The North American virtual launch of the Special Issue “Performance Training and Well-Being” (Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 13.2) took place on October 15, 2022. 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 launch was hosted by the Canadian Association for Theatre Research (https://catracrt.ca/) and sponsored by the UBC-funded “Culture, Creativity, Health and Well-Being” Research Cluster (https://eminencecluster.weebly.com/).
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/).
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).
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.