Tag Archives: kalarippayattu

Summer Intensive: psychophysical text, monologue, movement.

Independent theatre maker Martin Carnevali with Brandy Leary of Anamdam dance theatre, Toronto

Independent theatre maker Martin Carnevali with Brandy Leary of Anandam dance theatre, Toronto

Every July and August Phillip Zarrilli leads a ‘Summer Intensive’, which he describes as “an intensive, ongoing, preperformative psychophysical process of performer training through Asian martial/meditation arts including t’aiqiquan, Indian yoga and the closely related martial art, kalarippayattu.” The first non-Indian to be awarded master status in kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, South India, Phillip has developed an approach to actor-training utilising Asian martial arts to explore body-mind connections through psychophysical disciplines, developing an intuitive awareness necessary for performance.

Every summer participants come from all over the world come to his studio in Wales to train in his approach and learn to apply the principles  to performance through structured improvisations.

This August I was privileged to be involved in the workshop, leading participants from Canada, Italy, Estonia, Jordan, Germany, Portugal,and  England in writing exercises to be utilised in the studio. Working through the senses, the exercises generated original written material and starting points for solo performance scores. Sometimes the text became spoken monologues, or unspoken ‘inner’ monologues to help animate the actor. Some came with work already in development, whilst other participants created material from scratch, guided and ‘side-coached’ by Phillip.

It’s a very different way of writing from my own practice – and a very different way of using text, often to enliven the performer’s inner work, and provoke physical scores or choreography. It was a fascinating and stimulating week, reminding me why one of my definitions of heaven is being in the studio…

 

 

‘The 9 Fridas’ first week of rehearsals – and The Sunflower Protest

In the first days of rehearsals with Mobius Strip Theatre Company in Taipei.

‘The 9 Fridas’ is a performance text with multiple protagonists who are and yet are not the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. In the script I’ve taken moments from her extraordinary life and reframed and reinvented them, in contemporary contexts. Using cross-gender, cross-impairment casting, we are creating a mosaic of voices and experiences which, when combined, suggest the whole.

 

Bobo Fung and Faye  Leung in 'The Two Fridas' pose in rehearsals for 'The 9 Fridas'.

Bobo Fung and Faye Leung in ‘The Two Fridas’ pose in rehearsals for ‘The 9 Fridas’.

The self-portraits of Frida Kahlo are naturally playing a large part of the visual ensemble work. From the first day of rehearsal director Phillip Zarrilli gets the actors to embody and inhabit some of her paintings. Although they are taking on – with precision – the physical positions of the portraits, they are not ‘being’ Frida – they are creating their own version, working from behind the eyes.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh working with Po-Ting Chen, 'The 9 Fridas' rehearsals.

Ying-Hsuan Hsieh working with Po-Ting Chen, ‘The 9 Fridas’ rehearsals.

Each morning begins with an hour of pre-performative psychophysical training led by Phillip, to prepare and awaken the bodymind through Asian martial/meditation arts – Chinese taiquiquan, Indian yoga, and the martial art from Kerala, kalarippayattu. Apart from making us all more flexible and  fit, this warm-up is building an ensemble dynamic, and heightening the actors’ awareness of each other in the space.

The cast of 'The 9 Fridas', Mobius Strip Theatre, Taiwan.

The cast of ‘The 9 Fridas’, Mobius Strip Theatre, Taiwan.

For me as the playwright, this time is one of testing the script, fielding questions, and making revisions. I’ve decided to rewrite one of the scenes representing Frida Kahlo’s political activity so it has even more resonance for the contemporary Taiwanese audience.

Frida Kahlo was immensely political – and was last seen in public participating in a demonstration only days (or hours, according to some sources) before her death. We have been working with this last photograph of her out in the rain in her wheelchair, dark head wrapped in a shawl, a placard with Picasso’s Dove of Peace in one hand, the other fist raised in a defiant salute.

The cast of The 9 Fridas

The cast of The 9 Fridas

On March 18th  2014, hundreds of students occupied the “Legislative Yuan”, Taiwan’s parliament, to protest against the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement. Their action was in protest against perceived undemocratic procedures pushing through this trade agreement between China and Taiwan without  fully informing the Taiwanese people what it would entail. Many feared this would make Taiwan too dependant on China economically, isolating Taiwan from other allies, and therefore vulnerable to political pressure from Beijing. This quickly spread across the city, and soon thousands of citizens gathered on the streets outside the parliament, to support the students inside.

On March 30th, twelve days into their occupation, students organized a demonstration that saw more than 500,000 Taiwanese citizens taking to the streets in support of their non-violent cause. The support was across Taiwan and  internationally, with demonstrations occurring in many cities across the world. This became known as The Sunflower Movement – a sign of hope.

Occupying the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan's parliament. Photo: http://flipthemedia.com/2014/07/social-media-taiwan/

Occupying the Legislative Yuan, Taiwan’s parliament. Photo:
http://flipthemedia.com/2014/07/social-media-taiwan/

With this support, the government had to listen and respond and the action ended officially on April 10th.

I had been following the protest from the UK, aided by translations of news reports and a very active social media, provided by Betty, the translator of the play (Yi-Chun Chen). When I arrived in Taipei last week, I looked for people to interview who had been involved in the occupation – and didn’t have to look very far. In fact, I didn’t have to leave the rehearsal room. Cast members as well as our excellent stage management Knife Liao and Kuo Yi Chi  had been deeply involved. This week’s lunch hours have been spent with them and Po-Ting Chen telling me their experiences and how significant the protest has been in opening up discussions and politicising the younger generation. Knife Liao and Kuo Yi Chin have also shared political stickers and  the photographs they took inside the Legislative Yuan during the occupation.

Kuo Yi Chi and Knife Liao

Kuo Yi Chi and Knife Liao

This production doesn’t allow me to go into the protest with any real or meaningful depth – to do so would undermine the main story we are telling – but our conversations about democracy, correct political procedures and Taiwan’s independence have been thought-provoking. I doubt that I will be able to do justice to the protest and the actions of my company members – but I hope the introduction of resonant phrases and references may bring an additional layer of meaning to our Taipei audience.

*    *

Coverage about The Sunflower Movement was often difficult to find in the UK and Europe, where the significance of this protest was perhaps underestimated. I am grateful to Knife for collecting some of the links she feels are useful and reflect the event, so we may share them here:

Documentary made by Japanese TV, NHK  (Knife is visible at 29:40)   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1agYWMah4E

‘We sing this together until the sunlight of hope covers everyone on this island” (lyrics to the Sunflower protest song: Lyrics: 
http://mojim.com/twy105739x6x1.htm

Officials song with animation: 
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=N6vRCQqOiUw

English version: 
http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=PvtvxmjfwfA

someone made before the demonstration on Mar.30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RCT_dAVcVwY

shooting from air on Mar. 30 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SbEOc2VT_vs

College students sing 〈Island Sunrise〉in their Campus

National Chung Cheng University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_xY4dCptaI

National Chengchi University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RUEHAwOxNTo

Tamkang University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABFpvG7HdTE

National Central University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6uLrt_c0q70

National Sun Yat-sen University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yz4zLKL_-4E

National Taipei University

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNILN2pDKi0

Shinto shrines and performance workshops

Shinto shrine

Shinto shrine

There is a Shinto shrine across the road from the capsule apartments where we stay in Tokyo – ancient stone statues of local deities all pocked and weather-worn, topped with cherry red hats and bibs. Fresh flowers, fruit, and an opened plastic bottle of water adorns the altar and the bell clangs often as people pay respects as they pass.

Another Shinto shrine is on the single track road winding through the individual homes and a housing complex near to Babylon Theatre Tokyo, where we work. Each day walking to the theatre is a reminder of how close the ancient, spiritual and sacred is to the surface of this fast, digitalised, ostensibly modern life.

For the past three days Phillip Zarrilli of The Llanarth Group has been leading a workshop in his approach to actor training with Ami theatre, our hosts, and students from Sophia University. It is part of the cultural exchange supported by Daiwa and Wales Arts International between the two companies: we present ‘Told by the Wind’ later this week and then Okamura Yojiro of Ami Theatre will share some of his company’s process with us.

Phillip Zarrilli and Okamura Yojiro, Babylon theatre Tokyo.

Phillip Zarrilli and Okamura Yojiro, Babylon theatre Tokyo.

Zarrilli uses South and East Asian martial arts and yoga to train actors, starting the workshops with breathing exercises focussing on initiation, process, and completion.

The first non-Indian to be honoured with master status in Kalarippayattu, the martial art of Kerala, Zarrilli claims good martial arts practitioners and actors are similar, in having 360 degrees awareness and a sense of everyone in the room. He quotes a Malayalam folk term about the practice: ‘the body becomes all eyes,’  which goes some way to explaining why he uses the training with actors to start initiating this awareness.

His work is all about activation, awareness, the active imagination, and focus – and one of the first of many parallels between West and East approaches to performance appears: he quotes Zeami, the fourteenth century co-creator of Noh Theatre, encouraging the students to take the opportunity to get inside their bodies through the work and not just in their heads. Such training and body awareness allows respite from the ‘squirrel-like minds’ – busy, busy – of the young actor; a wonderful energy, but totally unfocused and a mess. Okamura San listens quietly to the translation, smiles at the mention of Zeami, then nods his head.