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Physical Theatre

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Chloe Ogburn

on 4 November 2015

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Transcript of Physical Theatre

Physical Theatre
Pina Bausch
Steven Berkoff
'Cafe Muller'
Poor Theatre
Poor Theatre is a concept created by Grotowski that argues that the actor is core of theatre art and that Spiritual Theatre should discover the truth. I agree with the idea that money and material surrounds should not determine theatre; the actor alone can create it. However theatre is also recognized largely for grand sets in large productions which do cost financially. I think material things are a strong element of what theatre is and can be but also I believe the lack of them should hold no restriction in any way for a performance to be effective, successful and powerful. I suppose it just depends on different people's ideology of what theatre is.
meyerhold piece analysis
Grotowski & Meyerhold
Detail 1
Total Theatre
Bausch studied ballet and dance technique in New York and after graduating gained the position of Director for the Wupperral Theatre in Germany, where she is from. The emotion element Bausch incorporated into her choreography had never been done before her time. She wanted her dancers to be characters and for her pieces to tell storys, have social statements and effect her audience in the deepest way. Bausch had made Dance Theatre evolve and contributed largely to the genre of Physical Theatre.
Grotowski was born in Poland and studied acting and directing. His first project as a director was in 1959. He then moved to the USA in 1982 but felt uncomfortable with adaptations and reinterpretations of what he wanted for his work. In 1985 he moved to a town near pisa and established the Grotowski work-centre.
The story that is created from the outset of this piece is created through the individuality of the dancers rather that a typical ensemble presenting nothing more than a showcase of 'dancing skill' for the audience (something that Lloyd Newson from DV8 supports). It seems that characters are something that consistently exist as strong elements through Bausch's body of work which is similar to Frantic Assembly, especially in their 'Othello'. Unlike some style of modern dance and physical theatre (when performers try to remain anonymous through the lack of character from the set and costume) Bausch and Frantic Assembly both embrace the character throughout their pieces by utilizing set and costume to empower the effectiveness of their work. However, they do so without being too reliant on those elements- they stand more of a compliment to the physicality, which of course is the main element. I feel that the choreography Bausch has created compliments naturalistic movements of real people and real life, which makes the piece more accessible for an audience in terms of how they interpret it. When watching Cafe Muller I felt the emotion it conveyed as a whole was dominated by the woman in a white nightgown at times because she had the least interaction with other characters. Her character was dancing in an introverted way focusing on her arm movements with little acknowledgment of her surroundings. She appeared to be lost, trying to connect to her surroundings (but struggling in the process) through shuffling motions, circling in the doorway and regularly holding her arms out in plea. The emotions I felt her movement conveyed were despair, confusion, restlessness which in itself is something that shows how interpretations have been made from the piece; that the woman in white may be sleep walking and dreaming which is expressed through her dance physicality.
The set onstage and the characters' costume I felt was fundamental in the aim to visually convey a cafe. Bausch created abstract positioning of the disordered chairs and the proximity through the performers' choreography by having certain sections of the piece dominating certain areas of the set. The lighting also complimented that focus that was created. I think Total Theatre is a strong concept in Cafe Muller particularly as all these nuances; lighting, set, costume, choreography are combined to have equal effect for the piece. Berkoff and Complicite also utilized Total Theatre in ways similar to Bausch here- as artists they all seem to have shown no sense of abandonment to any aspect of performance, whereas the minimalistic qualities of DV8's 'Can We Talk About This?' seems to do exactly that.
Generally, the individual moods created within the duets and individual dancers is what makes Cafe Muller as a piece of choreography, have so many layers. Similar to a play the moods change, the characters have individuality and their physicality here is used as a expression of human behavior rather than a simple movement that aims to impress or entertain the audience- a physicality that differs from Berkoff's 'West' as that is more of an abstract theatrical delivery. Before this evolution of physical theatre, dance probably distanced an audience from the performer because their aim was to showcase exceptional skill through their body and nothing more, whereas now dance can connect an audience to the performer. Thoughts like 'That's astonishing, I could never do that.' turned into 'That's astonishing, I can relate to that.' When emotion, character and truth is put into performance I feel like the audience's reaction becomes so much more limitless- all emotions are deepened and performance can be more powerful.

In the process of learning about Bausch as an artist I discovered hat she would incorporate strong social statements into some of her pieces that were driven by her feminist attitude. The proxemics at the beginning of the piece, the women are lined up frantically fixing themselves in hope to appeal to the men that are inspecting them, perhaps their beauty (as the physicality has elements of a beauty pageant frequently throughout). This scrutiny could represent how Bausch feels men can intimidate, scare and dominate a range of women every day, in a lifetime or maybe just in society. However in '1980' a comedic quality is consistent throughout- for example the piece begins with the men (arguably) beating each woman right to left from the line. Each of the women expect and prepare themselves for it through their gesturing and a subtle canon motion is created as every other female character looks to the right of the line after one another. The slow tempo of the choreography at this point builds tension for the audience; its powerful and effects the audience as they react in screams and bodily expression but just before the whole performance can be judged, before men can become offended at this social statement or that the audience feels a little too disturbed, (in the clip) we hear a laugh from the audience. I think that Bausch has considered the structure of the content in this piece very well, through her choreography It seems that she is in control of the audience's reaction and how they perceived the performance.
When women start to show their legs in competition (which in itself shows how women have adapted to the attitude ad expectations of men perhaps) by Bausc coreographing the men to come in and join mockingly an previous social statement that may have caused offense is now weakened and somewhat forgiven. Comedy is used throughout at a strategic way to lessen how obnoxious it could be. Instead of being a controversial piece which is only open to criticism, Bausch utilizes comedy to in such a way that it allows her work to be praised more. This choreography had a stronger quality of naturalism; stronger than cafe muller. 1980 seems to break down the 'fourth wall' and dialogue is used to intensify the comedy. It could be argued that without the comedic element in this piece, it would have become a very controversial piece of work for critics and audiences to diminish. There is no doubt that i is entertaining to watch, and when such dramatic comedy is showcased to anybody it is hard not o indulge, and I think Pina Bausch knew that this excessive laughter could replace critical thinking for the majority of time watching it.
Berkoff came from East London and after studying at City Literary Institute he trained at Laban School of Dance. In 1968 he formed the London Theatre Group, and throughout his life he has taken the role of a director, playwright, actor, practitioner and author. He is most renowned for his style of performance 'Berkovian Theatre'. As an actor, he has had many Film and television roles throughout his life and his contribution to theatre has taken the form of adaptations of novels, writing and directing his own plays and performing in them and his work and Theatre Style has been the influence for many other
Complicite is a physical theatre company based in North London that was founded in 1983 by Simon McBurney, Annabel Arden and Marcello Magni. Together they bring elements of comedy, opera and physical theatre to create productions that have toured around the UK as well as Europe.
Simon McBurney
Annabel Arden
Marcello Magni
A Dog's Heart
The piece uses a combination on expression for the dog which could be interpreted as how humans see dogs (barking, loud and manic) contrasting with how a dog sees and hears itself which is portrayed through the operatic expression as a harmless emotive communicator instead of this violent, raging hound that the audience sees and is familiar with as an embodiment of a dog. This is something Simon McBurney touches upon also in this clip as he states that the unpleasant voice could be thought of as the voice that is heard from the outside, and the pleasant voice could be thought of as its human side. I think that the way in which the story is told is Complicite's most phenomenal feature. This can make the audience empathize or at least sympathize when watching because the piece has an element of misconception which can be quite tragic at times. Ultimately though, the 'Frankenstein-like' quality of this horror story is presented to the audience with such gothic imagery, that if the audience is still feeling emotions of pity, concern and hope for the protagonist then Complicite have surely created an outstanding piece. I do think that the element of music with an orchestra and operatic singing is the reason for this. Every nuance of the performance is so vast in scale, or volume or expression that I imagine it would evoke an intensified reaction from the audience which could be relatable to 'West' by Berkoff as they both intrigue although they are disturbing. The visual scale of the set, I thought was very interesting as the props, set and furniture were in proportion completely and which evoked elements of naturalistic quality however this contrasted with the lack of structure around the staging. Each scene was confound to the area dictated by the large carpet and taught wall material. The fact that the audience can see around this area and that the wings are completely visible and the scene never enclosed- it gives a Brechtian quality to the piece throughout. Total Theatre is a concept very apparent in this piece; the lighting creates a naturalistic scene through a general wash which contrasts and intensifies the grotesque imagery created in the surgery scenes with strobe and white lighting which is disturbing for the audience. The set and costumes naturally convey real life which highlights the unnatural in the content of the story, the oddness and peculiarity of what happens.
The fact that the audience can also see the puppet being mastered by several puppeteers creates a real statement. This company is confident that they are not trying to create an illusion of the dog moving on its own. The company embraces the utilization of physical theatre to show the dog come to life
Frantic Assembly
Steven Hoggett
Love Song
When researching Love Song by Frantic Assembly, from the clips I could see, I did not notice any harsh movements which gives the piece intense fluidity. The music used evokes emotions of empathy from the audience which was coherent with the slow tempo that existed for the majority of the piece. The somewhat clarity of the dialogue and purity of the statements I felt reflected the specification o the speech that the couples' memories consist of. Certain phrases will be remembered distinctly and the set reflects that too. The realistic quality of the detailed set conveys the moment in past time as memories and as how they are remembered (as the outset of the play introduces the couple and elderly having already experienced the moments recreated in the piece). Furthermore, the contrast between that detail and the lack of structure and ambiguity created by the empty space (similar to A Dog's Heart by Complicite) surrounding that scene or 'memory'. It seems from what sources were available to me (youtube videos) that the physical scenes had no structure confining them or connecting them through the proxemic positioning around these scenes, although it may not be lit up, that vast amount of dark space created by the lighting designer has an equal effect on the scene. Similar to A Dog's Heart, again I think Total Theatre is a consistently used concept in this piece.
Meyerhold's aim was to create a new level of performance that he believed had to be initiated by the advancement of the body's physicality in physical theatre. A main component in his style was hiss experimentation of intergrating set design with the actor's physicality such a way that the decor of the stage reflected the actor's performance. This concept was called Biomechanics. I feel that this directly negates what Grotowski thinks about physical theatre, however these two practitioners do have many similarities. The restrictions that the average body has physically was a restriction in itself if Meyerhold was to create the performers he wanted for his work. Meyerhold wanted to train the body to think, meaning that intense physical demands needed to be met in training so that these restrictions were diminished, instead of those restrictions diminishing his idea. Ultimately, his aim was to create new emotions from his audience that had not existed before purely because his style of expression had not.
Lloyd Newson created the physical theatre company DV8; after studying in Physiology and Social Work in Australia he received a scholarship to study London Contemporary. Before forming the company Newson had an experienced background of working in many other physical theatre groups which may have given him the intentions that have been fulfilled by his Company DV8.
Enter Achilles
I felt that the choreography in 'Enter Archilles' was largely influenced by natural movement and perhaps stereotypical movement of men in a pub. At the outset of the piece, the men seemed to be the same (stereotyped) man in terms of characterization through physicality. I noticed there was a certain 'maintained masculinity' between all of the men who began the piece dancing in unison together doing the same natural gestures like taking their jackets of, gesturing a 'cheers' with their pints and traveling around the bar in the same way. I felt that that unison reflected an orthodox way of life that the men my have. This was later reinforced by the way in which the men went to the window giving women their attention. At this point the one individual man distanced himself away from the group and danced in a style that contrasted with the previous style. His physicality conveyed more of a 'free spirit'. It was more loose and indulgent in emotions that were outwardly expressed, whereas the previous physicality of the men had a lot more edginess to it which could reflect the lack of relaxation they allowed themselves to have .Inferences of homophobia could have been made- when the men surround the individual man's character maybe aiming to stop him. This accusation becomes stronger when they crowd around the man and suggest his sexuality through crude gestures. This piece does raise speculation from the audience, it can make them morally question themselves and the characters as a strong social statement is made by Newson through the choreographing of this piece.
The music stood as a real contrast to the visual setting of a pub, I felt like this gave the piece more of a reminiscent mood. The set and utilization of the props (as the dancer's smoked and drank during their performance) has an extreme quality of naturalism along with the general costume. When the man reveals a superman costume under his clothes and the men begin to carry him around as he 'flys like superman' was something that i perceived as a metaphor. The character that remained separate but observant portrayed an admiration for the man who danced alone, and when seen observing the man that approached him later in the duet I thought also created a metaphorical symbol through the choreography. It could be argued that the duet symbolized rape as the contact that was maintained in the struggle between them as they fought. The fact that the initial physicality of the men was lost when they rn after 'superman' suggested a childlike admiration for him as they helped him travel over the wall. However, the superman costume could be a symbol of the power and freedom, that the man has honored himself by freely dancing, and ultimately being 'un-orthadox'. As 'Archilles' is the name of a greek mythical god the piece is defenatly dominated by his character. Althoguh, the piece is controversial the social statement is very powerful and from what I have seen so far Newson has completely left me interested in his work.
Can We Talk About This?
Newson's use of Verbatim Theatre is interestingly shown in this piece, 'Can We Talk About This?'. It is fair to say that there are always two elements to judge with Verbatim Theatre; the dialogue which carries a philosophy, a message, a statement, along with the dancing itself and how the dancing translates that dialogue. To judge the physical theatre piece on dancing alone (taking into consideration that there was no music throughout) it shown such a high level of skill. Pina Bausch's style seems to imitate naturalistic movement whereas I found that the moves in this piece by DV8 seemed to imitate their speech in a mime-like way. Both actors and dancers seemed to work well as at keeping their physicality coherent and 'as one'.
"I got tired of just doing nice shapes on stage and while my pirouettes started improving my mind started deteriorating because it wasn't being challenged. What does a pirouette really say about love?"
The physicality adapted by the characters had a similar effects, as the characters visually did not naturally 'match' the movement style which is undoubtedly what made the performance interesting and unique. However, I think that the abnormality of the physical behavior reflected the internal emotions of the characters. Like Pina Bausch's choreography in Cafe Muller
; the characters' physicality kind of reflects the ordinary movement that would occur in this realistic situation. Another similarity is the setting of the 'cafe' and the pub created in this Othello.
The male dancer in the loose white shirt had choreography that conveyed internal conflict and maybe conflict with the situation he was in. His performance evoked confusion and intrigue from the audience, and myself as I watched it as he dominated the stage's main focus at one point in the performance (shown in image below). The man and woman downstage of the piece stayed together dancing as a duet consistently through the piece. The duet conveyed passion through their physicality as well as love and affection. They ranged from floor work and lifts and utilized the chairs and tables that surrounded them as the set of the cafe. Also, the woman was designed to be seen clearly in the spotlight upstage (more clear that the main focus shown in the image).When watching I felt like this somewhat balanced both sections of the piece, the active movement of the crowded downstage seemed to have equal focus to the duet upstage because although their choreography was slower, both sections evoked intrigue at the same time during the piece.
Newton articulates and expands on his ideas relating to his work in this article.
"Most dance in this country presents us with a very limited range of what is beautiful, and a very limited range of body – it may be very flexible, but it’s not very representative of the greater world."
I found these comments from Newton interesting as he begins to discuss how dance should not be just beautiful. The dance routine should not always be so uniformed and symmetrical, the choreography should not just be to showcase a series of pretty movements and the dancer should not aim to be beautiful all of the time. Newson's argument that we should learn to embrace all representations of 'the greater world'- the world that is existent beyond the stage door and the only world that we know and have.
This film could be a performance that very much relied upon and encouraged the audience's imagination throughout, however that is slightly shattered by the gothic imagery which 'sets the scene' in the outset. At several points in the physical performance the audience revisits that visual through close ups of characters that the main character is possibly describing.
When watching the clip of Berkoff's piece, 'West' it seemed as though body and voice were separated into past an present; whilst the mind and speech of the actor were retelling a story of a violent occurrence he had previously had to the camera/audience, the body was not just gesturing the movements but literally recreating them. The physicality the actor had gave me the illusion of a flashback his character might have had. I also noticed that dynamics of the piece contrasted completely- slow motion movement changed to manic realistic paces which I felt supported the idea of his character having a flashback.

Personally I think that the overall piece could have been more effective if the whole of it was just
Total theatre is the idea that all elements of theatre are equally important and equally as effective. It argues that the combination of music, lighting, acting, dancing, set, costumes etc. all carry the same amount of contribution. Although they may not seem to be so significant, or whether other elements seem to grasp more attention Total theatre insists that whether the audience consciously realizes it or not, each element has an equal effect and supports one and other to get to the overall intention for the piece.
This quote that I found from Grotowski in his published book related to DV8 and an article that discussed a similar thing.
Since 1994 when Steven Hoggett and Vicki Middleton formed Frantic Assembly with Artistic Director Scott Graham, the company have toured intensively through the UK and over 30 different countries, which has helped them gain the reputation they have today.
Scott Graham
In regards to total theatre in this production, the costume, make-up and set was effectivly a very strong element of the piece. Physical appearance is something that has a strong impact on the judgment of somebody's character and inward self- whether that judgment is accurate or not. Personally, I thought the costume designs aimed to portray stereotypes; young individuals in society that by enlarge differ completely with typical associations to Shakespeare (like actors, intellectuals, theorists etc.) Taking into consideration that Shakespearean language was a normality for any social status in the 16th Century, these modern stereotypes then seem more acceptable for the audience, and the audience 'accept' the situation more, despite Frantic Assembly's modern adaptation.
“If you want to create a masterpiece, you must always avoid beautiful lies.”
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