Cartografías de la voz en el teatro contemporáneo, el caso de Buenos Aires Argentina. Buenos Aires, Argentina: Universidad de Quilmes.

Grumann, A. (2020). ‘Voces fuera de escena. El vocear tecno-mediatizado de la voz en el teatro’. (Artículo inédito). Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Facultad de Artes, Escuela de Teatro.

Lagaay, A. (2011). Towards a (Negative) Philosophy of Voice. In: Kendrick, L. & Roesner, D. (Eds) Theatre Noises: The Sound of Performance (pp. 57-69). Newcastle upon Tyme: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Bio

Luis Aros, an actor and voice studies practitioner/scholar, holds a MA Voice Studies from RCSSD and is the founder and director of the Nucleus of Vocal Research. Currently researching a Ph.D. in Arts / Practice and Theatre Studies, he is developing a PaR project on voice and performance.

Pansori & New Technologies: An Interview with Chan E. Park

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?‘ and was created by Chan E. Park and Konstantinos Thomaidis (due to technical issues, I as editor uploaded this content but am not the author).

Professor Chan E. Park is an innovator of theatrical pansori for transnational audiences and the originator of bilingual pansori, a development and reworking of pansori storytelling that includes singing in Korean and delivery of narrative parts (aniri) in English and/or alongside English subtitles (for more information, see Park 2003: 245-272).

A first articulation of Park’s current thinking on the intersections of pansori and technology appeared in a section of her chapter ‘Beyond the “time capsule”: recreating Korean narrative temporalities in pansori singing’. It read:

“Today, I continue training with a set of my teacher’s recordings. And the thoughts and ideas from learning and practice substantiate my written research. I have taken part in several theatrical or musical productions of pansori as innovative adaptation, but my sense of innovation is discovery in my teacher’s recorded voice: if you can do a vocal doubling of a phrase you could not do yesterday, that is innovation for me. By engaging this partial archive of the work of an intangible cultural asset, I am able to renew my affiliations, albeit in a meditated way, with a pansori community, past, present and future.” (Park 2019: 176)

The following interview took place in June 2019, within the context of developing the article ‘Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training’ (Thomaidis 2019)—and we invite you to read this entry alongside that piece.

Konstantinos Thomaidis (KT): In what ways has the use of technology (for example, professional CDs or DVDs, amateur recordings, blogs, sur- or sub-titling, YouTube, websites etc) impacted contemporary pansori training?

Chan E. Park (CP): Recordings are essential tools for all learners. A learner makes own recordings of his or her teacher, during lessons.

From experience, professional CDs or DVDs, YouTube, should largely be for those amateur listeners not affiliated with teacher and school of learning, but take active interest as a fan, researcher, hobby, or self-study. And everyone seeking the professional field news or updates, or personal embellishments also browse on YouTube.

Blogs, I do not have, so am not qualified to speak about it. I tend to think, however, those younger generation practitioners perhaps use social media to exchange news and promote their own achievements rather than to enhance their training.

The concept of subtitling came into use in and around 1987, to the best of my knowledge. I happened to have provided the first English subtitles for the Song of Chunhyang produced by the National Changgeuk Company in 1987. Today, all professional singers making international appearances are aware of the critical importance of good subtitles to go with their presentations. For them, subtitles add to their presentation, rather than training.

KT: In what ways has such technology impacted contemporary pansori performance?

CP: Given the historical reality, without the advancements in recording technology (and consumption), pansori singing may not have survived as much as it has.

KT: Do you think that the use of technology for pedagogic purposes (voice training) is more suited towards preserving or renewing pansori?

CP: Both.

Renewal of pansori must first start with preservation.

KT: Have you used such technology as a trainee? Or teacher? Or performer? If yes, could you describe a case of such use that exemplifies your approach?

CP: Yes, yes, and yes.

First, my teacher is no longer living, yet I have continuously been depending on his recordings to review and re-review, re-re-review, and further.

In essence, he lives to continue to teach me through his recordings.

Listening to them thousands of times, I cultivate closer listening of his artistry as structural entity, the understanding of which is mine to reproduce within the boundary of my own vocal expressiveness.

In repeated listening, the obscure and the unidentifiable textual and acoustic elements often become clearer, suddenly or gradually.  

KT: In the past, the use of technology (for example, recordings) has been criticised as leading to mere imitation (‘photographic sound’/sajinsori) rather than creative mastery of the genre. Do you agree/disagree? Do you think such critique is fair or limited?

CP: True, and this was my own limited observation during the earlier stages of training. Outwardly, it does feel and look like you’re photocopying. But consider the process of learning a new language: it starts with sampling and ‘photocopying’ your teacher’s articulation and mannerism. The language one day becomes yours to use, and you speak, listen, write, and comprehend in your own way.

People who sees only the ‘photocopying’ need to go further into the process of training, continuously.

KT: Do you have any final thoughts to share on the issue of using technology in pansori training, either within or outside Korea?

CP: Recording technology, despite the loss of oral culture, is a saving grace when it comes to the pedagogical field of traditional singing.

References

Park, C.E. 2003. Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward and Ethnography of Korean Story Singing. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press.

Park, C.E. 2019. Beyond the ‘time capsule’: recreating Korean narrative temporalities in pansori singing. In: M. Evans, K. Thomaidis and Libby Worth, eds., Time and Performer Training. London and New York: Routledge. 172-78.

Biogs

Chan E. Park is the author of Voices from the Straw Mat: Toward an Ethnography of Korean Story Singing (University of Hawai’i Press 2003), and currently professor of Korean Literature and Performance at Ohio State University. Park has innovated numerous bilingual and theatrical pansori including: In 1903, Pak Hungbo Went to Hawaii (2003); When Tiger Smoked His Pipe (2003); Shim Chong: A Korean Folktale (2003); Alaskan Pansori: Klanott and the Land Otter People (2005); Song of Everyday Chunhyang (2008); Hare Returns from the Underwater Palace (2013).

Konstantinos Thomaidis is Senior Lecturer in Drama, Theatre & Performance at the University of Exeter. His books include Voice Studies: Critical Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (Routledge 2015, with Ben Macpherson) and Theatre & Voice (Palgrave Macmillan 2017). He co-founded the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, the Routledge Voice Studies book series, and the Sound, Voice & Music Working Group at TaPRA. He is Artistic Director of Adrift Performance Makers.

Further Links:

https://deall.osu.edu/people/park.2274

https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/beyond-time-capsule-chan-park/e/10.4324/9781351180368-18

https://www.uhpress.hawaii.edu/title/voices-from-the-straw-mat-toward-an-ethnography-of-korean-story-singing/

‘Humanimal’ voice pedagogy

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?

While the human voice mostly dominates the territory of voice training today, interspecies vocal performances like The Algae Opera (2012) and multispecies audiences like Laurie Anderson’s Concert for Dogs (2016) challenge the anthropocentric focus and open up for new experiences. Voice training can join in this venture by including more diverse pedagogies. 

For some time now, animals have inspired western arts practitioners in performer training: from theatrical innovator Jacques Copeau’s animal improvisations (Evans 2006: 79-80), to singing philosopher Alfred Wolfsohn’s extended voice research (2012), to theatre director Jerzy Grotowski’s actor training exercises incorporating the vocalities of tigers, snakes, and bulls (1968: 180-82). The practices used in this longstanding tradition of seeking inspiration from other animals are still in many ways quite human-centred. 

Part of my PhD project studies the Nordic herding-calling tradition Kulning, a practice of interspecies vocal attraction between herders and free-grazing cows, goats and sheep. As a vocal deviser, I am fascinated by how the herders vocally attract their cattle. While most herders today learn traditional calls of attraction through the (human-to-human) oral tradition, we can assume that in the very first training sessions, herders and cattle together co-devised these calls. 

Learning vocal technique together with the cattle embraces a ‘humanimal’ voice pedagogy. Donna Haraway describes the ‘humanimal’ as the human and the animal coming ‘into each other’ (2013). Informed by ethnographic fieldwork that I conducted in the north of Sweden (July 2019), I devised four workshops on ‘humanimal’ voice pedagogy for arts practitioners. These workshops (held at the University of Exeter’s Drama Department, 2020) each involved a group of eleven participants.  

The first workshop included exercises designed to explore elements to be considered when devising the calls of attraction in Kulning. In order to introduce participants to the vocal tradition and to serve as a stimulus in the exercises, I brought in footage and sound recordings of cattle from my fieldwork. 

During my ethnographic study, it was suggested by the herders that I interviewed that vocal attunement and imitation of the recipient are key to the sonic dramaturgy of the calls of attraction. Thus, one of my exercises aimed to train workshop participants to vocally attune to and imitate cattle. After a series of ‘humanimal’ physiovocal warm-ups, I invited participants to close their eyes, to go down on ‘all fours’, and listen to recordings of cattle ‘feeling’ the cattle’s vocality resonate in their bodies. Inspired by Jane Bennett’s conception of a morphing creature ‘not necessarily divided equally’ (2001: 19-20), I led participants through a vocal journey exploring different degrees of mimesis (we explored moving from sounding 10% human-90% cow to 20%human-80% cow etc.). In this creative space, participants were encouraged to explore the freedom of the shapeshifting embedded in the ‘humanimal’.

A ‘humanimal’ vocal attunement and imitation exercise from the first workshop. Photo courtesy of the author.

By practising imitating the unique voices of each animal, this exercise also offered performers new models for voicing. All workshop exercises involved learning from the cattle’s vocality through listening, moving, and sounding-with audio recordings. 

What possibilities may emerge if this kind of vocal training next takes place in nature together with cattle, allowing for a complete ‘humanimal’ vocal exchange? What possibilities may emerge when we broaden the anthropocentric paradigm of voice pedagogy, inviting more ways of voicing, listening, and relating? What performance possibilities may emerge with ‘humanimal’ voice training? Will such a training embrace further ‘humanimal’ audiences?  

References

Anderson, Laurie. (2016). Concert for Dogs (January 4). Times Square, New York City.

Bennett, Jane. (2001). Cross-Species Encounters. In J. Bennett (ed) The Enchantment of Modern Life (pp. 17-32). Princeton: Princeton University Press. 

Burton Nitta. (2012). The Algae Opera (September 22-23). Victoria and Albert Museum, London. 

Edlund, Sophia. (2020). Humanimal voice workshop on vocal attraction (February 15). Exeter Drama Department, Thornlea, Exeter.

Evans, Mark. (2006). Jacques Copeau. New York: Routledge.

Haraway, Donna. (2013). ‘Donna Haraway on the ‘humanimal’’. YouTube (March 8). Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BUA_hRJU8J4 [Accessed: 26.12.2020].

Grotowski, Jerzy. (1968). Towards a Poor Theatre. New York: Simon and Schuster. 

Wolfsohn, Alfred. (2012). Orpheus or the Way to a Mask (trans. M. Günther). Woodstock, Connecticut: Abraxas Publishing. 

Biography

Sophia Edlund is a visual-vocal artist and a PhD candidate in Performance Practice at the University of Exeter. Her voice-based PhD examines different practices of voicing ‘thelxis’ (a Greek word for attraction/enchantment). Sophia’s studies include a BA in English Literature, an MA in Text and Performance, and an MSc in Performance Psychology. She is passionate about the health and wellbeing of singers and about raising awareness of singing as a means to promote health and wellbeing. Sophia is the current Reviews Editor for the Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, where she has published on the topic of sirens.

Weight-Lifting and Voice Training

Ed. Note: The following entry is part of a series of posts marking the 1-year anniversary of the Special Issue ‘What is New in Voice Training?

Voice researcher and teacher D. Ralph Appelman writes: ‘A man cannot lift a heavy object without laryngeal closure, and he can become quite hoarse in the prolonged performance of this act’ (1967, p. 43). Appelman here is referring to an involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre: the reflexive closing of the throat in response to heavy lifting. The glottis closes to trap air in the lungs. The increased air pressure in the lungs and the accompanying increase in intrabdominal pressure exert force on the anterior surface of the spine, increasing spinal stability and allowing force to be transferred through the body more effectively.

The Valsalva manoeuvre during a deadlift
(image by Holden-Boyd, 2020; adapted from Rippetoe, 2011, p.59)

Appelman articulates a belief historically shared by many spoken-voice and singing teachers: that heavy weight-lifting and optimal voicing are incompatible. Voice professionals have often recommended against heavy lifting: either out of a concern that weight-lifting generates physical tension and brings the body out of alignment (Rodenburg, 1992, p.59; Bunch 2010, p. 158-8) and/or out of a concern that it produces harmful effects such as hyperadduction or structural damage at the level of the vocal folds (Chapman, 2012, p. 68; Houseman, 2002, p. 12).

There are both personal and professional reasons that an actor might choose to engage in weight-lifting. And yet there exists limited practical advice on how to do so in a way that supports rather than hinders voice training. Furthermore, while voice teachers couch their recommendations against weight-lifting in scientific explanations, there is limited scientific research to conclusively support the assertion that weight-lifting necessarily has a negative impact on the voice.

I am investigating this issue through my current teaching practice at Bath Spa University and through a practice-as-research PhD with the University of Exeter. I aim to generate different interactions between weight-lifting and voice than those historically envisioned by voice teachers. I ask how an actor could learn to actively shape these interactions. For example, I investigate the adjustments I need to make in order to lift a heavy weight without laryngeal closure.

I also ask whether it is valuable to consider more than simply the mechanical interactions between weight-lifting and voice. Fundamental to many actor voice practices is the notion that how one uses one’s voice is contiguous with one’s sense of self. How, then, does weight-lifting intervene in one’s self-experience? For example, could the sense of agency and empowerment that potentially comes with learning to weight-lift challenge and re-form one’s embodied experience of social identity? In this respect, my research has socio-political resonances and I use weight-lifting as way of probing tensions in contemporary feminisms: particularly neoliberal feminism.

Though my project is practice-based, I analyse and shape my practice using ethnographic and autoethnographic research. I interview voice teachers and also draw on my own expertise and experiences not only as a voice teacher but also as a weight-lifter and weight-lifting coach. This (auto)ethnographic framework allows me to consider the broader cultural and social resonances of my work and the ways it challenges or affirms existing voice training practices and discourses.

In the following video, I demonstrate one element of my practice. I explore the idea that, contrary to Appelman’s assertion, laryngeal closure while lifting a heavy object is negotiable rather than inevitable.

To resist the involuntary Valsalva manoeuvre, I have to consciously inhibit my body’s instinctual response to heavy lifting. I do this by sustaining a position of inhalation even as I exhale through the hardest part of the lift: I actively maintain an open throat and hold my lower ribs open. The impulse to close my throat, to grunt or to cry out is strong, and the amount of physical and mental effort to sustain the inhale position against this impulse is significant.

This technique does not come naturally to me; and indeed, feels counterintuitive given my particular voice training history. I am a spoken-voice teacher trained in what Tara McAllister-Viel refers to as the natural/free voice approach (2019, p. 46): a pedagogical approach that emphasises physical release as a means to vocal ‘freedom’ as opposed to consciously applied effort. On the one hand, I find that effort in the body helps me sustain ‘freedom’ in my throat. On the other hand, by resisting the impulse to allow my throat to close or to grunt or to cry out when I lift, I deny the vocal release so fundamental to the free voice approach. 

To grunt or not to grunt? As a natural/free voice practitioner and in the spirit of ‘freeing’ the voice, I am working on cultivating the choice to do either: to lift with an open throat, silencing the effort in my body; or to express the effort, voicing the intensity of the somatic experience of working at the edge of my physical and mental capacity. Both options involve an embodied understanding of effort, where to put it, and how to voice it. Thus, in contrast to natural/free voice practices that focus primarily on developing the voice through muscular release, I propose exploring the voice through muscular effort. I suggest that this guiding principle could form the basis of a new pedagogical approach to spoken-voice training for actors: one that provides the actor not only with the tools and knowledge to protect the voice while engaging in physical effort, but also with the freedom to give voice to that effort. This pedagogy aims to give students a broader toolkit for ‘thinking-through’ and constructing their physiovocal selves.

References

Appelman, D.R. (1967) The science of vocal pedagogy: theory and application, London, Indiana University Press.

Bunch-Dayme, M. (2010) Dynamics of the singing voice, 2nd ed, London, Springer Wien.

Chapman, J. (2017) Singing and teaching singing: a holistic approach to classical voice, San Diego, Plural Publishing.

Houseman, B. (2002) Finding your voice: A step-by-step guide for actors, London, Nick Hern Books.

McAllister-Viel, T. (2019) Training actors’ voices: towards an intercultural/interdisciplinary approach, Abingdon, UK, Routledge.

Rippetoe, M. (2011) Starting Strength: basic barbell training, 3rd edition, Wichita Falls, TX, USA, The Aasgaard Company.

Rodenburg, P. (1992) The right to speak: working with the voice, 1st edition, London, Routledge.

Teaching with the special issue: ‘Against the Canon’

A collaborative document, with contributions from: Mark Evans, Cass Fleming, Rebecca Loukes, Sara Reed and Amy Russell.

This piece of writing aims to offer reflection and provocation on the ways that the TDPT Special Issue ‘Against the Canon’ might be used as part of teaching and learning activities within theatre, dance and performance courses and training programmes. We write this as academics and artists, aware of our position as white and privileged – and we invite critique, challenge and debate.

For work ‘against the canon’ to have continuing impact, it needs to reach out beyond the page of academic journals and start to affect the ways in which pedagogy operates and the ways in which teachers and students engage with canonical forms of training and canonical content. Editing the special issue has brought to the fore for us so many questions about deep assumptions underpinning much practice in Universities and conservatoires. The changes being wrought by #MeToo and by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign also offer profound challenges to the ways in which training for performance is structured, taught, assessed and perceived. The suggestions and provocations outlined below are offered only as a number of possible starting points and are in no way definitive – they should themselves be open to challenge and critique. We suggest that those interested in this work should approach it collaboratively, as befits the subject matter, working in partnership with students, colleagues, industry partners and interested communities.

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ATHE Awards: Konstantinos Thomaidis’ Honorable Mention for Excellence in Editing on TDPT 10.3, ‘What is new is voice training?’

Huge congratulations from all at TDPT to Konstantinos Thomaidis who has just won the Honourable Mention for Excellence in Editing at this year’s ATHE Awards, for his special issue for TDPT ‘What is new in voice training?’ 10.3. The award was announced today at the annual (online) conference. The full list of winners and mentions in this category are posted here.

Konstantinos’ success arises from his tremendous hard work and dedication as a guest editor on the journal combined with his extensive knowledge and experience in the field of voice studies. Jonathan and I as co-editors were full of admiration at the way Konstantinos overcame some initial setbacks that were out of his control to ensure the quality and adventurousness of the issue.

In his introduction to the special issue Konstantinos offers a brief survey of the literature and practices of the ‘emergent field of voice studies’ and comments in the following way:

‘These studies have invited us to listen to the voice anew: voice as that which encompasses and exceeds textuality and linguistic meaning-making, voice as embodied and materially intersubjective; voice as both individual and political, affective and ideological, semantically potent and pragmatically interpolated, demandingly present and abjectly haunted – as simultaneously knowable and perpetually undefinable.’ (2019: 295).

And listen he does in his role as guest editor, inviting us to engage with the wide range of authors who address ‘what is new’ through both varied content and in a range of different formats.

To celebrate this achievement, Taylor and Francis Online and the Theatre, Dance and Performance Training journal has made the following three articles from the Special Issue free to view until October:

Beth Osnes, Chelsea Hackett, Jen Walentas Lewon, Norma Baján & Christine Brennan (2019) Vocal Empowerment Curriculum for young Maya Guatemalan women, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 313-331, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1637371

Konstantinos Thomaidis (2019) Between preservation and renewal: reconsidering technology in contemporary pansori training, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 418-438, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1645040

Mel Drake (2019) ‘Next year’s words await another voice’1: British Sign Language and voice work with D/deaf actors at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 10:3, 448-454, DOI: 10.1080/19443927.2019.1677388

Click here to see the full list of authors and issue contents as well as Blog posts related to the issue.

At a time when TDPT had to postpone its 10th Birthday celebrations it’s wonderful to have this moment of success, an opportunity to raise a glass to Konstantinos and shout out our congratulations – whilst listening anew, of course, to our voices. 

TDPT 11.2. Training for Performance Art and Live Art

We are delighted to announce the publication of Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 11.2, Training for Performance Art and Live Art, guest edited by Heike Roms (University of Exeter).

The view that one can only practice and not practice for performance art and live art has persisted since the emergence of time-, body-, and action-based performance artworks in the 1960s. After all, to speak of ‘training’ evokes ideas of technique, mastery or tradition, ideas that the artists engaged in performance art and live art have frequently sought to challenge or altogether abandon. However, many of the artists who have shaped the history of performance art and live art have also been committed teachers; pedagogical approaches to performance practices emerged at the same time as the practices themselves; educational institutions have frequently offered material support for the making of performance works and provided a living for artists; and artist-led, non-institutional training spaces have adopted events and publications as alternative forms of curricula. Acknowledging the importance of training not just in the formation of a performance artist but as part of their continuing practice also means to value experience, expertise and professional standing as part of the work of performance art and live art.

This special issue brings together contributions that address the theme of training for performance art and live art in reference to different histories (covering the 1960s and 1970s as well as the recent present); diverse geographies (examining developments in the UK and in Portugal); institutions and anti-institutions (covering art schools, summer schools, festivals and workshop programmes); and varied approaches to teaching and training as a performative inter-generational transaction.

Gavin Butt’s ‘Without Walls: Performance Art and Pedagogy at the “Bauhaus of the North”’ traces the impact of libertarian teaching in the 1970s at arguably the most influential teaching institutions for the history of performance art in the UK, Leeds Polytechnic. In ‘Lessons from Outside the Classroom: Performance Pedagogies in Portugal, 1970-1980’, Cláudia Madeira and Fernando Matos Oliveira recount approaches to performance training as they developed in Portugal in the wake of the 1974 revolution outside of formal institutions.

Deirdre Heddon’s ‘Professional Development for Live Artists: Doing it Yourself’ explores the history of the DIY professional development scheme as an example for how training practices are being reimagined as live art practices in themselves. In ‘Training for Live Art: Process Pedagogies and New Moves International’s Winter Schools’, Stephen Greer examines the New Moves International (NMI)’s winter school as another key example for an artist-led scheme that made productive live art’s resistant relationship to established forms of performer training.

In ‘“I’ve been as intimate with him as I have been with anybody”: Queer Approaches, Encounters and Exchanges as Live Art Performer Training’, Kieran Sellars identifies in the cross-generational performance collaboration between Sheree Rose and Martin O’Brien a form of queer embodied discipline that draws on BDSM as well as Live Art lineages. And in ‘Curious Methods–Pedagogy Through Performance’, Leslie Hill and Helen Paris document the close ways in which their training methods have reflected on and contributed to their creation of live performance work.

The Training Grounds section (edited by Bryan Brown) supplements this with a collection of shorter essais, postcards, and a book review (edited by Chris Hays). Will Dickie’s expanded essai (accompanied by videos available here on the TDPT blog) investigates the application of psychophysical actor training to live art. In the issue’s second essai, a trio of practitioners (Áine Phillips, Dominic Thorpe and Tara Carroll) offer insight into three generations of Irish live art practice by detailing transformative encounters with their teachers. The two postcards for this special issue (by Sara Zaltash and N. Eda Erçin) wrestle with the entanglements of live art practice, life and communities. And Campbell Edinborough’s review of Marina Abramović’s memoir Walk Through Walls furthers the discussion of how a live artist’s work is their life while querying the ability to turn that life into a method.

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Gill Clarke Bursaries

Independent Dance and Siobhan Davies Dance are offering bursaries of between 5k – 8k to support students on the jointly delivered MA/MFA Creative Practice: Dance Professional Practice Pathway, run in partnership with Trinity Laban.  The bursaries, named after founder Gill Clarke, are supported by The Leverhulme Trust. 

This MA/MFA course, now in its tenth year, is designed to provide a flexible programme of study and an environment of rigorous creative enquiry, supporting practicing artists in their further development. Studio practice is accompanied by reflective and theoretical study; modules are devised to be conversant with one another, allowing for an interdisciplinary approach individual research. Areas of study range across perspectives, including theoretical and philosophical underpinning of arts practice,  in visual art, film making, writing and embodied practice and other disciplines. 

To be able to apply for a bursary, you must have applied and been accepted onto the MA/MFA Creative Practice: Dance Professional Practice Pathway. For all information about the bursary, please see click here.

International and UK-based students are eligible for bursary awards.

DEADLINE
Deadline for bursary applications for 2020/21: Monday 22 June, 5pm.
On time deadline for course applications to be able to apply for the Gill Clarke Bursary: 15 June 2020.
Applications to the course can be submitted after this date, but won’t be eligible for the Gill Clarke Bursary.

Other bursaries are also available from Trinity Laban. Click here to find out about more funding opportunities.

Anyone interested in applying is welcome to have an informal conversation: please email Independent Dance at info@independentdance.co.uk

‘Seen But Not Heard’: Some thoughts on the actor’s aesthetic labour six years on

MA Physical Acting improvisation, University of Kent (2019)

This is a 2020 response to my article ‘Seen But Not Heard: An embodied account of the (student) actor’s aesthetic labour’ (Mitchell, 2014), made available as open access as part of TDPT’s 10 year anniversary celebrations.

Six years after this article was first published, the thing that strikes me is what I find in the title. ‘Seen but not heard’ was my effort to create something brief and memorable for the potential reader, and in choosing it of course I was thinking about all the ways in which an actor’s body is put to work (and put at risk), in a tension between business, art and the personal which we often see but rarely discuss.

What I didn’t reflect on so much at the time was where that phrase comes from: the old saying, ‘Children should be seen and not heard’. This English proverb dates from the 15thcentury, where it was originally directed primarily at young women: ‘A mayde schuld be seen, but not herd’ (John Mirk, ca. 1403)[1].

This opens up a couple of things for me that I don’t discuss in the article, but which I think continue to be important:

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10 Free-to-Access Articles to Celebrate 10 Years of TDPT

In the middle of last year when we were considering how best to celebrate 10 years of TDPT, we focused in on the idea of 10 free-to-access articles representing the last decade of the journal’s activity: A Desert Island Discs, or Training Top Ten.

That was before the profound changes brought about by the global pandemic, an event which seems to have carved history into two: BEFORE and AFTER. Then, in the blissful period of BEFORE, we had no idea how precious online resources would be, how far the digital space would become home for so many of us, so quickly and involuntarily. 

Now in the deeply unsettling and unknown period of AFTER, this selective retrospective of the Journal’s activity since 2010, joins an unprecedented landscape of free digital resources and innovative online endeavour gifted to the world. In our selection, editors, Libby and Jonathan have tried to represent the international and intellectual diversity which has characterised contributions to TDPT from the very beginning. In doing so, we have had to leave out the vast majority of the excellent contributions we have published over the years.  What we offer here, then, is a snapshot of TDPT’s sizeable intervention into the field of Performer Training, one produced in what now seems a different world.  If you can, please read every one of the free to access articles, and engage with us and the authors, in the comments box on the blog. Why not start, where it all began in 2010, with Marijke Hoogenboom’s, ‘Building with Blocks’ article? Her final words, turning Kafka on its head, are more pertinent than ever: ‘We are here, so there is hope’.

By Jonathan Pitches

A number of the authors of these articles are writing reflections on their work from their current perspective. These will be posted on this Blog in the coming weeks. The first of these is Roanna Mitchell’s reflection on her 2014 article, ‘Seen But Not Heard’, ”Seen But Not Heard’: Some thoughts on the actor’s aesthetic labour six years on.’

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Digital Revisions & Disciplinary Crises

While this post aims to contribute to the conversation provoked by Jonathan Pitches’ ‘Embodied Learning Online‘, it is primarily a sharing of thoughts that emerge in light of the current climate caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and has been informed by two years of research on online, remote, and collaborative teaching conducted in collaboration with Hannah Schwadron (FSU, US) and Theron Schmidt (UNSW, Australia) under the title ‘Planetary Performance Pedagogies’. Hannah, Theron, and I are planning to launch a series of online seminars that build on this discussion by mid-May. If you would like to learn more about that, feel free to drop me a line at felipe.cervera[at]lasalle.edu.sg.

Like many practitioners, educators and scholars, I have been involved in developing and implementing online strategies for theatre and performance-based courses over the last few months. Additionally, I have had the benefit of thinking through this ‘digital transition’ with various friends and colleagues while trying to figure out how theatre and performance should respond to the moment. In digesting these conversations, my first coherent thought about the current situation is that we are facing a disciplinary crisis. This crisis is visible in the various ways in which theatre and performance makers and especially educators are trying to “move online”. However, these efforts — besides not being *really* online but rather emergency reactions — are symptoms of a deeper problem surfaced by the pandemic.

The actual crisis that we face is the crisis of performance knowledge and its systematization into a structure of transferable skills or their display. This is a crisis in the foundational arguments that dance, theatre, and performance made to academia in their fight to legitimize their knowledge(s) as distinct from, and not a subsection of, literature or history (for discipline and degree specialization). It is also a crisis that unsettles the argument that they made to the contemporary economy on their value and specificity concerning other media. Of course, the issue stems from the dislocation of face-to-face teaching and presenting, which by extension, questions too the irreplaceability of tacit and embodied knowledge as being the ontological condition to performance pedagogy. The problem lies slightly beyond the classic debates on liveness and media. It cuts to the core of the specificity of performance knowledge and how it is organised, transferred, and shared.

We are not *really* teaching online, but adjusting to an emergency. This is a pivotal point to have in mind. The situation we face will teach us more about how to teach theatre and performance (and their study) remotely, digitally, and online. But what we are actually doing right now, for the most part, is fumbling to adjust tacit and embodied knowledge into a medium of teaching that we have made sure to pose as its contrary. And we made this point in the pursuit of validating the specificity of live, synchronous, and face to face performance as a legitimate, award-granting medium of instruction and proper academic object of knowledge. In dealing with the current situation, many of us have had to promise our institutions and our students, explicitly or not, that our programmes can and will continue *online* (of course, when online is even an option). As we begin to realize that we are likely to have to adjust or even redesign the curriculum to fit the emergency’s aftermath, it is also important to bear in mind the ways in which the boundaries of our discipline will bend, and maybe even break. That bending/breaking will be a fight for the institutional survival of our field, for sure. Yet, at the same time, it will teach us a thing or two about performance, epistemology, and their interaction. It will show us what performance can do when assemblies are illegal or not allowed. And it will also teach us a lesson to care for our less/non-institutionalized colleagues and our less/non-digital students.

The pandemic has already taught dance, theatre, and performance that remoteness is compatible with learning, teaching, and collaboration. Physical distance does not mean social distance. The situation, thus, invites collaborative efforts, both in proximity and remoteness, to address the disciplinary crisis we face. In the conversations that I have had with friends and colleagues in Singapore and elsewhere on this matter during the last two months, the debate has tended to ask whether what we have done (moving online) is good or bad for the protection of our discipline; or whether we should “go back” to embodiment as a way to retain what is properly ours, or whether university-based dance, theatre, and performance disciplines have finally met their end; or whether we should activate the politics of performance studies and its adisciplinarity to safeguard our future in the post-pandemic university. These are all debates that exceed my contribution to this post, but I remain open to continue to unpack.

Looking at the pattern, however, my instinct is that the actual task at hand might be to spend valuable time re-evaluating the ancillary arguments that hold dance, theatre, and performance together as academic disciplines, and that in doing so we should be ready to unlearn. I also suspect that at the same time, we need to be ready to defend performance knowledge now more than ever, both within higher education and outside of it, and that maintaining the cliché binary of live/online will do us no good in that fight. Multimedia epistemes and pedagogies have been around for a long while, after all.

Felipe Cervera is a Lecturer in Theatre at LASALLE College of the Arts (Singapore) and holds a status-only appointment at the Centre for Drama, Theatre, & Performance Studies of the University of Toronto. His research focuses on collaborative academia (teaching and research), and in the interplays between performance, science, and technology. He serves as associated editor of Performance Research and Global Performance Studies

The Diaphragm in Performance — Postcard from IPPT Kent 2020

A short video postcard from the International Platform for Performer Training, Kent, January 2020.

Embodied Learning Online

As we enter a near global shelter at home response to the COVID-19 pandemic, performance practitioners and educators are rapidly shifting to virtual online resources for their training. Institutions are shuttering but our practice and educational work continues. Unlike the plagues of previous centuries, our contemporary technology allows us to converse, move and share knowledge despite the suspension of face-to-face encounter. However, virtual and online learning has been critiqued extensively as a platform for embodied transmission.

The following post by Jonathan Pitches aims to dispel some of the critiques of online learning as being insufficient for embodied practice and learning. We hope it’s a useful provocation for our readers to explore more digital learning and to comeback to the blog with their own posts to add to the conversation.

Embodied learning – a guide to moving online

A few days ago thousands congregated in the UK to show their appreciation of the health workers on the front line of the coronavirus pandemic, a mass gathering of isolates facilitated by social media, recorded on our phones and re-distributed online. The #clapforourcarers national event echoed those held all over the world, bringing together communities in unprepared isolation to make a simple gesture of respect and humility to the doctors, nurses, and care-workers working in the health system.

In the last few weeks there have been seismic movements in the relationship between online and off-line activity: myriad examples, like the #clapforourcarers initiative, of creative people taking their skills online to encourage others to explore new activities in their homes. Pub quizzes, fitness sessions, cookery classes: all are upscaling to national dimensions to keep countries sane, not to mention an entire education system (from nursery to PhD) which has converted to online teaching and learning overnight.

In this definitive digital moment, what are the things to look out for as beacons of good practice for online embodied learning? What can be achieved? I write from the perspective of a Lead Educator and designer of a FutureLearn course, Exploring Physical Theatre, a Massive Open Online Course which five years ago was groundbreaking, heretical even – at least for Russian theatre training purists. In just a few days, online specialist training has become the new normal but carefully crafted and insightful embodied practices delivered digitally remain rare. Here are some of my reflections derived from teaching nearly 30,000 students techniques of Russian actor training. I have arranged them as an acrostic.

Experience is key

Even in the asynchronous world of an online course, key events structured into the learning can be galvanising for students – the promise, for instance, of moving from theoretical ideas to practical investigation at the beginning of a new week.

Massive cohorts can work

Some online courses have been critiqued for being mechanistic and non-interactive, but if care is taken large groups of students can have a bespoke experience – moderators can support lead educators to reply to comments and students support one another in self-organising clusters.

Bodies change online

Teaching a very precise, physical form, using video tutorials, enables an educator to gauge how deeply the students are embodying the principles of the training. Students who upload examples of their training can be given precise feedback, in ways which are very similar to studio training.

Organisation of resources is vital

Online courses, just as with face-to-face modules, construct a journey of learning. It is this level of organisation and curation which distinguishes them from more piecemeal online offerings.

Digital artefacts can be key to the learning experience

Gauging Learning can be challenging when your students are all over the world or silent in comment threads. Asking for the uploading of a digital artefact, capturing their learning, appeals to different learning styles and creates a gallery for others to comment on.

Young and old will engage

Theatre studios tend to be populated by young fit people. An online space brings a much wider demographic of learners together and some of the typical hierarchies experienced by trainees can be dismantled.

Jonathan Pitches is Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds, UK and a FutureLearn lead educator. He has trained with Russian masters in Vsevolod Meyerhold’s system of ‘biomechanics’ and has been teaching students these principles since 1995.