BodyConstitution seminar 2-10/04/2016

9 days. 11 workshops and training sessions. 13 work demonstrations and screenings. 3 lectures. 4 discussions. 3 performances. 2 exhibitions.

This year’s BodyConstitution seminar, held in Wrocław on the 2nd-10th April, was the final event of the Grotowski Institute’s BodyConstitution project, which began in January 2014. The project brought together teachers, students, artists, and masters of movement techniques to explore the interaction of body practices and physical actor training, both in practical work and theoretical discussion. These included martial arts such as aikido, Capoeira, and kalarippayattu, theatrical techniques such as butoh and Body-Energy, and movement techniques such as l’Art Du Déplacement and somaesthetics. As befitting of the final event of the project, this year’s seminar was bigger than those held in 2014 and 2015, bringing together contributors from the previous years and new contributors, as well as students and artists who came to participate in the training available.

During the seminar, each day began with workshops and training sessions. Each workshop or training session ran across two or three days, allowing space to revisit and develop the basic principles being introduced. After a break, the day continued with theoretical discussions, work demonstrations, and on some days performances in the late evening. While each discussion began with contributions from specific guests, the floor was then opened to other guests and visitors, allowing conversation between teachers, students, artists, and masters, and across disciplines.

Some of the leaders of the work demonstrations invited the listening audience to join them and try out a few movements, allowing a rare chance for masters to try each others’ techniques. Laurent Piemontesi’s invitation to try some of the training of l’Art Du Déplacement was taken up by masters of aikido, Capoeira, and butoh. Later in the week, when Mestre Cobra Mansa invited his audience to try some basic Capoeira techniques, Laurent Piemontesi was among those who took part.

Whilst the seminar represented the culmination of the BodyConstitution project, it did not signify the end of the project’s influence on those involved. In his discussion of the project as a whole on the final day of the seminar, Jarosław Fret, Director of the Grotowski Institute and curator of the BodyConstitution project, expressed his belief that the project’s influence would last beyond this final seminar. The experience gained from the project will continue to feed into the work of the five studios based at the Grotowski Institute that formed the core team of work during the project, and new relationships formed during the project will allow new collaborations across disciplines and countries to join those created as part of the project.

* * *

I attended the BodyConstitution seminar shortly after finishing my MA, and attended two workshops and almost all of the talks, demonstrations and performances.

In the method of Theodoros Terzopoulos workshop, I was introduced to a series of exercises designed to develop awareness of the role of the diaphragm in expanding and controlling the breath, and how to develop deep breathing in order to support the projection and resonance of the voice. This kind of focused work on the breath as the foundation of the voice was quite intense, and very different to other forms of vocal training I have experienced.

In the aikido workshop, I was introduced to some of the basic techniques of aikido, including rolls, partner contact work, and a partnered weapon movement sequence. Whilst we were encouraged to be precise with our technique, we were also encouraged to be aware of the flow of energy between partners whilst we worked, and how each movement took the energy given by the attacking partner and transferred it into the defensive movement. In unstructured partner work, being able to read and use the energy offered by a partner offers a better ability to respond to a partner than trying to stick to a pre-trained set of movements.

The BodyConstitution seminar felt very different to anything I had encountered in my studies at university. At undergraduate level, our training was part of the creation of a finished product that could be assessed. The BodyConstitution seminar, on the other hand, presented forms of training that allow for personal improvement even after years of practice, and methods of working in a studio that open up new ways of working that do not necessarily lead to performance. In places I found some similarities to workshops I have done with John Britton on Self-With-Others, or my work with Dr Ben Spatz on song-action and embodied technique, but many of the ideas and forms of movement and body training presented in the seminar were new to me.

Whilst I found the seminar’s schedule intense and tiring, the opportunity to see and experience so many forms of practice was enthralling. At times I felt a little out of my depth in the theoretical discussions, but I believe this was a reflection of the difference between my university studies and the seminar rather than a fault of the seminar. The conversations that the discussions provoked between masters, artists, and teachers demonstrated the success of the project’s aim to create an exchange between the disciplines of actor training and movement techniques.