The train ride from New York city to Saratoga Springs is a beautiful journey up the Hudson valley towards the Adirondack mountains. The place names are evocative: Yonkers - birthplace of Ella Fitzgerald, Schenectady - where Edison founded the General Electric Company, and Poughkeepsie, which is probably also famous for something but just has a great name as far as I’m concerned. Saratoga is in the middle of a wide plain and I can see trees for miles from my room. The other day I had a Walden
moment when I saw a beautiful light brown hawk circling over a clearing in the trees. It floated about while I watched it, not quite with the joy of just being there that Thoreau observed, but a beautiful sight none the less. There were obviously no pickings for it so it flapped elegantly away after a while making me feel very earthbound (even on the 7th
In the work with SITI, we’ve been moved up a gear this week. Further parts of the Suzuki form have been taught to us – Kelly, one of the core SITI members, made a very important point to us on Friday afternoon when she reminded us that the purpose of the Suzuki method is not to master the form, because you never can. The important thing is the discipline you derive from the effort to master it, as well as the skills with which it equips you, such as a clarity of focus on stage.
On Wednesday evening Leon and Ellen gave a talk on the origins of both Suzuki and Viewpoints and how the SITI company came to work with the two approaches. Suzuki had begin training his actors during the 1960s, developing the form from a variety of sources, including Kendo, Katakali, Flamenco and Sumoh as well as the Japanese theatre styles of Noh, Kabuki and Butoh. During the late ‘70s he began training other actors in the method, including a group from America that would form the ore of the SITI company in the early 1990s. During the 80s Anne Bogart happened to work with some of these actors and couldn’t help noticing how much less they moved their feet than other actors. Intrigued by this, she asked them why and was introduced to Suzuki. At the same time, Anne had been developing her own version of Mary Overlie’s Six Viewpoints as a means of quickly building an ensemble when she was working on productions at theatres around the States. As she worked with the Suzuki actors she began to realise that these two seemingly opposite approaches were very complimentary.
This week in Viewpoints we’ve been doing quite a lot of open viewpoints, which is an improvisation in the space using all the viewpoints. This is quite heady stuff as you get to know the group you’re working with and start to discover the risks you can take moving about a space – sometimes at high speed – while maintaining a connection with everyone else in the space. One of the viewpoints is Kinesthetic Response – which is about how you decide “when” (when to move, for instance, or be still, turn, look, or when to speak etc) – like all the viewpoints it can only operate in conjunction with the others (such as duration – how long you might move for - or tempo – how fast you might move). Kinesthetic Response is quite a “back brain” action – you allow yourself to move almost instinctively in response to an external stimulus, rather than with a thought-through motivation. The purest, or maybe most minimal, exercise is Flow. In Flow you have only 5 pieces of vocabulary: stopping, moving through gaps, turning, following, changing tempo. When it works, it is an incredible feeling – as if you are connected to everyone else who’s up there with you.
This morning, while researching some things for our composition assignment (each week we make a short performance piece in small groups) I found a clip of Pina Bausch dancing to the aria “When I am Dead and Laid in Earth” from Dido and Aeneas
in her piece Café Muller
(you can watch it here
). I’d seen this a couple of months ago in Wim Wenders’ film Pina
and had been affected by the story she told about it. When she came to revive the piece for the first time she couldn’t work out why it didn’t feel right, and then she realised that, even though her eyes were closed throughout, where
she looked was essential to how she performed it. The first time she did it, she always looked down but the second time she’d been doing it without paying attention to where she looked. At the time I remember thinking that the lesson here is “no detail is too small to ignore”.
Now I have to go and learn some lines.