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.

What are we warming up?

How should we warm up at the start of a workshop or rehearsal?

What is it that we need to warm up?

It’s obvious that performers need to prepare for the physical challenges of a workshop or rehearsal. If a session is likely to involve lots of movement, it is useful to start by increasing  blood flow to the muscles and getting the joints working. But what about those times when the class or material doesn’t involve much physical exertion?

The movement teacher Monika Pagneux makes a distinction between warming up and waking up. It’s a distinction that I’ve found really helpful when structuring workshops, classes and rehearsals, because rather than thinking about increasing blood flow, flexibility and stamina, Pagneux’s term places emphasis on attention and awareness.   Instead of oiling the cogs of a machine, Pagneux entreats us to open our eyes, take a breath and see what’s going on.

For me the best way of waking up in preparation for a class or rehearsal is to set myself (or my students) a task that coordinates mind and movement. At the beginning of each session I like to set a movement pattern that acts as a kind of heuristic puzzle, forcing brain and body to work together.

Complex, whole-body tasks like the one demonstrated in the video can’t be done automatically or mechanically. As such, they prompt students to become sensitive to the timing, shape and quality of their actions.

I guess one of the most important things to think about at the start of a session is where you would like to be at the end of it. A good warm up should lead us to the state of being that feels right for the task we have set ourselves. More often than not, the answer to the question of where I want to be relates to a feeling of embodied attention. While it’s true that any action can be practised mindfully, in my experience, it’s the more complicated patterns that force us to slow down, take stock and actively locate our experiences in our bodies.   Copying a pattern like the one shown above demands an active process of investigation – a kind of kinaesthetically engaged thinking that I find helpful as a baseline for a wide range of performance work.

Where do you like to start? I’d love to see some ideas and exercises in the replies.