the body and the contemporary performer

the body and the contemporary performer
It is important to understand that for me the body is everything:
it is the emotional memory, it is the text, it is the voice,
it is the music, the song, the movement,
it is the emotion, the sexuality, it’s everything.
It is the bones upon which the performance rests.
Gilles Maheu
The art of dance and acting is ephemeral, disappearing as it moves forward.  And so this beautiful paradox has become, for me, a quest to pay attention.  This paying attention, to our perceptions, observations and insights, becomes a way of listening, reflection and discovery.  The body is a realm of connectivity, both personal and universal.  So my teaching pedagogy is grounded in experiential learning that sees the body becoming a locus for imagination and creativity.  It aims at integrating movement and voice as complementary and connected forms of expression for the actor, dancer and singer.  The flow between movement, song, speech, and stillness is a direct reflection on the body’s make-up; water, on average, comprising 60% of our total body weight.  My teaching refers to and reflects upon the fluid nature of our physicality as well as our intellect.
There is a wealth of artists in Alberta and a healthy desire and history exists of creating challenging and traditional work. Possibility abounds within the range and scope of these various professional milieus. 
If I were to suggest anything, it would be a model where artists are encouraged to cross disciplinary lines and to work from sources outside of text so as to propel theatre into an area where one grapples with scripts.  Scripts translated from utterances.  That are found, invented, seen, heard, read, forgotten, faked, forged, fabricated, drawn, sung, whispered or censored. This also describes the work of Gilles Maheu and Carbone 14, the company I was a part of from 1989-2002, which involved the creation and touring of Silences et Cris, Les Âmes Mortes, L’Hiver/Winterland, Le Café des Aveugles, La Fôret, Vingt Ans, and the seminal dance/theatre work Le Dortoir.  The work of Carbone 14 is largely unknown outside of Quebec and is not available for viewing online.  His work in image-based theatre is aligned to theatre makers such as Ariane Mnouchkine, Peter Brook, and Robert Lepage. However, the work of Gilles Maheu also considers space in a way that is singular, and compelling on a physical level.  How do we as actors allow space to permeate our being? 
As a performer coming to the work of Carbone 14, I was struck by how important the space around all the action became.  How does the décor of an empty house, a snowstorm or a forest affect the body physically?  By focusing on our surroundings we became receptive to, and shaped by, the language of each performance as it related to the place we were in.  We rarely spoke of character and we often pieced the details together from costume, lighting, dance and gesture.  We often were thrown into a myriad of scene juxtapositions that would re-arrange themselves like puzzle pieces, until they literally fell into the right order as directed by Gilles.  It was often more like film than theatre.  He directed in a way that required him to look into the room, and not down onto the page.  Every single work he created had as much going on behind the scenes as in front of the audience.  We were fortunate to have three to six months to create each work.  This way of creating performance is now almost obsolete.  The economy has forced theatre and dance to condense rehearsal times and fit into production schedules that are both economical and demanding, and therefore very often unfeasible.
That was then, this is now.  So the question becomes how to go forward having the necessary time to create work that is compelling, reflective and fully realized.
In the workshop/performance practice I share with the Belgian dance dramaturge Guy Cools called Rewriting Distance ( we are inspired by how varied and challenging conversations between artists of diverse disciplines are.  The workshop becomes an open playing field where dance and theatre artists can meet, work, talk, move, write, reflect, laugh and be delighted through a very specific performance form we have created. It becomes a place to slow down and pay attention to how we experience, perceive,
intuit and articulate. Are we unconsciously favouring the word over the body?  And if so, why? Can they not be in a relationship that allows either to edit, or transform, the other?  
Being physical then becomes a radical act.  How we evoke and give a place to poetic thinking, to a world of playful dreaming and oneiric thought, could be liberating.  Art is freedom. Perhaps creating work that speaks to this freedom could also liberate artists from the debilitating constraints and timeframes of current modes of production.
Lin Snelling
All Stages – Alberta’s Theatre Magazine
Spring 2013