Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Game

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Game

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: How do you go about communicating your approach to theatre to young people during your week-long workshops?

BL: I think we work with young people in a slightly different way. We’re not necessarily interested in the politics as much – not because we don’t trust that they’ll understand it – instead we want to give them a sense of what performance can be. We work towards getting them to a place where they no longer ‘perform’. It takes a little bit of time for them to understand that. We try to make them say things as they would say it, so that we get to see them as people on stage without them putting on a role. It takes a little while, but once they get it, they really feel empowered because they can just be themselves and say things as they would to their friends and that’s acceptable on the stage. By the end of the week, when they’ve made a show, we hope that they can be the best of themselves by just doing what they always do, talking like they always talk. It’s just a case of them understanding what the situation is and what the game is. Once they understand what the game is, we don’t care what sort of script they’re following, as long as they’re in tune with their partners, with the audience, the situation and the game. We try and teach them that making theatre has to start from them: who they are and what they think.

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Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Exhausted Bodies

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Exhausted Bodies

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: Why is dance important in your work?

BL: I think it’s about endurance, it’s about enduring bodies on stage, this sense of seeing bodies being strained and really pushed to the limit. We connect to this idea of what could be political. We really like when the audience feels our exhaustion because when they see exhausted bodies on stage it brings it into the room, here and now. They see actors genuinely getting exhausted, there’s something real that happens. For example, in Eurohouse, Nasi dances to Go Your Own Way by Fleetwood Mac and he keeps asking throughout the show for this song to be played and I keep refusing. He puts it on several times, but I keep stopping it until, eventually, he starts doing the dance and I allow it. It’s just a very free thing that happens for maybe two and a half minutes and he really goes for it: he bangs his feet against the floor and shouts. It’s something really quite big and impressive but also captures the absolute desolation and desperate nature of what we saw in Greece. Dance was the best way that we could express that feeling.

What we’d seen in Greece was so sad and desperate, but at the same time there was this thing that they keep going and they keep fighting and they keep protesting, for us, that was best represented by Nasi having a proper celebratory dance where he gets exhausted. But then I start taking over again, stopping the music and asking him to do it again, to the point where he gets exhausted even more and it shifts the dynamic.

PC: Why is it important for the audience to see your exhaustion?

BL: It generates empathy. So, we’re deliberately trying not to be too good at dancing. We want it to be a bit silly or ridiculous and that creates an empathy. If we mastered it to the point where it seemed effortless there wouldn’t be that empathy. So, for us, it’s important that the spectators get to see the effort. The audience could very easily feel distant from the piece if they didn’t see the error or the failure.

PC: How do you manipulate and control time and space towards the end of the process?

BL: It’s very hard to describe, I think it comes down to timing: comic timing. Every time we do it in front of an audience should feel like it’s the first time. The moments when we stop or if we don’t say anything, creates a climate of uncertainty and this uncertainty really helps to draw the audience in: What’s happening? Why is this person not saying anything? Why are they stopping? Is there a problem?

There’s a moment when people are laughing and then it stops. At that point onwards we work towards ensuring people don’t laugh because we want people to be horrified by what’s happening. For example, in Palmyra, there’s this scene where Nasi’s doing a dance with a hammer towards me, swinging it at me. People find it a little bit funny as he does it faster and harder, and then they stop finding it funny and it becomes quite a violent thing. People are confronted with the reality of the situation when it stops being funny. We’re saying that it’s more than just a funny image, this violence that you see is actually very real.

Read the full interview here.

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Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Danger

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Danger

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: How do you find the balance between a tight structure and the freedom of participation and improvisation?

BL: I think you have to think of it like there’s a start point and an end point, but what happens in between those two things has to feel free, both for the audience and for us as actors. We love when the situation gets out of hand, so we search for the danger of pure improvisation, but we always have those end points. If it just stays within the realm of improvisation it’ll descend into something random, but we have end points because we need to move on to another thing that we want to get the audience to think about. That is something that Declan Donnellan talks about in The Actor and the Target and I really agree with this. I really agree with the way he talks about acting in general.

PC: How do you construct the tasks or games when developing the work?

BL: What’s actually in the rooms we’re in is really important for us. We have a little scan of the space we’re going to be in, not even thinking about it we just have a look at what’s happening in the room and what the objects are in the room. What could happen with those two chairs or that ladder? Each object is like a little gift that we’re going to start using in an improvisation somehow. The objects in the room help us build the allegory or the metaphor that we’re going to be exploring. It’s important that it should feel like things from the theatre. For example, we like to go to a theatre and ask them what kind of brooms they have so that it looks as if we’ve really just picked these things up from the wings. We play with this aesthetic of found objects within a theatre, so it feels in real time and within the room.

Read the full interview here.

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Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Breaking Point

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Breaking Point

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: What’s so important about that collision between comedy and violence?

BL: I think it’s a double-edged thing for the audience: people take a bit of pleasure watching but also find it very violent and uncomfortable. Seeing someone on stage being humiliated in real time feels very interesting because the audience is complicit. The audience are always having to assess their position as a spectator, or as a witness to someone humiliating someone else. There’s something a little bit masochistic about it too, in the same way that when you watch something incredibly violent on a laptop, you don’t want to see it, but at the same time you do want to see it. We want to explore the limit of what an audience can witness, as well as exploring our own limits with each other. We love seeing how far we can go with each other. It’s that classic comedy thing of taking pleasure from seeing someone fall down and hurt themselves. People find it funny up to a point and we’re interested in how long we can make it funny and playing on that moment it doesn’t become funny anymore. That’s because it’s about real stuff that’s happening outside the theatre. We like the audience to get lost in it, so they don’t always see the metaphor, but then we catch them at that breaking point, so they go, “Oh fuck, this is what it’s about!” Suddenly it hits them in a different way.

PC: How do you ‘write’ the audience in that constant triangle so that those breaking points hit?

BL: Part of the creative process is to invite a lot of people to come and see it so that we can understand the piece, because until people start coming in, it’s impossible to know what the role of the audience is going to be. For example, for both Palmyra and One which is the last part of the trilogy, we only had a sense of the full dramaturgy of the piece once people are in the audience. We don’t really know exactly what we’re going to do when we invite people in, but we have a sense of it. We do a long improvisation with anchors of things that we’ve done in the past that we can launch for each other so that we know where we’re going, it might work, it might not. Then we invite another set of people to come in and we’ll improvise again until eventually we start to understand the piece through what is happening with the audience. The piece is completely rewritten once the audience comes in. Before that we try out games and we talk about it a lot. We have a sense of where we’re going but we only really start writing the piece when we have an audience.

PC: The triangle dynamic was very stark in Palmyra when both you and Nasi simultaneously address the audience about the hammer.  Can you describe that and say why you create those moments where the audience can’t have an answer, or you specifically pull them between two things?

BL: So, there’s the first moment where we address the audience; I stop the show and I say, “I need to stop.” I make comments about how crazy he is and ask if anyone thought about the hammer going into my face. Then I say, “I tell you what we’re going to do, we’re going to give this [the hammer] to someone in the audience, someone I can trust.” There’s a little bit of a fun interaction and then we move on to the next section of the play. Eventually, Nasi starts asking for the hammer back and I say, “Don’t give him the hammer, take it outside.” Then we’re playing this conflict of me saying to the person, “Don’t give him the hammer.” And him saying, “Give me the hammer.” It changes according to who has the hammer and what that person says. Sometimes the person takes it out immediately, sometimes that person doesn’t want to take it out, or they keep it, or they even give it to Nasi. There are all these options and so the audience really does have a choice but then there is always this final moment, which is that I have a bigger hammer. No matter what that person decides to do, I will always win. Maybe that’s your sense of us not giving the audience a choice, because we always land on that same moment. We worked hard to see how we could really give out the choice to the audience because it should feel difficult for the person who has the hammer; it should feel difficult for the whole audience around them as well. That conflict happening in the audience is really important: What do we do? Who do we trust? Who’s to be trusted the most? Is it better to take the hammer out so that it’s safe or is it better to keep it? Sometimes it creates a big debate amongst people in the audience about what they should do. That choice is real.

PC: Why is it important for the audience to be an active witness rather than a passive witness?

BL: I think the point we’re trying to make is that we’re witness to this politics that is happening up to a point, but we’re also completely involved in that problem. For example, they watch the Middle East conflict from afar and that’s what they do in the show. Our conflict happens between two people and they watch from afar, but then we start interacting with the audience and then they’re like, “Oh shit, I thought I was just watching, they want me to actually answer? They want me to think about my role in this?” I think that’s really important for us, to say that we’re not just spectators, we’re not just witnesses, we’re also involved in that problem. We hear about these stories, Greece, Palmyra and the Middle East and we quickly feel desensitized, “That’s happening far away.” Or, “I’ve seen this over and over again, I don’t know what to think about this anymore.”  We want people to actually consider what they think about it.

Read the full interview here.

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Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Frame

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Frame

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: Your work seems to fit into a long tradition of comedy double acts, was that a conscious decision?

BL: No, it was more about understanding the dynamic between us two. We quite quickly found, whilst improvising, that I was oppressing Nasi and he was just the victim of this horrible person that I was playing. We always found it very amusing and very funny. We had no sense that this was what we wanted to do, it just kind of started to happen. Then we saw the film of Bloody Mess by Forced Entertainment which had a comedy routine that was happening between two people where one clown wants to put a line of chairs to the front of the stage and another clown wants to put the chairs to the back. It starts with just one man starting to place them and then the other one moving them and then the way that it builds was really amazing. There was something almost political about it but again not naming anything political: just two people on stage wanting different things. We were really interested in what you could read into that if you give that scene a title. If you frame it for the audience, you start seeing the scene differently.

Tim Etchells on the first moments of Bloody Mess by Forced Entertainment

I think that idea of framing something is quite key to our work. Something clicked, as well, when looking at Cy Twombly’s paintings. Even though his art is very abstract and hard to decipher, there’s always a title which comes to support the viewers understanding of what it’s about. We always try and give our work a very clear title, a very clear frame so that we can take the audience on a journey.

The Song of the Border-Guard by Cy Twombly 1952 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P77550

PC: What’s the first thing that you do when developing a piece?

BL: We get into the room and we just start talking about this thing. Then at some point we need to stop talking and start making something. We then try and leave all the information that we’ve gathered together outside and we start playing. Usually there’s just the two of us, so we start playing games and running long improvisations that carry on for anything up to an hour and a half. After that we make notes of things that we’ve found during the improvisation and what connected to the ideas that we’ve talked about. But we have to find the game and what the game is. So, if you have a man on the ladder and you have a man who’s not on the ladder, what’s the game? How can you play with that? We take a long time to work out what games work with the particular political context that we’re exploring. At the end of the day, it needs to be something that we can play, that we can act with. If it gets too complicated we usually leave it to one side.

PC: Are those connections always clear?

BL: We try to make them clear but sometimes there’s a sense that the meaning of it even escapes us, we don’t really know why it works but we think it works. For example, in Palmyra there’s this moment when I start shaving Nasi’s beard with the microphone, there’s something so violent about this but also very playful, but the meaning of it didn’t come through the first time, we were just playing. It came up again and it was very clear for us that it was about how people perceive the beard of a Muslim person and the act of shaving it, it’s offensive from a religious point of view but also a really quite aggressive thing to do. That all started off as a game; something completely unconscious that we did in rehearsals which came back again and made complete sense with what the show also needed to say.

Read the full interview here.

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Bertrand Lesca (Bert and Nasi) – The Constant Triangle

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Bertrand Lesca is a theatre maker from France. After studying at Warwick University, he went on to assist Peter Brook and Declan Donnellan on several international tours. Bertrand currently works with Nasi Voutsas (Bert and Nasi) with whom he co-created the trilogy EUROHOUSE, PALMYRA and ONE.

The Constant Triangle

Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas in Palmyra. Photo by Alex Brenner

PC: What is theatre?

BL: We’re interested in the idea that everything that you see is happening in the room at the same time – with the audience. We imagine a constant triangle between the audience, Nasi and myself that keeps looping. The constant awareness that we’re in a room with an audience feeds our work. Whatever we do always relates to this one single idea.

PC: How does politics fit in with your work?

BL: I think the politics comes from what people know before entering the room. We give them a hint, which is usually the title and sometimes the blurb. That’s what people should know before entering the room. Once they enter the room, we do things that are supposed to create associations in the spectator’s mind. I think we’re always very careful not to mention anything political in the room – we leave it to the audience to fill in the gaps and to create these associations. Of course, we go into the politics when we make the work: we research and debate. It’s very clear, for us, what we’re trying to create with each image, but I think people watching will think about a lot of things – sometimes that completely escapes us but that’s okay. Everything we do on stage is very open to interpretation. For example, some people will see the work and only see it as a reflection on a relationship, or they will think about conflict, or they will think about what we really want to talk about, which is a specific political conflict, but we don’t force it. We never say, “This is what you should think!”

PC: Why is it important for your form of political theatre to leave space for the audience and to be open to interpretation?

BL: We knew that we wanted it to be political when we started working together, but we felt uneasy when we thought about political theatre because, for us, it was this idea of preaching to the converted – we really wanted to avoid that. So, we started looking at another way of making political theatre which wouldn’t be that.

PC: How did you develop that approach?

BL: We started making Eurohouse with interviews we had done in Greece, almost like a verbatim piece. Then we invited someone from Greece to see it and she was like “Yeah, that’s okay.” Then we showed her us two on stage with me humiliating Nasi and making him do stuff that he didn’t want to do, and she said, “I can connect with this and the feeling that it leaves me with, this sense of humiliation, is exactly what this is all about.” This made us think that we can work through the politics through a feeling, through people having an emotional connection with the political subject that we’re trying to explore, rather than an intellectual understanding of what’s going on. A lot of our work is to do with trying to create an understanding through an emotional connection with what’s happening in the room, with what’s happening between us both or with what’s happening between us and the audience. We’re always really trying to work through the feeling of what that particular political context is doing to people.

Read the full interview here.

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World Theatre Traditions – Rakugo

Extracts from Rakugo: Popular Narrative Art of The Grotesque by Sasaki Miyoko and Morioka Heinz

“Although many stories have been adapted from written sources. rakugo can be considered a genuine form of oral art because its principal route of transmission down to us has been through the lips of the performers. To this day there are no written manuals or librettos containing the full text of a performance or of the way a story has to be presented. There is mainly oral transmission from master to pupil. Written notes to help in memorization or tape recordings are frowned upon. Through long years of personal association with his teacher, listening to his performance from backstage, and living as an apprentice in his home, the student devotes his attention to mastering the stories.”

“The sense of reality is maintained throughout the story, and shared by performer and audience alike. Drawing freely on his personal experience, the performer styles his own individual pre- amble or “pillow” (makura t) for his story, selecting among con- temporary events, the weather, or work, whatever topics he feels his audience might be interested in. When he enters into the story itself, then his hero, in a curious and sudden shift of time dimen- sion, leaps out of the setting of an old tale right into the present moment and confronts the audience. Here, if the storyteller clumsily tries to evoke laughter in an obvious way, the effect will amount to nothing more than crowd-pleasing titillation, and his story may fall flat. But the expert performer can bridge the time gap smoothly and without a hitch, drawing the audience along with him into the world of classical rakugo.”

“The rakugo performer must organize his story in a new way each time, but if he is to remain within the confines of classical tradition, he is forced to observe certain definite rules. Throughout several centuries of rakugo the main plots of the stories and the heroes’ names have not changed. In the organization and minute descriptive details of episodes, with each performance, each year, and each generation, a great variety of different nuances and changes have appeared. No story can ever be performed twice in exactly the same way.”

“Changes in scene of a story are described by onomatopoetic words and sounds; for example, the ringing of a temple-bell, bon-bon; the clatter of wooden clogs, karan-koron; the sound of the wind, pyiu u u u; rolling of stones, gara-gara; or noise in the background, di-di, go-go. Onomatopoetic insertions can extend over a period of more than one minute, when they describe such movements as slow walking, tata tata…, tsun tsun …; running, sai-sai koro-sai, e-sa-sa, sowa- sowa, chowa-chowa; walking with heavy baggage on one’s shoulders, wasshoi-wasshoi…, or the sounds of work and play, kachi-kachi, pachi-pachi, pochi-pochi, poka-poka, potsu-potsu, sara-sara; or heavy exertion, hora-yo, sora-yo,yosshoi.”

“The rakugo performer is not supposed to change his position once he takes a seat on the stage. But merely by the movement of the upper half of his body he represents all kinds of actions. Walking from one place to another is expressed by one of the most amusing gesture formulas of rakugo: the performer withdraws his hands into the wide sleeves of his kimono, his knees, hips, and shoulders sway rhythmically, and he talks to himself in a murmuring voice, as if lost in thought. The audience knows that a person is on his way to an- other place; they also know that he will suddenly be startled out of his thoughts by an unexpected event, and they anxiously wait for that moment.”

“The focal point of the rakugo story is the world of everyday. Many of its cast of characters strut about dressed in sundry garb and historical costumes, but they are part of the storyteller’s world and the world of his audience. From there the rakugo performer takes the models which he fits into various stereotypes according to class and profession: the feudal lord, the military man, the priest, the scholar, the retired head of the house, the working-class man, the farmer. At times the principal characters are complete outsiders that do not fit into ordinary societal roles: the cheapskate, the thief, the liar, or the prostitute. Sometimes it is just the simpleton, the lazy- bones, the miser, the boozer, and the conniver that pass across the imaginary rakugo stage. There are, of course, no detailed portrayals of people as individuals. This is the major difference between rakugo and pure literature. While there are instances where a character is provided with a definite personality, there are practically no examples of that personality changing as the story develops.”

Miyoko, S., & Heinz, M. (1981). Rakugo: Popular Narrative Art of The Grotesque. Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 41(2), 417-459. doi:10.2307/2719050

Essential Videos on Movement

This weeks video resources focus on movement. Here is a selection of video content from around the web. There is the full spectrum here, from abstract dance to more naturalistic theatre. Some are training masterclasses and some are performances. I hope each can serve as an inspiration for your own creativity.

PLEASE NOTE: Not all movement exercises are suitable for everyone and this or any other movement exercise may result in injury. To reduce the risk of injury, never force or strain, use the exercises only as intended and demonstrated, and follow all instructions carefully.

A Eurhythmics introduction and demonstration with Lisa Parker, director of the Dalcroze Eurhythmics program at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, MA. Lisa discusses Eurhythmics, its goals and benefits through a lesson on measure shape.

In the 1990’s, after the opening of archives in the former Soviet Union, an original source of Biomechanics became known. Nikolai Kustow, the Biomechanics instructor in Meyerhold’s Theater, maintained a “hidden” school and secretly passed on principles and etudes to a new generation of actors. In this video, Russian actor and pedagogue, Gennadi Bogdanov is shown presenting the most important etudes and principles of Biomechanics. In addition to historical film and photodocumentation of Biomechanics, the video also displays recent scenic work from Europe and the USA developed from the basis of Meyerhold’s Biomechanics. In English, 43 mins, colour & Black & white.

Gennadi Bogdanov demonstrates a Biomechanics study created by Meyerhold. Then he applies the work to a study of Lucky’s monologue in Waiting for Godot.

The study of Meyerhold’s ‘Throwing the Stone’. This video shows a demonstration of Meyerhold’s study by Ralf Réuker, student of Gennadi Bogdanov, and analyzed by Eugenio Barba. It was taken during a series of lectures organized in 1997 by the Center for Performance Research in Aberystwyth, Wales. During the demonstration Barba sometimes addresses the audience and in Ralph, the student of Biomechanics.

Revolutionary dancer and choreographer Mary Wigman introduces some of her work.

Martha Graham discusses her craft in A Dancer’s World.

Choreographer Merce Cunningham took chances. Over a seven decade career, his explorations reshaped dance into a new kind of art form, deeply influencing visual art, film, and music along the way. Through experimental collaborations with John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Marcel Duchamp, and others, he became the 20th century’s most influential choreographer. In conjunction with the exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time, we look at the many sides of Cunningham: dance maker, collaborator, chance-taker, innovator, film producer, and teacher.

In the spring of 1981, during a residency at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage sat down to discuss their work and artistic process. As frequent collaborators, Cage and Cunningham pioneered a new framework of performance. Their novel approach allowed for mediums to exist independently, or rather cohabitate, within a performance, thus abandoning the co-dependent model of dance and music. Cage and Cunningham go on to discuss the methodology and motivations behind chance operations, a term used to describe artistic decisions based on unpredictability. Wanting to free himself of his likes and dislikes, Cage describes how Zen Buddhism influenced his work, leading him to use tools of chance. These new methods, adopted by both Cunningham and Cage, overturned a whole foundation of thought around music, movement, and the process of creating art.

Taken from a television special called The Body Speaks, Ryszard Cieslak of Grotowski’s Laboratory briefly speaking and then presenting some exercises in the Plastiques and Corporals with two Danish students.





We all use our body on a daily basis, and yet few of us think about our physicality the way Wayne McGregor does. He demonstrates how a choreographer communicates ideas to an audience, working with two dancers to build phrases of dance, live and unscripted, on the TEDGlobal stage.

Wayne McGregor is well known for his physically testing choreography and ground-breaking collaborations across dance, film, music, visual art, technology and science. In 2000, he and his company Wayne McGregor | Random Dance embarked on a series of projects investigating aspects of creativity in dance with researchers from other fields such as cognitive and social science.

A series of systems developed for choreographers to engage more fully the imaginations of performers tasked with generating new movement material.

Spring Dance 2011 hosted the world premiere of DV8’s newest work Can We Talk About This? The performance deals with freedom of speech, censorship and Islam using real life interviews and archive footage to examine influences on multicultural policies, press freedom and artistic censorship. Australian Lloyd Newson conceived and directed the work and founded DV8 in 1986.

The clip starts at a monologue with hand choreography that is particularly interesting.

Masterclass with Akram Khan including interviews

Follow Akram Khan for a day

Clip from Zero Degrees – ‘zero degrees is the reference point where everything begins…and everything ends’. Akram Khan

zero degrees, Akram Khan Company from Akram Khan Company on Vimeo.

In order to help students and teachers who wish to use Hofesh’s work as a stimulus to perform a solo in the style of a specified practitioner, Hofesh and the company offer this short film resource and accompanying study notes which can be downloaded here: http://hofesh-media.s3-eu-west-1.amaz… In this resource Hofesh shares an extract from his 2010 work Political Mother, which he feels best encapsulates his movement style. This extract is danced by company member Chien-Ming Chang (known to us all as Ming) who was an original cast member of Political Mother.

Maze is an immersive new performance presented by Jasmin Vardimon Company and Turner Contemporary, choreographed by critically-acclaimed director Jasmin Vardimon, in collaboration with Ron Arad and artist Guy Bar-Amotz. This film gives an incredible insight into Jasmin’s creation process for both the structure and the performance. It provides a deeper look at the working methods of her company, and how they’ve been adapted to the unique new environment, and exploring some of the motivations and challenges encountered.

Jasmin Vardimon Company Repertoire

Gecko has fantastic video resources with many of their full shows available here. I have chosen The Time of Your Life that was developed specifically as a piece of filmed theatre. It is a great introduction to their work.

Vanessa Ewan leads this movement direction masterclass, guiding an actor playing Nora from A Doll’s House using techniques to explore physicality and enhance character transformation.

Ever wondered what a Movement Director does? In this short film we hear from Movement Directors Joseph Alford, Kate Flatt, Imogen Knight and Diane Alison-Mitchell explaining their role in a production, the key differences between movement direction and choreography and how movement develops its own theatrical language in performance.

 

Kneehigh’s Influence on British Theatre

This is the final part in a series of interviews about the history of Kneehigh with Dr Duška Radosavljevic. The interviews provide an introduction to the company and an academic’s outside eye on Kneehigh as a devising ensemble.

Do use the Kneehigh Cookbook and their Vimeo site for more free online digital resources from the company. In addition there is a fifteen minute audio clip of Emma Rice ‘On Directing’ that I believe captures the spirit of how Kneehigh currently work.

Dr Duška Radosavljevic is a Reader in Contemporary Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her research interests include contemporary British and European theatre practice as well as more specifically, ensemble theatre and dramaturgy.

Duška has worked as the Dramaturg at the Northern Stage Ensemble, an education practitioner at the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a dramaturg, she has worked with various local, national and international theatre artists and organisations including New Writing North, Dance City, Dramaturgs’ Network, National Student Drama Festival, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Circomedia. In 2015 she was the dramaturg on Robert Icke’s Oresteia at the Almeida. Between 1998 and 2010, Duška was a member of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence panel of judges at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has written hundreds of theatre and dance reviews for the Stage Newspaper. She also writes for Exeunt.

Duška’s academic publications include award-winning Theatre-Making (Palgrave 2013), The Contemporary Ensemble (Routledge 2013), Theatre Criticism: Changing Landscapes (Bloomsbury Methuen 2016) as well as many chapters in various collections including one on Kneehigh in Liz Tomlin’s British Theatre Companies: 1995-2014 (Bloomsbury Methuen 2015).

PC: You mentioned the collaboration with Northern Stage — what similarities do you see in the two companies’ work?

DR: I think that Northern Stage and Kneehigh collaborated because they were both ensemble companies from geographically marginalised places. Both served their own communities firstly but both had international ambitions. Northern Stage were based in Newcastle and, under the leadership of Alan Lyddiard, they were very much immersed in their local context. Alan’s ambition was to have all these Geordie artists that he brought together into an ensemble working shoulder to shoulder with internationally renowned artists. So he brought into Newcastle Peter Brook, Robert Lepage, Lev Dodin and Calixto Bielto in order to facilitate those sorts of exchanges. Northern Stage as an ensemble from Newcastle wanted to define themselves in relation to the rest of Europe rather than to London. Meanwhile Kneehigh has built an international reputation by touring, not only in Europe but in the Americas too. Neil Murray, who was a designer and Associate Director at Northern Stage, continued working with Emma Rice after the co-production of Pandora’s Box. He was nominated for an Olivier for his design of Brief Encounter. And as a director himself, he has spoken of being influenced by Emma’s methods of working with actors.

PC: Would you be able to pinpoint any specific company that Kneehigh has influenced?

DR: Stylistically you could talk perhaps about some other companies being influenced by Kneehigh or being freed up to experiment by Kneehigh’s successes in merging genres, reanimating certain traditions for the 21st century or reinventing the musical, for example. You could make connections between Kneehigh and the whole gig theatre trends that we are witnessing now.

PC: Your main area of research is ensemble theatre, what have you learnt from researching Kneehigh’s ensemble work?

DR: I guess the whole idea of ensemble research that I have engaged in culminated for me by concluding that often the desire to work in the ensemble is motivated by essentially wanting to create communities. Bringing artists together in the ensemble but also making the audience part of the ensemble. That is a distinctive feature of theatre as an art. That is one of the unique selling points of theatre. Theatre actually engages the audience in a live event. That’s where I think Kneehigh really capitalise on the potential of theatre. Kneehigh’s work is often driven by a desire to engage an audience in some sort of temporary community or some sort of shared experience.

Kneehigh’s Irreverence: Subverting the Mainstream

This is the fifth in a series of interviews about the history of Kneehigh with Dr Duška Radosavljevic. The interviews provide an introduction to the company and an academic’s outside eye on Kneehigh as a devising ensemble.

Do use the Kneehigh Cookbook and their Vimeo site for more free online digital resources from the company. In addition there is a fifteen minute audio clip of Emma Rice ‘On Directing’ that I believe captures the spirit of how Kneehigh currently work.

Dr Duška Radosavljevic is a Reader in Contemporary Theatre and Performance at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. Her research interests include contemporary British and European theatre practice as well as more specifically, ensemble theatre and dramaturgy.

Duška has worked as the Dramaturg at the Northern Stage Ensemble, an education practitioner at the Royal Shakespeare Company. As a dramaturg, she has worked with various local, national and international theatre artists and organisations including New Writing North, Dance City, Dramaturgs’ Network, National Student Drama Festival, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Circomedia. In 2015 she was the dramaturg on Robert Icke’s Oresteia at the Almeida. Between 1998 and 2010, Duška was a member of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence panel of judges at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and has written hundreds of theatre and dance reviews for the Stage Newspaper. She also writes for Exeunt.

Duška’s academic publications include award-winning Theatre-Making (Palgrave 2013), The Contemporary Ensemble (Routledge 2013), Theatre Criticism: Changing Landscapes (Bloomsbury Methuen 2016) as well as many chapters in various collections including one on Kneehigh in Liz Tomlin’s British Theatre Companies: 1995-2014 (Bloomsbury Methuen 2015).

PC: You mentioned that Kneehigh’s early work was influenced by the quite radical alternative theatre scene. Do you think their work still has this quality?

DR: People question whether Kneehigh’s work is inherently conservative or inherently radical or whether it is political at all. This is because when work at some point becomes commercial it therefore becomes part of the mainstream even if it had started off as being radical. It loses the initial impact, it loses political weight. But actually my argument in relation to Kneehigh has been to highlight the importance of the political underpinnings of the work: Kneehigh’s work has in fact never been overtly political, the political values were contained in the inherent subversiveness – the ‘naughtiness’ – that has always run through the work. Even when they became more of a structured company they always retained this irreverence and subversiveness in the way that worked. This is obviously the way they were when they went to Stratford and presented Shakespeare on their own terms. They weren’t trying to conform or respect the local traditions. It was about doing it the way they had always done things. Being faithful to their own emotional memory. Having those qualities run through the work, their political drives remind me of the kind of work that Dario Fo has done: very populist but very political, though maybe a bit more overtly political than Kneehigh’s work.

PC: Is what they do still subversive even though they have gone into the West End and the RSC and the National?

DR: Yes. They have got to all these pinnacles of British theatre but on their own terms. They make sure that the experience of the piece becomes the dominant experience of the audience within this time and space. There was a big political change in 1989 and what we consider to be political theatre up until then changed. We had to reconsider the mainstream, think about what is radical in performance: what actually engages the audience fully? People talk about ‘immersive’ theatre as if it’s a new thing but actually there were companies and artists who were motivated by that desire in the 1980s and 1990s. You can see the legacy of that in Brief Encounter at the Haymarket cinema. It was essentially a site-specific piece because it was done in the place where the film was originally screened. The set designer was Neil Murray but in this case every aspect of the experience was designed: there were rose petals in the toilets, thick carpets and ushers and usherettes with pillbox hats around the auditorium before the show and in the interval who stepped on and off the stage to assume other characters. The use of actors in the interval of Brief Encounter draws the attention away from what is customarily done in the British playhouses: the consumption of ice cream. I think this might point to their roots in creating outdoor events when they had to take into account all aspects of the audience experience. Outdoor events are so much less containable because the audience could be a lot more anarchic: doing unexpected things. If you have to make an effort to contain the audience within the storytelling experience, as part of the actual framework of the piece itself, then somehow you are more likely to control the audience. So in this case you could argue Brief Encounter was an immersive experience as a result of the evident consideration of all the aspects of the event’s design to the minutest detail.