In What a Body Can Do (Routledge 2015), I asked why there aren’t more functioning laboratories dedicated to exploring the intersection between martial arts and performer training. This interdisciplinary connection has been hugely productive in Europe throughout the twentieth century, not to mention the much longer-standing relationships between martial and performing arts found throughout Asia. But it is hard to think of even one institution in Europe or North America that aims explicitly to innovate theatre, dance and performance training practice by placing it in dialogue with martial arts and physical culture more generally. While many individual practitioners and scholars do excellent work in this area, institutions tend to be oriented towards one domain or the other. And we still tend to see martial arts as cultural entities rather than fields of knowledge.
What would a laboratory of martial and performing arts look like? In order to create substantive interdisciplinary interactions, care would have to be taken to create the kind of ‘third space’ described by Pil Hansen and Bruce Barton in their article on ‘Research-Based Practice’ (TDR 53.4, 2009): a space in which specific flows of martial and performing arts would collide without either one being subordinated to the other. BodyConstitution, a project developed by the Grotowski Institute in Poland and funded by major grants from EEA/Norway, is the closest I have seen to such a laboratory. The project is ‘programme of research in practice at the Grotowski Institute,’ which has involved numerous formats of exchange, including four annual seminars (2013-2016), each about a week long, drawing together a wide range of international performers, teachers, and participants. I was recently a guest at the final BodyConstitution seminar and want to use that experience as a starting point to highlight the value of the project as a whole. (For more details and reflections on the 2016 seminar, see Jen Parkin’s post below.)
As I write this blog, my predominant emotion is curiosity: I am wondering how you feel as you read it. Specifically, I’m curious how you feel about Grotowski. He has always been a divisive figure in the world of theatre and performance, from his first days in the international spotlight in the early 1960’s. He seems to invoke either adulation, or outright rejection. Richard Shechner famously called him “shape-shifter, shaman, trickster, artist, adept, director, leader”. If you are willing to satisfy my curiosity, and tell me how you feel about Grotowski, then read on.
In the process of my own research and writing on this subject, I have been inviting participation and personal testimony from anyone who feels that some aspect of Grotowski’s work has had an impact on their own practice. If you would like to make contact and contribute, you can do that by emailing me directly at email@example.com and I will send you a page of “prompt” questions. Alternatively, you can visit my Facebook page: Grotowski/Kumiega: Re-Write https://www.facebook.com/Grotowski.Kumiega/
My journey into theatre traditions started early. An intriguing new drama teacher arrived at my school at the age of eleven. She brought with her a dynamic and challenging way of creating theatre and I began to pay attention. I was subsequently a founder and for eight years a member of a most peculiar youth theatre. Our teacher turned director, Carran Waterfield, had been trained by Roberta Carreri of Odin Teatret and in the years that followed, I began to research the history and methodology of this now almost mythical theatre troupe and became fascinated by the writings of its director and founder, Eugenio Barba and by default, his mentor, Jerzy Grotowski. This early exposure to such an intense tradition created many difficulties and exhilarations for me in my youth. When other children were watching ‘Neighbours’ on TV in the 1990s, I was trying to do ‘training’ on a concrete floor in a cold church hall in Coventry.
Wroclaw has always been synonymous with the name of Grotowski. His Teatr Laboratorium 13 Rzędów (13 Row Laboratory Theatre) relocated here from Opole in 1965. The last time I visited Wroclaw was in October 2001 as an actor in the Polish premiere of Millennium Mysteries, a co-production by Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre and Poznan’s Teatr Biuro Podrozy, directed by Pawel Szkotak. It was also the year that I left life in the UK behind and joined Teatr Biuro Podrozy where I remained as an actor for three years.
So I found myself in Wroclaw (now the European City of Culture 2016) again, 15 years later and the location for the third session of the International Platform for Performer Training (IPPT). The IPPT was launched in Helsinki in 2014, its aim being to develop performer training on an international platform. It is a forum for theatre makers, pedagogues and academics involved in performer training within institutions offering higher education in the fields of performing arts. In Zurich last year the forum focused on the themes of Curriculum, Voice and Speech. This year, the subject of the session was Practicing Tradition in Performer Training. I have been out of theatre and academic circles for several years due to maternity leave, so the anticipation of witnessing presentations by and conversing with such an esteemed group of professionals from within my field, was immense.