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Narrative about Performance/Movement Integrations AY 2010 and Beyond

Beth Cleary, Macalester College

Inspired by ACM/FaCE Grant-sponsored Conference at Coe College, October, 2010

It is not an exaggeration to say that being in the presence of DAH Teatar for a total of 6 hours in October of 2010 changed my professional life. For me, their embodiment of the personal-as-the-political (due, as they say, as much to historical circumstance as anything, but history and state violence are powerful teachers), and their exploration and refinement of significant lineages of performance training, are thoroughly compelling. I directly integrated and improvised upon several of the DAH exercises right away, and I enrolled in their International School for Actors and Directors in Belgrade in 2011. A slightly fuller account of their impact on me and on how I intend to continue to work with their concepts follows. (And ref: Dennis's "alligators," I'm doing this in one draft, apologies for rush.)

In Fall 2010, I was teaching a course I call "Brain to Bone: Aliveness from Rehearsal through Performance," which I developed after my 18-month training in Global Somatics, which is a school of Body-Mind Centering technique in Minneapolis. I have used the experiential anatomy and the exercises and games of GS/BMC with students in this course, as the material "ground" for working with imagery and language and character in play-texts and in their own performance pieces. This has been a very successful course (it's amazing how hungry students are to affirm their felt connections between body and mind) – but I've stopped short of making extravagant claims about what the course gives actors because it's not method, it's the basis for exploration. It's what DAH's mentor, Eugenio Barba might call work on "the pre-expressive." Which is fine, and sufficient really, in a liberal arts undergraduate training program; however, I've known there's a bridge to performance that I sense through the course, but haven't actually, materially found. When Dijana Milosevic led our group through the drum training work and especially through her "Map of the World" exercise, something really clicked. "Map of the World" was an exercise that allowed me, actors, to spatialize emotion, to trace worlds of my own right on the floor, and alongside others, to be completely involved in all that without having to explain anything, and yet to have physicalizations of any part of that map readily available because it was my story. Somehow this geography was key. I found our group experience of it at the conference very moving; and my enthusiasm came right into my Brain to Bone syllabus. It so happened that the very next part of the syllabus called for exercise and application work, and I just moved this DAH exercise right in. For two weeks, I used the drum training and the "Map..." with the students, making up variations, and directing a "weave" of the students' own stories with work on characters they were developing from plays. The work was very powerful for them – I must report, too powerful for some, who said there was something so painful eventually in tracing and re-tracing some of these deep pathways (from their mother's place of birth, to a gravesite they wanted to visit somewhere in the world, to...etc., I made up many "sites" in addition to Dijana's). When we had this conversation, as a class, after about 5 class meetings of doing this exercise, I listened to what several of them said about the map being "too powerful" for them, and I stopped it immediately. I remembered in my own body(mind) how powerful this exercise was, and I realized there were many emotional pathways being travelled and discovered through the repetitions I was asking the students to do, reclaiming and refining emotionally-compressed movement shapes, and sometimes communicating with others "across" the map, etc. I acknowledged to the students that I could see it was new terrain, and I thanked them for risking the emotional work. And the next time I use the exercise (which won't be 'til Fall '12), I will structure it with this first application in mind. We live and learn with exercises, and what I've called spatialization is particularly powerful on the bridge-building between pre-expressivity and performance. "Map..." is a highly variable exercise, I feel, and it would be especially great for mature actors and even with non-performance, activist groups. I offer this account to those of you who took the workshop at Coe as a testament to how powerful, and adaptable, that particular exercise was.

I wrote a research grant for support to go to DAH's annual training school in 2011. I like nothing better, even after all my years of experience teaching, than to be a student – and so I gladly went and participated as a director in DAH's International School for Actors and Directors. I was especially impressed with their pedagogy. Dijana and her collaborators have been doing this work so intensely and for so long, and they are collectively and individually so generous; they sequence their methods and exercises with such skill even as they explain, not over-much, why one thing leads to another. One of their main goals in performance training is the liberation of the performer through her/his commitment to "inner story," no matter the influence of the director re-shaping it from "outside." I think it's also true, though they are somewhat modest about it (it's just fact to them), that the necessity of art-making has been so clear to them because their society was revealing itself from within, in the 1990s, to be riven with double-speak and genocidal violence. As Dijana says, theater was "sense" to them, when all around was un-sense, anti-sense. Their circumstances burned conviction and clarity in them. Their teacher, Eugenio Barba, taught them at Odin, in the relative abstract, to seek problems, to seek discomforts – and they got handed a plateful when they started their theatre. All of this is connected for them, it underlies how they speak about what they do, it underlies how they make their work. They are, indeed, mapping their own personal-political worlds, even as the map of their former country, Yugoslavia, was completely and irrevocably re-drawn.

I must report that learning their methods, as a director, was hard for me. As a director I have developed my own vocabularies and short-hand, based in my own eclectic approach to teaching acting and the range of scripts I've directed, very typical I think for American theater educators (non-conservatory). DAH's directing teaching – systematic, superb, an actual teaching of directing methods – left me no hand-holds. It's un-psychological in its communication with the actor, and it's not even very image-based (my stock in trade in rel. the actor's imagination). The director "sees" something in the actor's score (see Dennis's narration of his Twilight... account for a sense of how he worked with actors, DAH-style) and begins to shape the actor's score through her (the director's) own unrecounted inner story. I watched this meeting place of inner stories materialize as ground for beautiful work in the experienced hands of Dijana, Sanja and Maja at DAH. When I and the other directors were set upon a group of actors to try it out ourselves, I found it hard. I refused to use my own methods (though I heard myself slip several times), I tried very hard to short-circuit my usual patterns and truly use theirs. It took several days of frustration and not-good-results until I started to "get it." It was, is, truly a paradigm shift for me, and it feels cultural, it feels like the differences are rooted in my American ways and in their European training and the Barba lineage and their own innovations. AND, I believe, with full acknowledgement that this may be romantic on my part: their method (and its difference from mine) is rooted in their artistic commitment to dialectics. DAH's method is dialectical, and in that sense has a lot to do with Brecht, aesthetically and politically. It at once liberates the performers' agency, and gives them the confining structure of a score, a sequence of repeatable actions. The dialectic of director and actor is a highly codified dynamic in DAH's work. A further level of dialectics is the intersection(s) of the personal story and the historically-charged material they work with, so that the audience is always aware of individual actions within a larger grid of historic event and action. I took many notes on this interest of mine, even as I wrote down specifics of exercises and tried to keep straight which actors I was assigned to watch at any given point. As you can tell, the experience was full-body, full mind, for me.

I also got direct inspiration for a piece I'll be working on in Spring 2012 based on interviews I conducted last year with nurses about their work. The healthcare crisis in the U.S., and the ways in which nurses are bearing a lot of the brunt of the fight over healthcare resources, inspired me to interview many nurses from different specialties: E.R., geriatric, ob/gyn, intensive care, psychiatric, oncology, etc. The material I gathered is great – but I've been stuck, aesthetically, about how to proceed. As much as I admire many conventional documentary/testimonial pieces – like Working or Laramie Project – I felt I wanted a different form, something more physical that would show something about how physical nursing is, how highly-skilled, speedy and personal, intimate it is. DAH's methods gave me direct inspiration for this, and I'm relieved and grateful for that!

And meanwhile, 'though I can't import DAH's methods completely into my fall Macalester production (of a Naomi Wallace play), I will use much of what I learned about score-making as "ground" for this play that's about work and class and earth and resistance. The applications continue!

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