Grotowski Composes Associations: Plastique and Corporeal Exercises

Interview with Paul Allain

Paul Allain is Professor of Theatre and Performance and Dean of the Graduate School at the University of Kent, Canterbury. Since collaborating with the Gardzienice Theatre Association from 1989 to 1993 he has gone on to write extensively about the theatre. He has published several edited collections on Grotowski as part of the British Grotowski project.

Paul’s films about physical acting for Methuen Drama Bloomsbury will be published at Drama Online in Spring 2018 as Physical Actor Training – an online A-Z.  Draft films are currently available at the Digital Performer website.


Connections to the IB, GCSE, AS and A level specifications

  • innovations
  • key collaborations with other artists
  • methods of creating, developing, rehearsing and performing
  • significant moments in the development of theory and practice

PC: What were the plastiques exercises?

PA: Plastiques are distinctively Grotowski’s idea. Beginning with isolation, isolating the wrist or the hand or the elbow, you start to rotate and flex it and explore its possible movements. Then you see where that takes you, where the wrist leads you; the wrist is moving you through the space. You can then start to have one part of the body doing one thing in dialogue with another part of the body; the wrist in dialogue with the left knee. Then you open that up to a partner, a key aspect of Grotowski’s work. Plastiques are always done in relation to a partner: the partner could be the wall, it could be the floor, it could be an object. Plastiques are about building a flow where you can move from the wrist, perhaps to the knee, to the elbow, but all the time it has to be unplanned and it has to be impulsive; not rationalized, not conceived, but responsive. Cieślak talks about it is as though the nerves are on the outside of the body, as though you haven’t got any skin. How do you wake up your nerves so that you’re that sensitive that impulse becomes action immediately?

PC: What about corporeals?

PA: Corporeals take the same principles adjusted to more dynamic, gymnastic-like movement. You can think about it in terms of a jump: if you dive into a forward roll, once you commit, you can’t stop halfway through. If you do, you bang your head, so you have to commit. Impulse has to become action. Then you might do the jump or the roll, not just as a task in a gymnastic way but because someone is chasing you or because you’re getting over a river or there are hot flames. Both the plastiques and the corporeals are really about developing associations and waking up the imagination.

PC: How important were the imagination and associations for the actor?

PA: I think that this is one of the problems that Grotowski identified with people imitating the work. People can watch exercises in a film called Letter from Opole, a thirty minute film about the early training or they can watch Cieślak training; but they can’t necessarily understand the connection to the inner work or associations, as Grotowski called it.

PC: Can you give a practical example of these types of associations?

PA: If you’re reaching up with your arms, don’t just lift your arms up in a way that doesn’t have any imaginative connection: What are you reaching up to pick? An apple? It is a Stanislavskian idea: you’re reaching for something but you’re not anticipating, instead the imaginative connection constantly changes: does the apple become something else? Or the tiger exercises where you’re being a tiger. It’s not about imitating the tiger, it is finding the essence of tiger; trying to get to the heart of tiger. To put it in a slightly banal way: how do you become different on stage? Grotowski talks about people imitating his work in Reply to Stanislavsky, and that they saw it as being acrobatic and virtuosic. He said that this is not what it’s about; it’s really about the inner process. It’s about finding that connection, that association between feeling and the physical score you create.

PC: What do you mean by ‘score’?

PA: They created a score like a music score; he uses that word. When we see musical notes, it is very clear that those notes have a certain rhythm and time; but how you play the instrument, how it fits with the other parts is so variable. He used lots of images about the actor’s score, it being like the banks of a river, for example: what’s important is the water that is flowing between the banks; or the score is like a candle in a bowl and the inner life is the candle flame, flickering. It’s the inner life that gives meaning to the action, that makes the score come alive. That often gets forgotten about Grotowski’s work.

Full interview here:



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.