Theatre of Movement and Gesture

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theatre of movement and gesture

Jacques Lecoq was probably the most influential theorist and teacher of what is now known as physical theatre. Theatre of Movement and Gesture, published in France in 1987, is the book in which Lecoq first set out his philosophy of human movement, and the way it takes expressive form in a wide range of different performance traditions. Lecoq traces the history of pantomime, sets out his definition of the components of the art of mime, and discusses the explosion of physical theatre in the second half of the twentieth century. This unique volume also contains: • interviews with major theatre practitioners Ariane Mnouchkine and Jean-Louis Barrault • chapters by Jean Perret on Étienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau • a final section by Alain Gautré celebrating the many physical theatre practitioners working in the 1980s • a wealth of illustrations, including previously unpublished photographs from the Jacques Lecoq collection. Lecoq’s poetic, incisive writings form the backbone of this extraordinary text. The pieces gathered here represent a precious testimony to his special vision of the art of acting and of its close relationship with the history of mime and of masked performance. Jacques Lecoq founded l’École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in 1956, developing teaching methods that have inspired numerous practitioners of physical theatre, in which gesture is at the basis of the performance. David Bradby is Professor of Drama and Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London. He was the translator of Jacques Lecoq’s The Moving Body (Methuen, 2000).

Figure 1 Jacques Lecoq. Richard Lecoq.

theatre of movement and gesture

Jacques Lecoq edited by david bradby

First published 2006 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Routledge 270 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016 Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business First published in French as Le Théâtre du Geste © Bordas 1987 English edition © 2006 Routledge This edition published in the Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2006. “To purchase your own copy of this or any of Taylor & Francis or Routledge’s collection of thousands of eBooks please go to www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk.” All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Lecoq, Jacques. [Théâtre du geste. English] The theatre of movement and gesture / Jacques Lecoq. p. cm. Includes index. 1. Movement (Acting) 2. Gesture. I. Title. PN2071.M6L39 2006 792.02′8 – dc22 2006012908 ISBN10 0–415–35943–0 (hbk) ISBN10 0–415–35944–9 (pbk) ISBN10 0–203–00746–8 (ebk) ISBN13 978–0–415–35943–6 (hbk) ISBN13 978–0–415–35944–3 (pbk) ISBN13 978–0–203–00746–4 (ebk)

contents

List of illustrations Translators’ preface Editor’s introduction

viii x xii

1 Imitation: from mimicry to miming Jacques Lecoq

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2 The gestures of life Jacques Lecoq

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Are gestures universal? Gestures in life Action gestures Walking and gait Professions Situations Expressive gestures Indicative gestures Popular gestures A codified language One gesture, one space Costume: a different body The body as we see it today 3 From pantomime to modern mime Jacques Lecoq The death of Pierrot Deburau-Pierrot The succession of men in white Poor Pierrot! The rediscovery of the moving body Jacques Copeau and the Vieux-Colombier school Links and influences

7 8 9 10 14 15 16 19 19 21 22 24 26 29

30 32 33 34 35 38 40

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4 Has mime become separated from theatre? Jean Perret Étienne Decroux, master of mime Interview with Jean-Louis Barrault A mime: the Marceau phenomenon 5 Mime, the art of movement Jacques Lecoq What is a mime? Silence Absolute mime The obstacles to overcome Pedagogy of the constraint Style The rules of the game Directions of mime Encounter with the temptation to systematise Movement with a capital ‘M’ The fixed point Equilibrium and disequilibrium The body of Artaud Compensation Alternation The preparation movement The accentuation of movement Rhythm Space The dynamics of the passions The dynamics of words 6 The explosion of mime Jean Perret and Jacques Lecoq The pedagogy of movement, interview of Jacques Lecoq by Jean Perret, including seven explanations of key ideas by Lecoq The commedia dell’arte Mask work How does a chorus move? In search of one’s own clown The age of the bouffon

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43 49 58 67

68 70 72 72 76 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 84 84 85 85 87 88 89 91 92 94

95 100 103 109 115 118

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Cartoon mime Performing with portable structures 7 The theatre of gesture and image Introduction by Jacques Lecoq

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121 123 126 126

Interview with Ariane Mnouchkine by Jean Perret

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An actor’s view of a theatre of movement by Alain Gautré

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View from a Frenchman in the stalls The actor face to face with his desire The actor within a company Three case studies Every aspect of the image Mimes? The theatre of silence A theatre that moves Index

137 142 148 150 152 154 156 156 159

list of illustrations picture research by Joel Anderson

Front cover Shahla Tarrant, photograph by Joel Anderson. Inside covers Jacques Lecoq, ‘Le Passeur’. Jacques Lecoq collection. Figure 1 Jacques Lecoq. Richard Lecoq.

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Figure 2 Alberto Giacometti, Swiss painter and sculptor. Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum.

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Figure 3 ‘Linardo is a rogue’ – engraving for a book by Andrea de Jorio: Ancient Mime Rediscovered in Neapolitan Gestures (1832). Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 4 Illustration for Camember the Sapper by Christophe (1898). Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 5 Jacques Lecoq demonstrates techniques, c. 1958. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 6 William Hogarth observing the life of his time with ferocious humour. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figures 7 and 8 The mime artist Georges Wague in Hearing and Touching. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 9 Étienne Decroux performing corporeal mime at his atelier, c. 1950. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

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Figure 10 Jean-Louis Barrault mimes the death of the mother in Autour d’une mère. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

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Figure 11 Etienne Decroux talks to students of his atelier, including Marcel Marceau (striped shirt), 1947. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

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Figures 12, 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17 Jacques Lecoq demonstrates ‘The Wall’. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 18 Drawings by Gaston Ledoux, taken from Physiognomy and Gestures by Giraudet (1895). Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figures 19, 21, 22 and 24 Jacques Lecoq miming ice skating. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 20 Bronze statue of a discus-thrower made for Lecoq. Joel Anderson.

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Figure 23 Lecoq demonstrates miming ‘pulling’. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 25 Lecoq gives feedback to students. Alain Chambaretaud.

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Figure 26 Acrobatics teacher Christophe Marchand demonstrates stage combat to students. Alain Chambaretaud.

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Figure 27 ‘Arguments’ – scene from Travel Diaries, production by the Jacques Lecoq company in 1959. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 28 Jacques Lecoq with the Dasté ‘noble’ mask, precursor of the neutral mask. Jacques Lecoq collection

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Figure 29 The silence of the neutral mask. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 30 Actor Geoffrey Rush performs in bouffon costume, c. 1977. Dody DiSanto.

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Figure 31 Lecoq dances with a female bouffon, c. 1977. Dody DiSanto.

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Figure 32 Montage of photographs from the L.E.M. Pascale Lecoq.

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Figure 33 Peter Brook and Natasha Parry attend a soirée. Alain Chambaretaud.

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Figure 34 Ariane Mnouchkine and actors rehearsing Richard II at the Cartoucherie de Vincennes. Martine Franck/Magnum.

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Figure 35 Dario Fo with Jacques Lecoq and students from the School. Justin Case.

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Figure 36 Mnemonic, by Complicite, directed by Simon McBurney. Sebastian Hoppe.

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translators’ preface

By publishing Le Théâtre du Geste in 1987 Lecoq broke for the first time with his usual insistence that ideas about acting could only be developed through practice. The book was an edited collection, including essays by a number of different hands, but Lecoq’s work formed the backbone (his written contributions amount to more than a third of the text) and his editorship was visible in the eclecticism of the volume, ranging from the history of acting to the mimetic behaviour of animals, from silent cinema to Japanese Kabuki. Always keenly alive to the visual appeal of the actor, Lecoq chose images that went beyond mere illustration of the text, extending his argument into visual dimensions. The material included here is translated for the first time into English. The choice was made to restrict the English publication to the contributions of Lecoq himself, together with those contextual essays that most centrally explain his place in the history of mime and of acting in Europe, as well as the legacy of his work over the twenty years since this book first appeared. Since he wrote only one other book (Le Corps poétique, published in 1997, and translated as The Moving Body), the writings gathered here represent a precious testimony to his special vision of the art of acting and of its close relationship with the history of mime and of masked performance. His approach in this book is more impressionistic, more centred on the genealogy and aesthetics of his art, less concerned to set out a systematic pedagogy than in the later Moving Body. Lecoq was always acutely conscious of the limitations of language: in his writing one can sense the impatience of a man who had a marvellous physical expressivity at his command, and who feels constrained by the limitations of print. His style is elliptical, poetic, and occasionally difficult to follow, but not because of indulgence in technical jargon: his hallmark is the flash of imaginative insight. He enjoys raising a wealth of interesting ideas, and rather than exhausting any one of them, he leaves it to his readers to pursue them at will. His use of French is always creative, sometimes unorthodox, and he enjoys neologisms, such as ‘le virtuosisme’ (which we have translated by the equally neologistic virtuosoism). Where he uses terms to which he attributes a particular meaning within

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his philosophy of acting, we have tried to preserve the same English translations as occur in The Moving Body (e.g. we have translated le fonds poétique commun as ‘the universal poetic sense’; le bide as ‘the flop’; les bouffons as ‘the bouffons’, etc.). A full glossary of the phrases to which Lecoq attaches a special significance can be found in The Moving Body. The process of changing Jacques Lecoq’s original French work into this English version would not have been possible without the support of Fay Lecoq. We are grateful for her help and encouragement. David Bradby on behalf of the translators: Joel Anderson Luke Kernaghan Dick McCaw David Bradby

editor’s introduction

This actor’s centrality to creative theatre is the subject of this book. First published as Le Théâtre du geste, in Paris in 1987, it came at a significant point in the development of modern theatre. Nineteen sixty-eight had seen a great upsurge of collaborative theatre productions in which actors took centre stage while authors and directors were marginalised. It did not take long for the directors to regain control and the 1970s was the decade in which Patrice Chéreau, Roger Planchon, Antoine Vitez, Peter Stein, Robert Wilson, along with many others, became the new international ‘star’ names. Then in the 1980s there was a swing away from ‘directors’ theatre’ and a general recognition that, without the actor, a director is helpless. This was the decade when many of the most successful companies associated with theatre of movement and gesture were founded: La Compagnie Jérôme Deschamps – Macha Makeieff; Theatre de Complicité; Moving Picture Mime Show. As performers and audiences began to take more interest in the creativity of the actor, the need was felt to explore different training methods and their genealogies. The Stanislavski system seemed unhelpful for actors who were creating their own material rather than starting from a playwright’s text, and so practitioners looked to teachers like Jacques Lecoq for new inspiration. What they discovered was a tradition of mime and of physical expression that drew on a rich heritage going back through the various styles of pantomime to the commedia dell’arte and the Roman mimus. Lecoq’s training methods, developed over the previous thirty years, were unusual in that they encouraged the actor to discover his own style rather than imposing one upon him. So Lecoq was the ideal person to put together this book, charting a wide range of physical theatre styles and practitioners, seeking to trace a particular tradition of actor training and to explore its relationship with pure mime. Theoretical developments in theatre scholarship were favourable to this enterprise: a group of leading theorists, including Bernard Dort and Denis Bablet had set up a new journal in 1970 entitled Travail Théâtral (Theatre Work). Their emphasis was on process rather than product, on the need to understand creative method as much as to assess the outcome.

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They began to redefine the notion of a ‘text’ in the theatre, showing that the old binary opposition between the writer’s text and actor’s performance was untenable, and that the performer also generated a ‘text’, which, properly understood, was extraordinarily rich, combining words, action, movement, gesture, dance, music, etc. Because of this new approach, theatre scholars and critics were able to appreciate, for the first time, the originality of Lecoq’s approach to theatre of movement and gesture. In his practice and his pedagogy, he refuses to allow an academic distinction to be made between text and performance, insisting that the actor ‘writes with his body’ in space, just as the author writes with black lines on white paper. As he explains in the extended interview with Jean Perret (pp. 94–124), he began as an athlete and sportsman, not as an actor, and so his first interest was always in the capacities of the human physique and in the way that every action, every movement that we make, carries meaning, whether we intend it or not. Lecoq’s introduction to the book is an essay on the universal practice of imitation. He points out that it is through mimicking movements that children learn about the world around them, and this copying of gestures and movements seen in others continues into adulthood. Lecoq goes on to ask the question: ‘are gestures universal?’ He points out how many everyday gestures are conditioned by time, place, class and fashion, but he also raises the question of whether there are some aspects of physical expression which might be said to be shared by all humanity. He always wanted to reach down, beneath the idea, beneath the word, to find the physical impulse which, he believed, could be shown to underlie all thinking, all emotion, all expression. Lecoq believed that all human beings share a ‘universal poetic sense’ (my translation of fonds poétique commun, though the word fonds conveys something more real and concrete than a ‘sense’). He believed that the ability to respond creatively, or poetically, depended on the laying down of a series of sediments through the universally shared experiences of being born, nurtured, developing movement and speech, and discovering a world of movement, objects, sounds, colours and other human beings outside ourselves. For an actor to enter into the necessary state of creative openness, he had to be able to relate afresh to these basic discoveries. His approach was not that of a philosopher or anthropologist, however: he did not establish a set of theories which could be explored in discursive form. The exploration of the laws of movement was always practical and could only be experienced in and through the body. But neither was it divorced from the realm of the emotions: on the basis of

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physical experimentation, he was always searching for ways of introducing the imaginative and poetic dimensions. These two aspects, the physical and the poetic, were set side by side in the original title of his second book, published in 1997: Le Corps poétique (translated as The Moving Body). As soon as Lecoq’s interests began to develop from sport towards theatre, he discovered the French tradition of radical experiment, going back to the early years of the twentieth century. In the performers he met, men such as Claude Martin and Jean Dasté, who had worked with Charles Dullin and with Jacques Copeau, he discovered an emphasis on the body, on acrobatics, on mask work, and on a playful approach to performance. In the early 1900s, at a time when great theatre was still equated with great literature, and Parisian stages offered little alternative between respectful productions of the classics and frivolous farce, the reforms of Copeau and his colleagues had brought a welcome emphasis on the creative possibilities of the actor. However, the tradition of mime, too, had congealed into a rigid classicism. Lecoq was at pains to point out that his understanding of mime related to the whole of art of the actor, and was not to be constrained within the limits of purist ‘classical’ mime as embodied in the practice of the two most famous mime artists of the twentieth century: Étienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau. At the same time, Lecoq acknowledged the importance of the contributions of these two great mimes, which is why there are sections devoted to them in the book. But he shared with Jean-Louis Barrault the belief that the art of mime should not be seen as an end in itself; instead it should be made to serve the larger project of revitalising the art of the actor. Like Barrault, he saw the study of mime as part of the development of a complex performance idiom, rich enough to bear comparison with the literary tradition of written plays. Among the people he influenced in this belief, one of the most celebrated is Ariane Mnouchkine, founder of the Théâtre du Soleil in 1964 and its director ever since. Following the upheavals of 1968, the Soleil began by researching traditional clowns (the result was a show entitled simply Les Clowns in 1969) and then went on to develop the working method know as la création collective which was responsible for the three great political shows of the early 1970s: 1789, 1793 and L’Age d’or. This method involved the techniques, learned from Lecoq, of movementbased improvisation, mask work and the strategic developing and unravelling of dramatic situations. Ariane Mnouchkine has often stated that this method of work remains exactly the same, even when she is

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directing a classic text by Shakespeare or Molière. Mnouchkine makes frequent use of masks in rehearsal, even when the final production does not involve masked performances. She also adopts Lecoq’s approach to character, avoiding psychological work derived from Stanislavski, and insisting rather on the physical realities of each situation, in which her actors have to ‘write with the body’. In the interview with Jean Perret in this book, she speaks of how her actors were able to develop a whole language of gesture and she evokes the need for actor-training to ‘free up the physical imagination of the actor’. The achievement of Lecoq’s training method was to do just that: rather than putting actors through prescribed routines, he aimed to help them develop their own special idiom of physical expressivity through opening up their ‘physical imaginations’. The wide range of topics dealt with in this book is evidence of his constant challenge to his students: to look outside the studio, to observe and experience life in all its richness, and to develop a creative, inventive approach to everything they did. He considered the study of movement to be fundamental to a thorough understanding of every aspect of life, and by extension to all the arts. He was convinced that his training was as appropriate for writers, painters and architects as it was for actors: for twenty years he offered courses in the physical exploration of space to trainee architects at the Paris École des Beaux Arts. Although the training pioneered at the Lecoq school initially begins in silent improvisation and ‘neutral’ mask work, it quickly moves on to integrate speech. The students work with a variety of different kinds of text, and the purpose of such work is to get behind verbal means of expression to the underlying creative urge which finds expression through an artist’s creations, in whatever medium. He was proud that, as well as many fine actors such as Geoffrey Rush and Sergi López, he had also trained people who went on to become writers (such as Eduardo Manet, Michel Azama, Yasmina Réza), directors (such as Ariane Mnouchkine, Luc Bondy, Albert Boadella and James Macdonald) and all-round creative theatre artists (such as Dario Fo, Steven Berkoff, Philippe Avron, Joan Font, José Luis Gómez, Simon McBurney, Christoph Marthaler and Paddy Hayter). In 1987, when Le Théâtre du geste first appeared, many of these were just beginning their careers and the final section of the book, entitled ‘An actor’s view of a theatre of movement’, was an attempt by Alain Gautré to catalogue all of the different actors and companies working in this spirit at the time. Gautré’s essay forms a precious record of performers, many of whom were street artists and so were never listed in published records, and some of whom have since disappeared.

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As Simon McBurney wrote in his preface to The Moving Body, Lecoq ‘was a man of vision’; in The Theatre of Movement and Gesture, he set out that vision for the first time in the form of a book. As always, his method was collaborative, and paid homage to other artists working in the same field. And as always, it was highly visual: by juxtaposing text and image, he was able to extend the points made in the different essays and interviews, demonstrating what McBurney calls his ‘ability to see well’. This visionary quality emerges from every page of this book, filled with original insights that remain as relevant today as when they were first published. David Bradby

chapter 1

imitation from mimicry to miming jacques lecoq Lecoq places the art of mime in an anthroplogical perspective, insisting that to imitate is the most universal response of all, since it is the means by which the child learns to understand the world. The reflections on the art of mime and of acting that follow are all grounded in this belief that physical re-enactment is essential to human development, arising from what Lecoq calls ‘the crucible of the imagination’.

Children gain their understanding of the world around them by miming it: they mimic what they see and what they hear. They replay with their whole body those aspects of life in which they will be called on to participate. In this way they learn about life and, little by little, take possession of it. Town squares are the privileged sites in which a secret alchemy reveals itself in the crucible of the imagination. Children play at life in order to prepare themselves for it, after many a shoot-out between cops and robbers, castles built in the sand and stampedes on horseback. Children’s mimicry is a game: they imitate out of pleasure, partly believing themselves to be the object imitated but, like the actor, knowing that it is not altogether true. Children imitate for themselves, actors for an audience whom they will persuade of the truth of his character; but the audience, too, knows that it is not entirely true. As a phenomenon, imitation may be purely voluntary – a deliberate decision to make others believe one is what one is not for one’s own advantage. To deceive an enemy, especially in hunting or in battle, the camouflage of the soldier typically employs foliage: if the forest masks the enemy let us become the forest. And thus history has filled our imaginations with forests on the march, which theatre has then brought to life. Decoy bird-calls allow us to mimic the cry or the song of birds in order to draw them within the range of the hunters. Make believe, deception, creating an illusion, these all belong to the mimicry of the cheat. But he must be skilful. I knew an army doctor who

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Figure 2 Alberto Giacometti, Paris, Galerie Maeght, 1961. Henri Cartier-Bresson.

had a way of detecting people who pretended to be lame to avoid being drafted into the forces: he made them walk backwards. They were at a loss how to do it. Imitation may bring into play characters who are ‘doubles’: a double, chosen for his resemblance to the original, and who practises imitating his behaviour in an attempt to identify himself with him, may be able to deceive the enemy. For example, during the 1939–45 war, General Dwight David Eisenhower was seen in places where he had never been. Imitation is not necessarily a deliberate act: people who live together come to imitate one another without realising it. This can be quite remarkable between long-married couples. Look at how, bit by bit, they have begun to resemble one another, have exchanged gestures, voices, thoughts. Mutual sympathy, love, the habit of being together, of sharing the same ideal, can lead to a resemblance even between people who were quite different to start with.

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In everyday life we can also observe the phenomenon of mimicry: I yawn, you yawn! Why? Are you tired? No, I’m just doing what you’re doing. Why? I don’t know – I can’t help it. When two individuals are having a pleasant conversation they share behaviour: side by side, they walk in step; when they begin to disagree, each one starts to walk at his own pace. If I cross my arms, or my legs, my interlocutor, without realising it, will copy my gesture as he becomes more attentive and all the more so if he finds me hard to understand. I have even taken on the manner of speech of a friend in a situation where he might have got the better of me. We identify with what interests us most strongly. Look at people as they come out of a cinema; on the faces and in the attitudes of the spectators you will see the imprint of one or other of the film’s heroes, according to the preferences of each audience member. At the zoo, the visitors resemble the animals they are looking at and their attitudes will tell us whether they are observing a monkey, and insect or a bear, even if we cannot see the animals themselves. If we look at these spectators’ faces, we find a disturbing reflection of the animal in its smallest movements: mouths that close, noses that extend, eyes that become enlarged. At first the visitors take up position according to their physical and spiritual centre of interest: the swimmers go towards the seals, long-legged people head for the giraffes, corpulent people for the hippopotamus, etc. The second stage is when these identifications reveal themselves as nostalgia for conflicts that have been hard to accept: short people face up to the giraffes, or we see the mocking superiority of thin people in front of the hippopotamus, which makes them laugh because it reminds them of a fat lady. The third stage is one of curiosity: the body leans forward, observes, makes a mimetic effort to enter into the being of the animal, to know it better, to follow it, unconsciously expecting from it something which resembles us and which will never be forthcoming. But if the animal spits a lump of grass in your face, with no warning, you feel upset, disoriented: you failed to read the notice which says: ‘Guanacos, spitting animal.’

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On television, a programme attempted to pose the problem of imitation within a given form. The anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, seated at a small table, expounded his ideas on structuralism. Immediately afterwards, the actor Pierre Fresnay took his place, giving exactly the same explanation, and identifying himself with the person of LéviStrauss. His imitation was not at the level of physique, nor of the image of the man, nor of his voice, but at that of the rhythm of his thought and the movement of his reflections. It was extraordinary! ‘Better than the original’ was the comment of the model to Fresnay. Miming As we can see, imitation may go beyond the simple physical and vocal resemblance favoured by mimics, moving from the mimicry of outer form to the mimicry of meaning. Here we encounter a whole new area which goes beyond pure imitation, the spontaneous imitation of the child, and develops into human miming, whose laws have been established by Marcel Jousse in his study Anthropologie du geste. It is this mime that the actor must approach at the profoundest level of his art. It is implicit in the phenomenon of human life itself. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote that: ‘man is, of all human animals, the one most drawn to mime and it is through miming that he acquires all his knowledge’ (The Poetics, no. 4). Jousse ascribes to the verb ‘to mime’ its profound value: Miming differs from mimicry in this respect: it is not imitation but a way of grasping the real that is played out in our body. A normal human being is ‘played’ by the reality that reverberates in him. We are the receptacles of interactions that play themselves out spontaneously within us. Human beings think with their whole bodies; they are made up of complexes of gestures and reality is in them, without them, despite them. ‘Human beings must be grasped from the soles of their feet to the tops of their heads. There is no such thing as an intelligent head. There is a whole human composite which knows and mimes through its whole body’ (Marcel Jousse, Anthropologie du geste, Resma, 1969). This composite of human interactions can be located in three phases: agent, acting, acted on. Here we find once again the three modes of physical action which animate us:

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I push or I pull I push or pull myself I am pushed or I am pulled. Jousse noted that the structure of the body is bilateral and that this is a function of the way human beings divide up space: in front and behind; to right and to left; above and below; it also affects the way we organise our thought. Hebrew religion has retained the swinging of the body, from forward to backward and from backward to forward during the recitation of the sacred texts, following the oral tradition shared by ancient religions. Gestures, memorised in this way, retain the true word at their profoundest level. So the pedagogic aspect attributed by Jousse to miming is clear. He denounced the audio-visual methods of teaching that were to come as a pedagogy of the legless. The imitation that is practised by the mime artist may thus draw on both mimicry and on miming. The greatest of mimes can touch the very rhythm of life, which they draw from the universal poetic sense, composed of time, space, tension, thrust, colour, light and matter, like the comic actor, who draws from the raw material of life the characters he represents. But this raw material is also present within him.

chapter 2

the gestures of life jacques lecoq

Lecoq expands on his exploration of the physical gestures that we use in everyday life and catalogues some of the manifestations of meaning in the gestures and movements we often think of as ‘natural’, showing how our physical impulses are rooted in intimate aspects of our emotional lives.

Is there a language of gesture? All of us express ourselves – unconsciously or not, with or without the desire to communicate – by means of gesture. Each emotive state leaves traces within us and these lay down ‘physical circuits’ which stay in our memory. That is where the impulses that will turn into gestures, attitudes and movements are organised. But the same gesture, belonging to one of theses circuits, may call upon very different motivations. The gesture which consists in lifting an arm may serve: to point to the sky; in tragedy, to indicate suffering; or to take a pot of jam from a shelf. Every gesture seen sets off within us the resonance of the corresponding circuit, revealing to us an aspect of the other, as well as a part of ourselves. Thus gesture emerges in the same way as language. A number of our movements are quite involuntary and we frequently express our intimate feelings by means of instinctive gestures: I clench my fist or I tap my foot because I am angry, because I object to something or because I detest it. Through observing the effect produced on others by these uncontrolled gestures, we become aware of them and begin to use them deliberately in order to obtain the desired reactions. Little by little, these gestures acquire clarity. By force of habit, we end up assimilating them into our own being and using them without noticing. They have become second nature. We smile – almost all of us – mechanically without really wanting to, when someone is introduced to us for the first time. This smile is an expression of polite greeting. It is far removed from the reaction of the child who cries when faced with an unknown lady who frightens him. Smiling has become a structured language. Most politicians use it when they attempt to create a fixed image of themselves at their most attractive, for a publicity photograph. In order for gesture to become a genuine language, it must be underpinned by a desire to communicate. However, most of the time our gestures escape us, revealing

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our profound nature to others. Even in words – which lend themselves better to dissimulating – intonation and the manner of expression reveal the true movement of life. Let us examine gestures, which form the first language of human beings, for what they contain that is universal, natural, specific and particular. By doing this, we shall move towards the discovery of bodily movement and of its physical laws. Are gestures universal? Are there natural gestures that are common to all countries and that precede any education? What gestures would be used by a hypothetical child of ten who had never met another human being, and who found himself brutally confronted by another individual? Doubtless a gesture of fear, perhaps of flight? The question is not easily resolved. Only by starting from factual observation can we approach the idea of universal gestures. Whatever the country, fear is manifested by means of the same basic movements, in which only secondary aspects are subject to variation: the body contracts, the shoulders rise, the head is protected, the back is

Figure 3 ‘Linardo is a rogue’ – engraving for a book by Andrea de Jorio: Ancient Mime Rediscovered in Neapolitan Gestures (1832). In popular Neapolitan entertainments, so-called ‘street-readers’ would narrate and sing for an illiterate public the high deeds of a hero. Here a young boy, trying to run away, has just accused Linardo (with matching gesture) of being a thief. In reaction, one man gets out a weapon, another wants to go after the boy and is held back by his neighbour. Standing straight and calm, the Cantadore (holding the book) is saying: ‘Let him be, he’s only a child, he has no understanding of the great deeds that concern us.’ Jacques Lecoq collection.

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bent over. All these gestures work together: they are brought forth by the preservation instinct that we all share. In this way, we see how each passion is contained within a common movement: pride jealousy shame vanity

rises up turns aside and hides bows down turns

When we go to the theatre to see a performance in a foreign language, we understand and recognise this language of gesture consisting of movements, of music and of sounds. We are responding to a language that is universal. It is the same for all physical gestures that tend towards that economy of movement needed for the completion of any given action. The body learns by adapting itself to the effort required by a given gesture. When repeated, any gesture becomes selective, eliminating whatever is superfluous. These dynamics of gesture and movement appear as universal because they are organically inscribed within our bodies and belong to the laws of gravity. Gradually, they are shaped, transposed, deviated, hidden or opposed by education or by tactical or diplomatic considerations which are peculiar to each individual, to each country or to each historical period. Gestures in life It is through observing life that we shall come to understand gestures and their variation on gestures that are universal. The mime actor draws the fundamental elements of his performance from this observation of real life, which enriches him and his style of dramatic expression. Street life remains his chief source: there gestures, attitudes and movements present themselves to him as in an open book. The movements of strangers play out for him the human comedy, the pantomime of life which he will need to reproduce on stage. Let’s observe two drivers swearing at one another through the closed windows of their vehicles. Feeling protected by the carriage work and the closed windows, each one identifies himself with the power and the make of his machine. This is when gestures appear, often vulgar and accompanied by pejorative faces pulled at the adversary. Here they allow themselves to play out a ‘major passion’ accompanied by mimicry, close to pantomime, of a kind they would never allow themselves in normal

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circumstances. A whole ‘gestic’ and highly coloured repertoire is exchanged. If this goes further, the windows are wound down and words are exchanged; more often, however, as soon as one of them looks like taking action by getting out of the car, the other takes fright and lets the altercation drop. Differences are frequently evident from one country to another. In Italy, drivers will often get out their cars very soon, grab one another by the collar and shout; then they get back in and drive off, making gestures that prolong the insults exchanged. In France, such gestures would be a prelude to a fight, but in Italy they often mark the end of an argument. Here we have seen the following, played out to varying degrees: Mimicked gestures (vulgar pantomime) Expressive facial gestures (mimicry) Gestures of passion (anger) Gestures of action (getting out of the car and attacking) Gestures of reaction (fear) One could class them in three major groups of gestures: gestures of action gestures of expression gestures of demonstration In all of these are inscribed the transpositions, inversions or deviations of primary gestures. Any classification simplifies things in order to understand them better, but gestures, like life, are not simple, and resist systematisation. Nevertheless, we can see that: gestures of action tend to involve the whole body gestures of expression involve the emotions and the person’s basic states gestures of demonstration punctuate words, or precede, prolong or replace them. Action gestures The actions of the body and hands bring into play the physical efforts of ‘pushing’ and ‘pulling’ and all that follows from them: taking, turning, rising, carrying, opening. Let us try to read a moving body as it walks down the road. In this

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Figure 4 Illustration for Camember the Sapper by Christophe (1898). The way sapper Camember walks involves throwing the front foot forward: the sapper is keen, he is ready to march, even to do the goose step. Jacques Lecoq collection.

action common to everyone, a person’s walk combines with a form of expression that is different for everyone: their gait. Of course this gait may vary according to particular situations (under rain, blown by wind) or according to certain states (waiting, fatigue, joy). Walking and gait Seated at a café, let us observe the ‘street in motion’. Our first impressions are: silhouettes physical bearing costumes Then we notice states or situations: people in a hurry people on holiday people waiting Such general impressions become gradually more accurate if we concentrate our look on a single person. Who can this elderly person be? Does he live close by, or is it the first time he has walked down this street? What’s his job? My imagination takes off. How does he walk? His feet come down rather flatly on the ground as if he were tired; his head and neck seem very stiff. He swings one arm more freely than the other as if he were holding something back. His steps give a jerky movement to his silhouette as if he were accentuating his wish to move forward.

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This walk becomes a gait which is gradually defined beneath our gaze and which may perhaps reveal to us who he is, what he does, what he feels. It will summon up a trade, a post or a business. But who do we take as our norm when we establish these differences? Where is the ‘someone’ who would swing his arms evenly, who would carry his head neither too high nor too low, whose steps would not be jerky, whose feet would touch the ground neither flatly nor on the heel. This ‘person who walks correctly’ is an idea that we carry within us, the idea of a perfect gait, one that is economical and neutral. In other words it does not exist in reality and each one of us walks with different ‘faults’ which go to make us an individual, different from all others. This is fortunate, for a world in which everyone had an ideal way of walking would probably be unlivable and would be like a universe peopled by perfectly programmed robots. But if the correct gait or the neutral gait do not exist, the idea is nevertheless inscribed in us as an image that serves as a reference point allowing us to undertake a coherent set of observations on ways of walking (gait + way of walking = person) which, in themselves, refer us back to the laws of gesture and of movement. For a better understanding of what characterises a gait, we have to study the mechanics of walking and define the movement that goes to make up a mechanical walk. This walk can be deconstructed into five simple phases, themselves subdivided into several sequences, mainly the contraction (absorbing shock) and the extension (pushing forward). 1 2

Double point of contact: both legs are stretched, the forward foot rests on the heel and the rear foot on the front of the foot. Flexing of both legs absorbing the shock of the step.

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Figure 5 Jacques Lecoq demonstrates technique, c. 1958. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Thrust backwards and upward movement of the body. Movement of the back leg which detaches itself from the ground. Pendulum swing forward of the front leg.

The invisible line of the head through space traces an undulation that marks out the alternation between the phases of rest and effort, like the path of a bird in flight. All animal locomotion traces an undulating path through space, or through the body itself, and these undulations can be traced back to the movements of a fish and to sideways and frontal crawling. The hips move in several ways: they move from front to back and from back to front in a rocking movement. They move from right to left and from left to right in a rising and falling movement. Finally, they move from side to side, according to the leg that supports them. Each step brings combines and brings into play all three movements.

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The spinal column absorbs the shock of each step so that the head does not receive it. Flexibly, it bends, stretches and leans. The arms compensate for the movement of the legs with the left arm moving in the opposite direction from the right leg, and vice-versa. This swing of the arm starts at the shoulder. The walking gait offers alternatively a single point of contact, followed by a double contact with the ground; running, on the other hand, uses for each sequence only one point of contact and a movement of the body through the air. Walking remains attached to the ground. Through a successive series of overbalancing movements, which put us at risk of falling, and for which we compensate each time, we progress forward. We are bound by our skeleton and by our human physical mechanics to the laws of gravity. Whatever we do, we carry within us these inevitable factors like a physical memory; every one of our actions, our passions, our desires refers us back to them. Our gait is the personalised form of mechanical walking: it draws it into the world of sensibilities, of dynamics and of dramatic events in which space comes into play. Let us observe a range of people as they walk along. Some appear to be pushed from behind with no real desire to move forwards; others seem to be pulled forwards as if irresistibly drawn towards a goal; others again walk prudently, holding back their desire to move forward, displaying both fear and audacity. Such gaits constitute a relatively constant element of the personality of each individual before particular circumstances are brought into play. The distance of a walker’s feet, one from the other, forms an angle that is wider or narrower, which conveys the degree of openness of the body. Nevertheless two contradictory attitudes may combine. The attitude of Charlie Chaplin is open with the lower half and closed with the upper half, an attitude emphasised by the large feet below and by the small jacket stretched tight over the shoulders above. This attitude brings generosity (open lower body) into conflict with fear (closed upper body). The legs are more or less bent and spread. Peasants take a broad stance with legs wide apart so as to retain their balance on difficult ground. They retain this attitude even in town and it sometimes passes from generation to generation. If Groucho Marx, on the other hand, bends his legs, it’s a deliberate tactic. He crouches low at times when he begins to walk fast, just like aircraft with variable geometry.

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The hips are tilted forwards or backwards. Harlequin arches his back, with his hips tilted backwards like the child that he is in some ways. The old man reverses this attitude: the flexing muscles are stronger than the extensors. Shoulders and arms: in masculine walks, the arms swing generously. In a gymnastic walk, this movement is amplified as a sign of strength, and the shoulders remain fixed. Military styles of marching pick up this movement: some over-emphasise the swing of one arm, while the other is kept rigid, shouldering a weapon. If the weapon is too heavy, both arms are occupied and remain rigid but the legs kick up exaggeratedly in the goose-step style. In feminine walks the swinging of the arms is replaced by that of the shoulders which, to compensate for the movement of the legs, move forwards and backwards. Transvestites often use this movement to define the feminine aspect that they are seeking to express. The head: the carriage of the head proclaims the psychological character of the gait: the head lowered is protective; the head carried high is dominating; the head leaning to one side is sentimental. We think of the lowered head of the child caught doing something wrong or the high, dominating head of Mussolini. The change of a head from low to high, or from high to low is determined by a reflection that brings either the past or the future into play. Our way of walking is subject to various influences, such as our profession our situation, or the circumstances of our lives; all of these are reflected in our gait. Professions Each profession carries its own imprint and determines the movements made in walking. Take the recognisable gait of the model, for example, placing her feet as if on a tightrope. Even if attitudes vary with fashion, the gait is always a sliding one, intended to show off the clothes rather than the model wearing the clothes. The classical dancer, used to attacking the ground with the front of the foot and not with the heel, pushes against the ground as she rises on the back foot. The body builder, with over-developed muscles of the shoulders and thorax, which prevent any suppleness in articulation, swings his arms with a rolling movement which lifts the shoulders and is typical of those who want to appear ‘hard’.

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Situations Gestures of action may vary still more – modifying the gait and the behaviour of the person walking – so as to take on different meanings in different situations. All of us have, at one time or another, experienced difficulties of behaviour, especially when we have had to walk in front of others who are looking at us and judging us. For example, the child who, when his name is called out, walks up to the stage to receive his prize; or again the insurance agent who must walk right across the room to the desk behind which the Managing Director sits – preferably with the light behind him – and can observe him at his leisure until he reaches the moment of liberation in speech. I remember one day at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, during a session in which each actor introduced himself to the others, the great Harlequin Marcello Moretti suffered from stage fright so much that he lost the coordination of arms and legs: his normally fluent walk became a stammering one. Offstage an actor always appears diminished, having become a prisoner of the image that he presents to the public. Observe, when going through customs, the behaviour of people who have nothing to declare and who, feeling afraid nonetheless, assume the awkward look of those who do have something to declare – or vice versa. It’s a game: believing, making believe, doubting, daring. All these observations are part of playing and performing for the pleasure of the public and for that of the actor as well. In his Théorie de la démarche (Theory of gait), the writer Honoré de Balzac sets us off on the path of direct observation of life. 1 2

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Gait is the physiognomy of the body. The look, the voice, the breathing, the gait are identical, but since it is beyond human power to keep watch at the same time over these diverse and simultaneous expressions of his thought, look for the one that tells the truth: it will allow you to know the whole man. Rest is the silence of the body.

I have often followed someone, at a reasonable distance, imitating his gait without him noticing. In this way I have enjoyed entering

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his ‘walking being’ and I have gathered sensory impressions of him, reading his body through my own, sensing him from within his movement. By observing the gait of passers-by as you sit on a café terrace, you will learn a great deal about yourself. The mime actor, by replaying it, can increase his knowledge of the human comedy. As we have seen in the case of walking and gait, gestures of action are all linked to physical effort. Gestures of expression, on the other hand, manifest the emotional part of human life. Expressive gestures The face, the hands and the body display feelings, passions and dramatic states, presenting to the observer permanent behaviour patterns natural to the person’s character, or occasional behaviour revealed by special situations such as anger or fear. To request money from a miser sets in motion a set of physical reactions and behaviour that reveal his avarice, although this would be impossible to detect if one were simply to observe him watching television. One cannot read other people directly: each person conceals from the world a secret part of himself, out of fear, or pride, or mistrust. This is what gestures of expression can reveal, without our realising it. The things people say and their behaviour while saying them do not always fit together. Only children display their feelings directly. I cannot stick my tongue out at someone I love without causing a scandal, and only very small children get away with this, surrounded by the embarrassed smiles of those around them who make excuses for the liberty they have taken: ‘Oh! Pay no attention, he’s just a child!’ To show one’s feelings is not polite. Society comes along with its rules of conduct and corrects such spontaneous behaviour. Society fights against natural, instinctive gestures which appear vulgar: As a guest in a friend’s house, if I feel like scratching, I must not do so; neither must I stretch out on the carpet. But if scratching and stretching out on the carpet were the norm in this society, I should be obliged to do these things, even if I did not feel like it.

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Figure 6 William Hogarth observed the life of his time with ferocious humour, ridiculing his contemporaries. He drew inspiration from the theatrical mimes of his day and catalogued human expression in all its diversity. Jacques Lecoq collection.

In both these cases, a code of good conduct has been imposed on instinctive behaviour. Such rules of good conduct can transform gestures and movements that are natural and spontaneous into gestures that become second nature. For example, in certain eastern countries, kissing a lady’s hand in greeting is natural and widespread in all parts of society, although it echoes a society long vanished. Here already we can see the gesture that conveys an appearance, one that is presented for others to read.

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If you are too hot, do not show it. If you are too cold do not show it. This display, the opposite of what one is actually feeling, may be a sign of pride: if you are hungry do not show it. It eases relations between people, but it also encourages people to pretend in all kinds of ways. It is not always best to say or to show what is true. One of the rules of polite society is to make the other person believe that he or she is the better, the lovelier, the stronger, etc. When this intention is reciprocated, a competitive game of deference is produced in Japanese style, each person bowing lower than the other. For my part, I have never understood what can bring a stop to this ritual. The scale of actions that make up this bowing ritual begins with: lowering the eyes. One should never look the king full in the eye. In the mimed dances of Australian aborigines that were shown at Peter Brook’s theatre, the Bouffes du Nord, all the women lowered their eyes in submissiveness, keeping them permanently fixed on the ground. One lowers the head to greet someone else. One bows down to acknowledge the audience. One bows and walks backwards for a bow in the French style. One genuflects in front of the Queen of England. One bows and humbles oneself and this can reach extremes: the phrase ‘to grovel in front of someone’ carries an image that suggests an internal characteristic of being willing to stoop to anything. In the polite greetings of traditional Japanese society, the inferior exhales in front of the superior who inhales. The thorax of the subordinate is lowered in front of that of the superior person, who compensates by the inverse movement; equilibrium is respected. Hierarchy is confirmed through physical manifestations. Space, too, comes into play. In the Charlie Chaplin film The Great Dictator, (1940) Hitler and Mussolini, together in a hair-dressing salon, each operate their adjustable barbers’ chairs to get higher than the other. Authority attempts to dominate the other, or to lower him, but with the minimum of gestures: to gesticulate would be like speaking to no purpose. Recognised authority appears calm, reasonable and motionless. Look at the President of the Republic: he walks with a measured step, his face is impassive on every occasion and does not betray the movement of his feelings; his arms hang down beside his body, his hands are relaxed, all ready for the waxwork museum.

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On the other hand, when authority tries to take or to recover lost power, it will try to get the public on its side by a voice that swells, an emphatic rhythm and sentences that are hammered out. Hitler used to have music by Wagner played before his speeches to work the crowd up, and then he would follow on using the same rhythm, ramping it up with wild gesticulations which no longer appealed to reason. In these circumstances, the gesture of expression takes on a paroxystic dimension which betrays feelings so exaggerated that they may amount to illness. Indicative gestures These form part of descriptive language located principally in the hands. The orator who uses gestures to punctuate his phrases provides a spatial delineation of the very structure of his speech, and places the words within it: here, before you, will appear . . . This pantomime accompanying words, this language in effect, is at its best when the words disappear entirely: for example, the window dresser standing out in the road, indicating to the person inside where the different objects on display should be placed; or the member of the ground staff at the airport, guiding the plane to its place on the apron. In these examples a sort of pantomime is the result of distance or noise preventing the use of speech, and this gives rise to gestures that can replace words. The prohibition of speech, in monasteries or prisons, gives birth to gesture. Secrecy may also create the need to make oneself understood without being heard. Those who are deaf and dumb have no other means of communication. All such gestures are part of the language of the hands, implicating the arms as well to a greater or lesser degree, and they refer us back to pantomime. Popular gestures Popular speech makes use of vivid gestures. Every country has its own repertoire and this street-language, often employing slang expressions, finds its richest flowering of gestures in Italy. Gestures take shape in relation to a particular part of the body. Most frequently it is the head: tapping a finger against the temple means that

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the person being addressed is ‘crazy’. This gesture can be magnified or given greater force: screwing the index finger into the temple as if one were making a hole indicates that one’s adversary is an idiot. The Italians strike their hands against their foreheads two or three times, fingers bent together, like the clapper of a bell. Tapping one’s stomach is the sign of hunger; tapping the heart, a sign of love; tapping the belly the sign that an actor has registered a flop (failed to get any applause); tapping the thigh is a sign of extreme delight. We all tap particular parts of our bodies to express something. Here are a few such expressions: pulling one’s ear screwing one’s finger into one’s cheek clicking a finger against one’s teeth slicing into the cheek with the thumb covering the whole face with an open hand patting one’s nose with the index finger To understand them and to add to this list is to take part in the observation of a whole language of images. Such gestures may also take on an obscene character. In his book La mimica degli antichi investigate nel gestire Napolitano (1832), Andrea de Jorio divides gestures into three categories: serious, neutral, obscene. Neapolitan street pantomime is rich in gestures that are transposed or adapted from realistic images and it remains a great reservoir of such gestures, often dismissed as vulgar and inadmissible in polite society. Insults often have their source in images of the parts of the body thought of as shameful. The phallic image suggested by thrusting up a forearm is common currency but there are many nuances. Here are a few: rubbing thumb and index finger together closing the hand and letting it swing the same thing but with the other hand tapping the forearm from in front a small forearm thrust with the arm bent and the other hand tapping it from behind a grand forearm thrust, the same thing with the whole arm stretched the super-forearm thrust throwing up the stretched arm and tapping hard on the back of the neck with the other hand

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the clandestine reduction of this last movement, reducing the space, bringing the arm down to the index finger and the tap of the hand to the tap of a finger. Things that are not considered polite to show are shown openly or are designated by an analogous image. In his film The Gold of Naples (1954), the great actor Eduardo de Filippo gives a magnificent technical demonstration of the gesture known as pernacolo, showing just how to place both hands correctly so as to be able to blow between them and produce the characteristic ‘fart’ sound. Insults have their origin in the lower boby: in Sicily you show your buttocks as a sign of revolt; sailors tap their private parts or display them to the storm to make the wind drop, or to ward off ill luck. In antiquity mime artists also used to spread these gestures and where often censured for obscenity. But opinions constantly vary on all of this. Everything depends, when deciding whether something is healthy or obscene, on the intentions of those who produce such gestures, the effect they intend to have and the state of those who observe them. Long live Rabelais! A codified language Today the language of deaf and dumb people is in fact a code that is foreign to us and which we have to learn in order to communicate with them. Deaf and dumb people understand us a good deal better than we understand them, since they are able to read our lips and the movements of our vocal expression. The first deaf and dumb language made use of signs that were close to theatrical pantomime, and thus clear to all, just like those one uses instinctively when one has to communicate in a foreign country without knowing its language. Let me quote from a manual written by the Abbé Lambert in 1865, Le Langage de la physionomie et du geste. This is a sort of dictionary of gesture, intended for teaching deaf and dumb people, and at the same time was also supposed to help in the understanding of their confessions. The gestures that replace words are typical of the pantomime of the period. To greet someone: make the gesture of removing one’s hat. To understand: hold the index finger against the forehead which one then suddenly raises.

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To signify ‘sap’ one must construct a series of words: tree, life, rise. Tree: place the right elbow on the left hand, with the forearm raised like a tree trunk, and the fingers spread like branches with a slight trembling movement. Life: form a V with the fingers of each hand and raise each V up from the base of the chest to level of the shoulders. To rise: simulate this action with hands and feet. There were even systems in which each gesture defined a letter, allowing words to be spelled out. Little by little, the early forms of picture language became stylised and perfected; ellipses were invented. The process was similar to that of Chinese writing which, starting from a drawing that reproduced reality, was simplified to a point of abstraction. Television programmes now often show simultaneous translations from verbal to gestural language. Eliminating the gap between verbal and gestural enunciation improves the understanding of people who cannot hear. Gestures too can be codified to the point where they become symbols. Although created rationally, symbolic gestures may join together in rituals which make use of more or less stylised images, seeking to transcend visible signs so as to make contact with the invisible. Religions are the source of countless gestures of this kind.

One gesture, one space Each country displays its own particular way of moving in its gestures of action, its expressive and indicative gestures. Gestures are learned through the mimetic process from childhood onwards, perfected over generations, handed down from parents to children. These gestures become effectively signs of recognition, when personalised within a particular group, or cultural milieu, or community linked by interest or activity. To say ‘goodbye’ in Italy one makes the sign of closing and opening the fingers on the palm of the hand while saying ‘ciao’. It is a charming sign and perhaps conveys the sense of a desire to see the person again. In England, the hand is held up, palm outwards and waved from right to left with no movement forwards or backwards; this ‘cheerio’ is neutral.

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In France, the hand and the arm together are waved backwards and forwards which often seems to convey the sense of ‘clear off!’ These examples contain three different directions for saying ‘goodbye’: towards oneself, parallel, and towards the other. Two countries, the United States and Japan, use gestures in opposite ways. In the United States, especially in Texas, people do not allow their postures to become fixed. Their movements flow without making angles, and these movements appear very youthful, comparable to those of children who never stand still in a fixed posture. Their ample gestures recall the wide open spaces. The swing of their bodies and legs is governed by a functional economy. Once seated, their bodies find no function for their legs so they stretch them out, cross them, etc. In the course of a conversation, you can see how an object, grabbed by an outstretched arm, a glass for example, remains in the hand and follows the movements that result from the person’s speech. In Japan, personal space small. In Tokyo, at street crossings, dense crowds pass one another without ever touching. Imagine the same thing happening in Texas: it is impossible – everyone would fall over! And so, when they penetrate Texan space, the Japanese always travel in groups. The Japanese remain attached to ancient codes of politeness which demand that one presents oneself to another person face on, head and body on the same plane, keeping the head rigid. One may not look the other person in the eye while the body is sideways on: one must be entirely present to him and this results in a contraction of the trapezoidal shoulder muscles, causing the neck to be rigid. In order to compensate for this muscular contraction caused by ancestral etiquette, the Japanese have invented a small contraption composed of a handle and a small wooden sphere, which allows one to relax that part of the body by means of repeated tapping. In the streets of Japanese cities you often see people tapping on their trapezoidal muscles in this way. Interestingly, these tapping contraptions are provided in railway stations: you can put a coin in the slot, place yourself in the appropriate position and the machine does the work for you. It is worth while noting that rigidity of the head on the neck corresponds to a rigidity of the hands and wrists: flexible head, flexible hands; rigid head, rigid hands. Japanese bodies are attached to rigid body positions. The play of space is important in the quality of gestures. It is always regrettable to see someone pouring wine from a bottle and inclining it

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by a reverse movement of the hand, reversing the spatial order, moving from inward to outward. The effect of this gesture is refusal to share the space of the other person – it is an insulting way of serving him. On the other hand, pouring by turning the bottle inwards is a sign of consideration and not of ignorance.

Costume: a different body At any given period one finds gestures in the space around us which do not have any recognisable origin. One says ‘It’s the latest thing’. These unique gestures or ways of moving are willed into being by a whole group of people who recognise themselves in them. They are specially related to fashion and to a certain body-image. People wish for a different body and this will take shape by means of clothing. Let us consider this phenomenon starting with the standing body. The human body stands upright on the ground in the form of an upside down triangle: the narrowest part is below and the broadest is above. We are positioned on our feet, which are positioned on the ground, of which they are part. We are linked to our feet by our ankles. Now clothing covers the body in order to protect it from the weather, but also to make it different from what nature has provided, diminishing or augmenting different parts of the body according to the vagaries of fashion and of a given body-image. Grand outfits invert the pyramid of the body by diminishing the upper part and expanding the lower part; they set up an idea of stability which rejects the difficulties of balance and movement in favour of a monumental, immobile body. In this way kings, great leaders, priests, all wear outfits based on the inverted pyramid: they remain seated while everyone moves around them. Certain parts of the body are delicate: the joints of the wrist or ankle and those parts that are narrow such as the waist and the neck. Jewels are placed at these points and sit well there since they are held in place. Bracelets and necklaces are like handcuffs, collars and chains that are worn by prisoners; even garrottes occupy the same place, for better or for worse, for life or for death. Other ornaments encircle the powerful parts of the body: forehead, shoulders, chest, belly, thighs, arms, forearms. They act like a belt or a hem, to show off those parts better.

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The cowboy’s belt is worn on his hips like the low belt of the rural Harlequin, or like the belt of the Japanese kimono, giving an impression of strength. A fringe on the forehead, stocking tops half-way up the thighs, the edge of the Empire-style décolleté, the fringed belt of the belly dancer, bracelets worn mid-arm, all these are ways of revealing the sensual body. Jewels on a submissive body encircle the most delicate parts; ornaments on the displayed body encircle the most powerful parts. Following changes in fashion, belts are worn higher or lower, like the temperature level, affecting the whole outfit. The same is true of the length of skirts. Look at Bip, the character created by Marcel Marceau: all his hems are high; his hat is worn high on his head; his eyebrows are raised; his whole stature is drawn up to his sternum; his trouser-legs are short and reveal his ankles. Harequin is the exact opposite. Everything tends downward towards the ground: his hat is pulled down and hides his forehead, his body-stature is low at the hips. With Charlie Chaplin, as with clowns, the character is double, in conflict with itself: his hat, eyebrows and jacket give upward movement; his trousers and big shoes move down. All these clues tell us things about the character. Clothes hide defects: for short legs, high heels; for bow legs, long skirts. Clothes can also show off good points: a mini-skirt for the legs and a décolleté for the breasts and the shoulders. An interplay exists between clothes and the body, accentuating or countering its shapes. A thin person will wear figure-hugging clothes; a fat person will add to their bulk by wearing wide, floating materials. A ‘counter-costume’ both hides and reveals through a conflict between body and costume: a thin woman in a wide, floating costume, a fat woman in a dress that hugs her body. Fashions change in order to please all those who, from time to time, need to hide or to reveal some part of themselves, led by dress designers whose talent is to predict the desires of the public and to please everyone in turn. Beneath the costume is the body which also follows the changes in fashion, altering its attitudes and shapes and creating needs. In 1900 feminine fashion silhouetted the body in tight corset and a ‘wasp-waist’. By way of compensation it accentuated the breasts and the buttocks with the hips tilted so as to emphasise the arch of the back. Women who lacked natural advantages made up for it by wearing false buttocks and devices to lift or enlarge the breasts.

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With the 1914–18 war, women had to replace men in the factories. The previous silhouette was not suited to work, so women abandoned it and became flatter. In 1920, having emancipated themselves and learned to act like men, they took to masculine hair cuts and to smoking. They liked to show off at the smart seaside resort of Deauville, walking greyhounds even thinner than themselves. In 1940–44 the female body-shape once again became fleshy: pin-ups of Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe decorated the barracks of soldiers hoping for better times. Then came the rediscovery of the body in a different way by psychoanalysts. The plexus of passions which had puffed up the chests of those in 1914–18, as if in expectation of the medals they would attract, was wiped out, leaving the head speaking only to the pelvis. In this way, from time to time, the body changes from one shape to its opposite, according to the period. It would be interesting to put several of these different shapes together, one after the other, so as to rediscover through a dance the change of body fashions through time. In his book A propos d’art, de forme et de mouvement (Maloine, 1963), Professor Paul Bellugue gives us his reflections on fashion in history. He points out that in France during the ‘directoire’ period the women known as ‘les incroyables’ would wrap an enormous scarf around their necks, which seemed like a protection from the guillotine, whereas at the time of the revolution Georges Danton wore an open-necked shirt as a kind of provocation. Two bodies may play out, between them, the game of freedom and constraint: either by means of clothes leaving freedom for gestures, or through clothes which discipline the body so that it becomes different, transformed by an idea into a style. The body as we see it today Nowadays there is much talk of energy and people fear its loss: you have to improve your energy, be a ‘fighter’. Like a barometer, the body reflects this quest. Today everyone has to be dynamic, juiced up, punchy, fighting fit. Going to the gym is an established way to liberate beneficial energy in cheerful, repetitive exercises done to repetitive musical accompaniment so as to rediscover one’s vitality. Being fit is the name of the game. People run. They jog along behind the exhaust pipes of our polluted cities. There are special intensive training sessions for people to ‘let it all hang out’.

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Gilbert Bécaud’s Monsieur 100,000 volts was a satirical take on this fashion. But we can see its violence on any street corner. The body reflects its society, its milieu and its period. Originally sport depended on strength: muscular power frightened the opposing enemy. Soldiers would throw out their chests, showing their iron cross, their iron fist, their iron discipline and morale. First came the period of building with durable iron and steel, the Eiffel tower planted on the strength of its four great pillars. Later came the discovery of upward thrust: rangy figures appeared on the sporting apparatus, using the long pendulum of their body to accomplish great feats. This was followed by the time of suppleness, with exercises on bars, the splits, stretching, lengthening, and other contortions, emphasising the plasticity of the muscles. And this was followed in its turn by the time of meditation, the return to emptiness brought by oriental attitudes. The Zen club of New York attracts American widows who sit in the lotus position and await the arrival of the absent gods, confusing true and false practice of yoga. The public is fascinated by sport when it can watch others doing it. Sport becomes a show. Skaters used to skate. Now they dance beneath the follow-spots, dressed in music-hall costumes, wearing floating chiffon. The Olympic Games lay on the greatest of shows for the greatest of crowds, to the glory of the host country. Teams of pianists play while a man runs in order to beat a record pushing through the crowds of singers and dancers, and nobody can see him. One always dies in war, but one can also die in the stands of the stadium, as the marathon runner finishes his race. Other, more restful bodily techniques are there, with their own particular vocabulary: cool, relax, chill, etc., enrolling the psyche in their programme to ‘get in touch with the inner self’. An avalanche of strange terms cascades down upon the body and buries it: every taste is catered for. Individuals are divided into two groups: the violent who are fed up and break things up because it liberates them (at least that is straightforward) and those who are helpless, but who share general anxieties. The latter can choose between pure yoga and energy yoga – even high altitude energy for those who cannot do it down in the valley. Bodily creativity is the science of the soul. So many courses are offered – bioenergy, emotional therapy, Gestalt, primal, bioanalytical, naturopathological, psychotheatre, without forgetting medical and social sophrology, antigymnastics, soft gymnastics and the oriental tendencies: Tai Chi Chuan, Sens-hui meditation,

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transcendental meditation, with metamorphic massage, and other methods designed after the promoter’s name. The reason for the quantity of methods that have appeared must mean that there is great demand. All these complex terms, shrouded in mystery, are in the service of a better life and the need to feel good, ultimately, the need to ‘be oneself ’.

chapter 3

from pantomime to modern mime jacques lecoq In this section Lecoq sets out a genealogy of the theatre of movement and gesture, from the famous Pierrots of nineteenth-century French theatre, to the beginnings of modern mime and the central place of movement studies in the renewal of theatre led by Jacques Copeau in the early years of the twentieth century.

Once he had developed Pierrot’s pedigree, by creating a character descended from Gilles, Deburau established pantomime with the Funambules’ audience, who understood everything immediately, quite unlike the elaborate visual codes that were developed after him. Afterwards, Pierrot’s silent torch was passed down a line of white-faced men, before being extinguished by Marcel Marceau’s own white face. Any organic evolution of a character must deviate from its origins, and so the simple and clumsy Gilles matured into numerous Pierrots, each increasingly cunning and refined. He went from being small to being big, from a carrier of flour sacks to a dancer, swapping the constraints of the earth for the air, by way of the moon. Likewise, the hardy Harlequin of the Bergamot Valleys found himself a dancer and acrobat alongside Pierrot and white pantomime. As soon as the role of Pierrot became unclear, theatre’s reformers swept the stage and reclaimed the space. Jacques Copeau set the actor free from artifice and helped him to discover the body and its power to evoke. Modern mime was born in this way, with Decroux and Barrault. But where is Pierrot today? He can certainly be found in the nostalgic imagination that modern mime continued to bring to life in the 1960s, especially in the East, in Russia, Czechoslovakia, and Hungary. Pierrot may have left France, but the white-faced figure can still be found in Marceau, who is closer to Charlie Chaplin than to Pierrot, and who has added the tragic grin of Japanese actors. He no longer performs pantomime. He mimes. He brings to life. He walks in the wind as though blown by a real wind. The death of one form did not precede the birth of the other; the two overlapped. The old form endures today, traversing the space of the newborn form, like Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco. In the same way, as in ‘avant-garde’ theatre,

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Beckett wrote Endgame, but it was Ionesco who played out the endgame with The Chairs; one finished what the other began. Thus with Marceau and his imitators, one form of mime ends only for a theatre of gesture to take shape, renewing the art of the actor, its themes and space. The death of Pierrot The first twenty-five years of the twentieth century saw the end of French pantomime and the beginning of modern mime. The end of one type of theatre gave way to the beginning of another, despite their unifying silence. However, there is no continuity but rather rupture between pantomime and mime, as there is between death and birth. Today’s world is difficult to understand, since the end of one thing

Figures 7 (above) and 8 (opposite) The mime artist Georges Wague in Hearing and Touching. In a lecture given on 19 January 1913 Georges Wague declared: ‘The greatest enemies of pantomime, the ones responsible for killing it, are those mime artists who, having reduced it to incomprehensibility, insisted on continuing with something so pointless’. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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can run alongside the beginning of another, and all of our attention has to focus on what will happen next. Frequently, the fear of tomorrow’s unknown makes us look to the past, to antiquity or to trends, turning back and claiming to discover meaningful re-interpretations. Enduring traditions are found hidden in the depths of silence and not in the typical appearance of a form. If the gesticulatory remnants of pantomime of the nineteenth and early twentieth century denied the spoken word, then mime, in denouncing speech, subsequently gave power back to dialogue by bringing silence to the theatre. Pantomime was a silent performance with scenery. Props and costumes written with actions and dialogue that the mimed gestures would translate, again in relative silence. As newspaper columns of the time tell us: ‘the audience participated in the silence of the play with its murmuring, all accompanied by evocative music.’

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Deburau-Pierrot Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Deburau made Pierrot the star of pantomime. He was the real originator of this character, around 1830 at the Théâtre des Funambules on the Boulevard du Temple. How did Deburau’s Pierrot move? We know nothing, or very little, about Deburau’s manner of miming. All he left us were some family souvenirs so subsequently each mime had to reinvent its own language. In his book Gesture, Dr Hacks, who was a mime artist himself, tells us: a good mime artist must be 1.70 metres tall, firmly muscled, with a chest measurement of 91 centimetres, an ability to lift 95 kilos, a dorsal resistance of 29, a leg extension of 44, and at least a 36 centimetre arm circumference. His weight should not exceed 60 kilos and 700 grammes. The prototype should resemble as much as possible, Rouffe, who mastered mime and who was much admired by Hacks. Too bad for anyone else! It would have been useful to have had some details about the quality of the gestures, their richness. Of course it is difficult to discuss gestures and nothing, except imagining them, can make it easier. Deburau was big and tall, both physically and facially. We know that his entrance on stage at the Théâtre des Funambules was on his hands and that he exited via the window with a jump called de fenêtre (‘via the window’). We also know that he achieved a degree of expression that could communicate all of the nuances of the soul, far more effectively than the spoken word. It is said that Deburau hardly moved during his expressive performances. It was in his ‘reactions’ that the subtlety of his emotions became apparent, especially in his face, as ‘action’ engaged the whole body. Paul Eudel, in his Champfleury and Pantomime (1892), mentions discrete gestures, winks, grimaces and shivers. Being a tightrope walker, Deburau had a sense of balance and doubtless used this in other contexts. His white costume with its long sleeves enlarged his movements and it is likely that he used it to its full potential, playing with either opening it out completely or bringing it all in like a bundle of rags, or even stretching it like a white pole. As with commedia dell’arte characters such as Harlequin or Pantaloon, Deburau’s Pierrot is a distinct character defined by his costume. However, he can appear in other uniforms depending on his role or occupation; the Deburau Gallery shows us a whole range of characters

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based around the white costume: Pierrot as priest, soldier, shopkeeper, etc., always with the white face, wig and moustache. Harlequin, Pierrot’s ultimate rival, has survived in French pantomime. We can follow his evolution from the zanni of the commedia dell’arte of the 1500s to the dancer of the twentieth century. The early zanni (naïve, cunning, clumsy and rustic) bears little resemblance to the elegant and unreliable rogue of pantomime, who played the villain alongside Pierrot’s moralist (see Paul Arène’s pantomime La Statue (The Statue)). Deprived of the starring role by Pierrot, Harlequin became a supporting character. Pierrot’s pantomimes require solutions to practical problems such as turning spoken text into gestures. When Pierrot tells Columbine ‘if you see Harlequin I will kill you’, it becomes necessary to find a language that can be immediately understood by the working-class audience, who were the real audience of pantomime and, through watching the performances, had begun to learn to appreciate the nuances of gesture. A certain complicity developed between the mime artists and the audience. The hand became a sort of performer: pointing, drawing and suggesting. Thus was born a genuine syntax that did not depend on a literal transcription of each word in its original order. Here was an unspoken and visual language. ‘If you see Harlequin I will kill you’, could therefore be shown with the gesture: ‘You see Harlequin not me you kill’. The hand belonged to the arm, which belonged to the body, and the face clarified the intention as shown by the body. I do not think that the mime of individual words in white pantomime was as elaborate as during the time of Roman pantomime. As the Roman performers were masked they could not rely on facial expressions, which the audience would not have been able to see anyway, given the large distances between them and the stage. Everything had to be shown through hand movements and body attitudes. We should not forget that ancient mime actually managed to illustrate philosophical ideas! The audience at the Théâtre des Funambules understood everything immediately without having to be introduced to an overly complicated set of codes. The succession of men in white From start to finish, white pantomime evolved through a series of Pierrots. Handed down from father to son, from teacher to pupil, yet always held by a talented actor who mastered the part, Pierrot was a character that never ceased to grow.

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According to Dr Hacks, Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Deburau was not a mime but rather a performer in the tradition of circus clowns and tightrope walkers who had not yet achieved a true mimed language. His son, Jean-Charles Deburau, and then Paul Legrand, subsequently inherited this tradition. Then came the arrival of Louis Rouffe (1849–83), born in Marseilles but with roots in Corsica, who further developed the language of gesture and sought to define a word for word expression, liberating the hand from the rest of the body. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, Marseilles was to become the capital of pantomime. In reclaiming this doorway to the Mediterranean, pantomime rediscovered the birthplace of the self-expression of ancient gesture as originally established in Sicily and Naples. Séverin (1863–1930), also born in Marseilles, followed soon after. Then came Georges Wague (1874–1958) who reacted against the development of increasingly precise codes. He championed a modern pantomime where gesture expressed emotion over a literal translation. He claimed that the error was precisely in trying to translate words with gesture. It was Wague who advised Jean-Louis Barrault on his watch theft pantomime in Marcel Carné’s film, Les Enfants du Paradis (1945). Wague was the last in the long line of Pierrots. And so, over the course of nearly a century, we can see the three stages of the evolution of gesture, from pantomime to mime: 1 2 3

The direct, spontaneous and silent language of the body in action. The elaboration of a set of codes, hand as word and face as idea. Reformation after the ossification of the codes and the search for emotional expression.

Poor Pierrot! Gradually pantomime withered. Pierrot went into mourning, replacing his white clothes with black ones. He left the theatre for the cabaret, helped by the painter Willette who, through his drawings, gave us the exploits of a nocturnal Pierrot dressed in tails. A century after his creation, Pierrot effectively died in 1925, frozen forever in porcelain, sitting on a moon and hanging in department store windows, and his face even graced chocolate boxes, a veritable ‘greedy Pierrot’. There is still a certain nostalgia for those times evident in the many mime artists with their painted black tears. Far removed from the cheerful flour covered rustic, we have a Pierrot who cries, and the current taste

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for all things retro has made those figures that we once displayed on our mantelpiece fashionable again. It is worth noting that, even when Harlequin and Pierrot were central characters, there was often a doubling up of roles. This is why we have plays with two Pierrots or two Harlequins. However, when this phenomenon ended, the female counterpart, Harlequin’s Esmeraldina or Pierrot’s Columbine, were replaced in favour of female versions of the character: Harlequin – Harlequinette, Pierrot – Pierrette. At the 1925 Expo in Paris, the main theatre staged a closing performance by the mime Farina and his company. Farina was an actor seen both on stage at the Paris Opera and in film, and who frequently performed mimed songs. Pantomime still existed, but it had been exiled to the Tivoli gardens in Copenhagen where the last descendents of the nineteenthcentury mime artists had transformed it into children’s theatre. However, a new movement had already begun, taking pantomime into the cinema. The escapades of Pierrot, Columbine, Harlequin and Cassandra could now be found projected through many magic lanterns. The first animation was Pauvre Pierrot (Poor Pierrot), a pantomime by Émile Regnaud (1844–1919), which had its première at the Grévin Museum on the Boulevard Montmartre on 28 October 1892. People flocked to see Pierrot and his band move in their animated garden. Cinema laid its foundations on the ruins of pantomime. The rediscovery of the moving body At the end of the nineteenth century, two exceptional events would shed new light onto the body and movement: the resurgence of physical exercise, through the arrival of sport, and the invention of chronophotography, through the arrival of cinema. By freeing itself from the moral constraints that Christianity had imposed upon it, the naked body rediscovered natural gestures through open-air sports and exercise. It gradually distanced itself from the stifling use of clothing. As for dance, it rejected the stringency of classical form in order to find a natural expressiveness. This return to nature and spontaneity of gesture is an inevitable result of the overwhelming limitations that suppress life. Theatre reflects this experience. However, nature itself is always seen from the viewpoint of the era, and natural gesture is therefore defined by the particular aesthetic of the time. In the nineteenth century gymnastics found their niche in military training. After the defeat at Iena, Ludwig Jahn established physical train-

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ing in Prussia for the German people. War forces nations to examine their own strengths and weaknesses. Both the defeated and the victorious rebuild their homes on the shattered foundations. They discipline their children to be stronger so that they can defend their country, and also, unfortunately, in preparation to attack. The Prussian soldiers trained in uniform, buttoned up and proudly standing to attention (read Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Gym Class for more on this subject). However, it was a Spaniard, Colonel Amoros, who brought gymnastics to France in around 1814. Amoros had been a staunch supporter of Napoleon I and had become a naturalised Frenchman. He created gymnasia stocked with various pieces of equipment that he himself invented: the climbing crossbar and apparatus that we still use today such as the horizontal bar, the pole and the pummel horse. There are two remaining examples of this type of gymnasium found today in Paris, one on the rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin and the other at 57 rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis, home of the École Jacques Lecoq. The latter was built in 1876 and was originally called the Christmann Gymnasium. It went on to become the ‘Central’ boxing arena before finally turning into a school. The military was not the only influence on gymnastics and movement. In 1814, Henrik Ling opened his Central Institute of Gymnastics in Sweden. His aim was to develop a regime for ‘the healthy man’. He created analytic exercises that followed strict positions and ultimately corrected any physical deficiency. This was all done with the minimum of effort and had little in common with sports and outdoor exercises. This style of gymnastics was the first experience of physical education for Étienne Decroux, who would later go on to study at Jacques Copeau’s Vieux-Colombier school. The strictness of body position and attitude was an element that Decroux took with him from Ling’s Institute. Étienne-Jules Marey and his assistant Georges Demeny, both creators of the Parc des Princes physiological research station (near the RolandGarros Stadium in Paris), studied human physical movement using chronophotography. In 1882, Marey had invented the ‘photographic gun’, which allowed him to separate movement into a series of images and which also led to the invention of cinema. Demeny was the pioneer of physical education in France, bringing exercises into schools. The study of the human body in motion was therefore expanded by the combination of physical education and chronophotography, which as a result benefited all forms of physical training. Marey’s experiences led to the study of different human and animal movement, such as a man’s walk or a bird’s flight. Attitudes that had

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previously been imperceptible to the naked eye were now brought into relief. This created a conflict between science and art, which sought to harness the flight of birds in order to precipitate the arrival of air travel. Edward Muybridge, an American photographer, was embarking upon a similar study at the same time. Cinema further developed the fluidity of movement and created a more precise image through the use of slow motion. In his piece L’Usine (The Factory), Étienne Decroux actually used the same style of black body stocking with white stripes that Marey made his test subjects wear in order to see the body’s postures more clearly. The continuous and cyclical aspects of gesture, often associated with Isadora Duncan and Émile Jacques-Dalcroze, became apparent through the analysis of physical movement. Jaques-Dalcroze based his style on a musical rhythm that engaged the whole body in geometric or circular movements, regularly using hoops to help him. Other techniques highlighted the beauty of plastic arts: the contours created by Georges Desbonnet, for instance, gave rise to bodybuilding methods and eventual muscular hypertrophy. The irony is that the growth of exercise, whose ultimate goal is to facilitate movement, has resulted today in the pumped-up monstrosities whose muscles are so big that they can hardly move. When Baron Pierre de Coubertin chivalrously reintroduced the Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, the athletes modelled their bodies on Greek statues. Competitive sports subsequently pushed athletes towards a focused training that developed the body in response to specific requirements. This created particular, even abnormal, body types that were actually more delicate than ordinary bodies. This effect has nothing to do with the origins of sport, which were rooted in the play instinct. In 1907, Lieutenant Georges Hébert devised for the marines under his command at the Lorient naval base a natural method of physical education for both body and mind. Derived from obstacle courses, its motto was ‘be strong to be useful’. It consisted of a series of exercises (similar to those of Amoros) on an outdoor circuit, which prefigured a real battleground. The use and repetition of different stages helped to create a sense of continuity in a reduced space. A prolific traveller, Hébert had noticed that primitive cultures had developed a well-formed physique thanks to the exercise imposed by their way of life: walking, running, jumping, climbing, lifting, throwing, attacking, defending, swimming, keeping balance, walking on all fours.

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Hébert contributed to the return of a natural body, heralded by the foundation of large sports clubs such as the French Racing Club in 1882 and the French Stadium in 1883. His methods were used to train actors at Jacques Copeau’s Vieux-Colombier school, and the Joinville system of physical education in France also combined Amoros and Hébert’s exercises with the analytic techniques of Ling and Demeny. It is also worth remembering the 1936 Berlin Olympics, an uneasy display of sport and German Nazism, as glorified in Leni Riefenstahl’s film, The Gods of the Stadium (1938). The body and nature were fused together with totalitarian ideas where the chosen race had to produce champions, supermen, even gods. It is all too clear where a loss of humour and of playfulness can lead. For the people of France, however, 1936 was the time when paid holidays were introduced, when the working classes discovered the seaside. Previously unknown, the beaches now saw an influx of labourers stripping off and diving into the sea, purchasing bicycles and discovering the countryside. These halcyon days saw the arrival of camping, Charles Trenet, naturism and nudism (of which Jean-Louis Barrault was a keen follower) and then, once again, came war. Jacques Copeau and the Vieux-Colombier school In 1913 Jacques Copeau founded the Théâtre du Vieux-Colombier with a group of writers and artists. It was time to rethink the concept of theatre, time to sweep away the disorder, greed and extreme self-centredness that had settled. It was time to rebuild a theatre that would use poetry to elevate an audience above the surrounding mediocrity. With this moral and pure intent, Jacques Copeau began his reformation. War would disrupt the activities at VieuxColombier but not those of the group itself, who left for America with Jouvet and Dullin. Having found his audience again, Copeau set up a professional school in 1921, open to young actors, artists and theatre craftsmen. Copeau wanted to take children as young as twelve, who had not yet been corrupted by the current theatre, and train them to serve this new theatre which he craved. He turned his attention towards young people as they possessed a generosity and spontaneity no longer found in older actors of the time. They were also more open to accepting his new ideas. Gordon Craig had also wanted to start afresh, and opened a school at the Goldoni Arena in Florence in 1913. Rather than being for actors, it became a scenographic school, concentrating on three-dimensional

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space. Craig felt that theatres should remain closed for ten years before staging a performance. However he was forced to close his own school after only six months! In 1914, due to the war, the school closed its doors for the last time, but would it have really continued without this disruption? It is impossible to know, but Gordon Craig did not open any other school. Copeau was influenced by Gordon Craig’s example and benefited from the new theatrical space that Gordon Craig had discovered. He made the emptiness of the stage tangible, maintaining a rhythmic relationship with long vertical lines, reminiscent of his beloved San Gemminiano. Both Appia and Jacques-Dalcroze were also to have an influence on Copeau. Jacques-Dalcroze suggested a new form of training based on spontaneity of the body. He sought to establish a connection between physical and sonorous movement, and to liberate personal rhythm from the muscular or intellectual constraints that obstructed any form of impulsive expression. Appia used cubes, staircases and light to find a poetic transformation of the stage. The movement classes at Vieux-Colombier were based on JacquesDalcroze’s rhythmic methods but also incorporated Georges Hébert’s ideas on natural movement. Fratellini gave the classes on acrobatics and clown-based improvisation. Suzanne Bing took responsibility for the running of the school and, right up to the closure in 1924, she devoted herself entirely to it. Three years after opening in 1921, Jacques Copeau closed Vieux-Colombier and left Paris to rethink theatre yet again. Before the school closed, Suzanne Bing directed the students in a Japanese Noh production that was never seen by an audience as the lead actor (François Maistre) sprained his knee in a fall. According to Jacques Copeau: The Noh production, as I saw it in its final rehearsals, remains one of the richest and most joyous secrets of our work at Vieux-Colombier, there was an incredible depth of harmony between the scenography, the rhythm, the style and quality of emotion. (Memories of Vieux-Colombier, 1931) Copeau settled in the Château de Morteuil in Burgundy with the best of the young actors from his school: his daughter, Marie-Hélène Dasté, his son-in-law, Jean Dasté, Étienne Decroux, Jean Vilar (not to be confused with the director of the T.N.P.) and François Maistre, who went on to create the famous double act ‘Gilles and Julien’ (Julien later became director of the Théâtre des Nations). Copeau’s nephew, Michel Saint-Denis, and Léon Chancerel also collaborated with him.

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The company then moved to the Burgundian ‘Côte-d’Or’, to a house that Copeau bought in Pernard-Vergelesses amid the magnificent Corton vineyards. This saw the beginning of the Copiaux, as the local wine growers called the troupe. However, the small familial company was left more and more to its own devices, as Copeau’s interior reflection gradually consumed him. This mystic moment of crisis allowed the Copiaux to take control and discover a popular style of theatre that had more in common with festivals, using masks, songs and mime in different locations such as barns and town squares. They rediscovered a sense of the travelling show, treading the boards, and publicising the performances with parades. The Copiaux were the pioneers of a style of performance that revived the tradition of improvisation and gesture, all with a rural audience who had never before had the opportunity of going to the theatre. Wearing masks, they managed to integrate mime with storytelling, creating scenarios and characters. Thus, a new style of actor was born following in the footsteps of the Vieux-Colombier school: a physical actor who would develop even further, through a series of differing lines of descent. Links and influences The Copiaux lasted for five years, from 1924 to 1929, before the group expanded, separated and branched out. From 1930 to 1932, Michel Saint-Denis brought together some of the Copiaux in his Compagnie des Quinze. After the war he directed the Strasbourg Drama Centre and created the school of the same name. He then moved to Great Britain, where he ran the Young Vic School. He also co-directed the Royal Shakespeare Company and helped set up New York’s Julliard School. Saint-Denis was intensely passionate about actor training and was one of the few people who fully understood the problems of improvisation when approaching classical texts. In 1929, Léon Chancerel founded the touring company known as Les Comédiens Routiers and developed theatre within the French scouting movement. From this group came, among others, Jean-Pierre Grenier and Olivier Hussenot who themselves founded a company, which included the Frères Jacques and Yves Robert. After being part of the Compagnie des Quinze, Jean Dasté formed the Compagnie des Quatre-Saisons in 1937, with André Barsacq and Maurice Jacquemont. Charles Dullin left the Vieux-Colombier company in 1920, after returning from America, and set up his own theatre and school. It

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was with Dullin that Étienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault and Antonin Artaud would give mime its first autonomous drive, based on Copeau’s ideas: the actor on a bare stage, redefining theatre. Étienne Decroux, who had stayed for six months in Burgundy after studying for six months at the Vieux-Colombier school, pushed this concept to its ultimate conclusion, creating a definitive point of reference: a silent, naked body on a silent, naked stage. Decroux’s rigorous methods, Barrault’s talented mime and the magic of Artaud would provide the first experiences of applying mime to theatre. After the Second World War, Marcel Marceau trained at Charles Dullin’s school where, taught by Étienne Decroux, he specialised, as we all know, in mime. As for me, during this time I was discovering theatre with Jean Dasté’s actors in Grenoble, finding a dimension to movement that was completely different from the one I had experienced in sport.

chapter 4

has mime become separated from theatre? Jean Perret In the following section, Jean Perret writes about three of the most famous mime artists of the twentieth-century: Étienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceau. Jean Perret is a poet and playwright. He taught at the Lecoq school for one season (1966–7) running a class in theatre culture. He was co-founder of a theatre group affiliated to the National Centre for Dramatic Art run by Léon Chancerel. For 25 years he has led a professional career as a librarian.

We now present three great servants and executants of theatre of gesture: Étienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceau. They learned together, performed together, and left their mark on the theatre of movement and gesture. Despite their different roles, what brings them together here is that they all have their place in what one could describe as the sphere of influence of Jacques Copeau and Charles Dullin (though this influence was felt more or less immediately according to their ages). By his own admission, Decroux was deeply influenced by Jacques Copeau and Suzanne Bing who were, as we have seen, the theoreticians of a theatre of gesture that broke with the wordy and affected theatre that was fashionable in their day. At the same time, or almost, he was a student and actor in Charles Dullin’s company, while Jean-Louis Barrault, as well as paying tribute to his master Dullin, frequently refers to the disciplines taught by Jacques Copeau. As for Marcel Marceau, how could he have avoided the influence of the Vieux-Colombier or of the Copiaux, despite being of a younger generation, whereas Decroux, Dullin and Barrault were, in a manner of speaking, his fathers? But these lines of descent should not be allowed to mask differences between them, and the varied paths they followed, illustrated by the place they now occupy in the theatre, which sometimes sets them in opposition to one another. Nevertheless, each one of these three has made a vital contribution to the theatre of gesture and to the art of mime and movement: theirs is a contribution that goes beyond being creative and imaginative, amounting to a veritable renaissance of the art form. This is demonstrated in the interview with Barrault and the articles on Decroux and Marceau by Jean Perret that follow.

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Of course, while showing that there is common ground shared by Decroux, Barrault and Marceau, it would be absurd to neglect the importance of other great servants of the theatre of gesture in its contemporary renewal: names such as Jean Vilar, Peter Brook and Ariane Mnouchkine, without forgetting exacting directors such as Roger Blin and rigorous teachers such as Jacques Lecoq. In other words, we feel that there is a certain continuity to be found in the work of all of these artists, something resembling a crucible, out of which comes the dimension of gesture in theatre, the basis of every artistic form that springs from authentic movement. Étienne Decroux, master of mime My first encounter with Decroux was a buffeting over the telephone as he answered my call by saying: You’re disturbing me – I’m working (at more than 85 years of age he was still working!). You speak of gestures, now gestures are interesting. But what do you expect me to say about them? You shouldn’t be disturbing me while I’m working. Lecoq, you speak of Lecoq? Well he, too, is a pioneer. But there’s nothing I can say. Another time, a woman’s voice answered the phone: ‘You know, Decroux is working, he’s teaching at the moment I cannot tell you anything.’ Gestures, including all gestures, whether mimed or spoken, are the subject of this book. And this is reflected in the practice, now similar, now divergent, of the creative artists whom we have interviewed – Jean-Louis Barrault and Marcel Marceau – who both make reference to Étienne Decroux, even if both have reservations about one or other of his doctrinaire assertions, of about some aspects of his method of ‘remoulding’ the body through painful exercises. Decroux declared that: Anything is permissible in art, provided it is done for a clear purpose. And since, in our art, the human body is the primary material, it must be able to imitate thought. Since, unlike the materials used in the other arts, the body is sentient, it must inevitably suffer from being remoulded. If not, all the body can do is to imitate other bodies. Writing of their work together in the 1930s (in his book Souvenirs pour demain (Memoirs for tomorrow)), Barrault claims: ‘the genius of Decroux is in his rigour. But that rigour was taken to the point of tyranny.’

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Figure 9 Étienne Decroux performing corporeal mime at his atelier, c. 1950. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

So who was this Étienne Decroux, whose name is on the lips of all who speak of the arts of mime and gesture? André Veinstein gives a brief biography in his preface to Decroux’s book Paroles sur le mime ((Words on Mime) Gallimard, 1963): he began as an actor in theatre and cinema in 1923, and continued to perform until the 1950s. He founded his school in 1940, while continuing to perform and to produce shows such as L’Usine (The Factory), Les Arbres (The Trees), Les Petits Soldats (The Little Soldiers), etc. He performed alongside Barrault in the film Les Enfants du Paradis. His school became for him the place where he could withdraw from public performance and conduct advanced experiments towards his ultimate aim of non-figurative ‘mobile sculpture’. Through relentless analysis and reflection on the human body and on the body of the mime artist, he succeeded in building a theatre whose sole means of expression was the body, and in training the actors, the mimes, who were able to bring this theatre into being, using only silent gesture. In this pantomime theatre, illustrated by Les Marches (Steps), Les Arbres, Les Petits Soldats, L’Usine, etc., he demonstrated his skills, as did others: his son Maximilien, Éliane Guyon, his close disciples, and also Jean-Louis

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Barrault, Marcel Marceau, Pierre Verry and many more – Americans as well as French – both before and after the Second World War. However, from the end of the 1950s, Decroux devoted himself exclusively to teaching and to developing his methods and techniques, with the aim of bringing about a renewal of the art of the actor, of the mime and hence of the whole art of theatre. His most famous pupil today is undoubtedly Marcel Marceau, even though Decroux is unwilling to admit to it, such is his perfectionism and his propensity for feeling betrayed by his best disciples. As for the origins of art, and his own apprenticeship, it is best to use his own words, drawn from his book Words on Mime or to trust to the testimony of those who knew him. ‘I remember my father,’ he writes, ‘a house builder, a manual labourer, who was friendly with a family of Italian sculptors, who would take me to the café-concert every Monday, who would read poetry to me. I remember working as painter, plumber, mason, roofer, butcher, terrace-builder, docker, nurse. [. . .] All the same,’ he writes, ‘I saw a lot of life. [. . .] When I think of those impoverished people who have seen nothing – how can they put on plays? [. . .] All the things one has seen and handled gradually settle down at the back of one’s mind and then pass down the arms to the tip of the fingers, where they alter the very finger-prints.’ Then he joined the Vieux-Colombier in 1923, both the theatre company and the school of Jacques Copeau. Suzanne Bing was director of the school. Decroux writes that without her, without her rigour and asceticism, there would have been no school, despite the great importance that Copeau always ascribed to it. What is important to emphasise is the influence of the VieuxColombier, not only on Decroux, but on innumerable other actors, the Copiaux at first (the company that came out of the Vieux-Colombier), and then the companies started by so many of the former Copiaux, such as the Compagnie des Quinze with Michel Saint-Denis, the Comédiens Routiers with Léon Chancerel, the duo Gilles et Julien, the Quatre Saisons with André Barsacq, and even the Cartel of Dullin, Jouvet, Baty, Pitoëff, the Rideau of Paris, the Rideau Gris of Marseille, etc., and later, after the Second World War, Jean Dasté with the Comédie de Saint-Étienne. From 1920 onwards, the greatest names in theatre all emerged from within or form around the Vieux-Colombier. One should not forget the provocative nature of Copeau’s 1913 call for a ‘bare stage’, for a theatre and an acting profession that had been ‘cleaned up’, by which he meant a rejection of the commercial values of the bourgeois theatre of his time and a return to purity, to dignity and to the demands of poetry.

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The period after the First World War saw the rise of men such as Charles Dullin, Louis Jouvet, Jean-Louis Barrault and Étienne Decroux. Of course it was in 1927 that Roger Vitrac and Antonin Artaud set up their surrealist ‘Alfred Jarry Theatre’. Perhaps they, too, were ‘victims’ of the spread of influence of Copeau, the Vieux-Colombier and the Nouvelle Revue Française. The theatre of cruelty and The Theatre and its Double of Antonin Artaud, certainly have something to do with the experiments of the Vieux-Colombier and of Dullin’s theatre, the Atelier. Through the work of the Vieux-Colombier, then of the Atelier, and of the other companies that emerged from the Copiaux, many famous authors came to prominence, notably André Obey, Charles Vildrac, Paul Claudel, Roger Vitrac, Antonin Artaud, Armand Salacrou, Jean Anouilh, Jean Giraudoux, Jean Cocteau, Marcel Achard, etc. The quantity and activeness of these theatre reformers – also inspired by Gordon Craig, to whom Decroux refers, and by Stanislavski – shows what a creative and intense climate Decroux found himself working in, and what an explosive ‘laboratory’ he was called to, to conduct his first experiments and to discover his vocation. ‘I would have liked to have been a sculptor,’ he writes, ‘for the spirit is worth nothing until it is filtered through stone.’ He became a sculptor of the human body, and from the human body he carved out the body and the spirit of mime. ‘I would have liked to have been a poet,’ he adds, ‘for rhythmic poetry (what Barrault called “breathed” poetry) is what I prefer, and it seems to me that it is to achieve such rhythm that The Word was sculpted.’ In a kind of manifesto on mime, published in 1948, Decroux added: ‘because it can be sufficient unto itself, mime is superior to theatre and the equal of dance, which has a different origin, and must be re-built . . .’ Bip was born in 1947, brought to life by Marcel Marceau, Decroux’s pupil. So what was his definition of mime and of theatre and what training did he think the actor’s body should undergo? Premise: ‘The only art present on stage without interruption is the art of the actor.’ Like his master, Jacques Copeau, he was always suspicious of ‘tricks’, of machinery, of stage sets, and even of the text when it was only there to justify a production. At all events, his preference was for ‘poor’ texts, for he liked to say that the poorer the text the richer must be the music of the actor, and the richer the text, the poorer the music. But what exactly did he mean by ‘poor’ and ‘rich’? By poor, he probably meant texts that say little and suggest much, texts which provoke movements and gestures, texts which inspire the moving body and stimulate the mime to improvise. By rich he meant either the opposite, a great poem

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that says everything, and obliges the actor to be self-effacing, or, worse, a verbose and over-emphatic text that can only provoke wild gesticulation. Ultimately it is a matter of respect and modesty vis-à-vis the text when it is the work of an authentic poet, and not of misunderstanding or ignorance, as has been said. The body of the actor should not mime the text, but should move in harmony with it. The gestures should express the manner of the poem’s presentation and the character that is embodied. Decroux often comes back to this: for him, the whole art is in the manner, style or attitude. ‘In the course of an evening with friends’, he writes, ‘Baudelaire can be read aloud by someone sitting down, but to present Corneille one has to be in shirt-sleeves, and to put across a text of the commedia dell’arte you have to strip down to your shorts’. Later on he adds: ‘the mime presents manner, or style, through his choice of manner or style, just as the painter presents colour by means of colour’. A mime performance is a sequence of present actions. Only words can evoke things that are absent. Only words can say what was, what one would wish to be, whence one comes or whither one goes: words alone can express abstractions. With words one can build up stories and plots. One can engineer surprise events, deviations, repetitions. ‘The mime can do none of those and should not try to. No art form is asked to walk on its hands’. As for Decroux’s technique, the technique through which he proposed to shape the body of the actor, or of the mime, as a sculptor shapes the stone – to the point of achieving ‘mobile statuary’ – it would be presumptuous to attempt to pick out the essentials. Nevertheless we shall attempt to do so with the help of Decroux himself and the few commentaries we have been able to collect. ‘The art of mime is the art of bodily movement, like dance, and bodily movement is necessarily based on the primacy of the body, its volume, and especially on the trunk, rather than the face or the arms’. Could he have overlooked hands and feet? We shall see. Decroux’s premise is: ‘The spirit is egalitarian, the body is not’. ‘Thought has no articulations and thus no rebels’. ‘Thought does not have to undergo the effects of gravity’. ‘Thought, having no physical weight is ignorant of precarious balance’. From these statements follow a certain number of deductions and propositions which make up Decroux’s technique of bodily mime: take the naked body, observe its vertical dimension, analyse its geometry, understand its weight and counter-weight examine its articulations and tame their rebelliousness, to the point of altering the natural reflexes.

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Then bend it, make it flexible, master it, control it, so that none of the sculpting process is visible when it comes to life for the appreciation of the audience. This appears to be the basis of his approach. ‘If I observe the naked, vertical body of a man’, he writes: I see only the envelope. Its form is no more than a tube. It imposes on my mind an anatomical division that is exterior. I see what look like different countries, I imagine borders. Familiar vocabulary confirms this and I say: head, neck, breast, etc. This is how one would consider the body if one was making a puppet or a sculptor’s jointed wooden model. And, concerning the body’s mass and its relation to geometry, he goes on to say: ‘One must know how to maintain the vertical, both stationary and moving, and, if possible, inclined to an angle of forty-five degrees. One must sense one’s median line and one’s lateral line, and one must be able, in the carrying out of a movement, not to lose one’s straightness’. Thus he gives primacy to the mass of the body, to the trunk, and he makes a point of this: ‘What I call the trunk is the whole body, including arms and legs’. And what of the face and hands? He often says that the face cannot take such rigorous shaping as the trunk, and reflects on the artistic reason for this: ‘The body has to imitate thought. It cannot delegate this to the face, for the face, lacking weight or danger, can only demonstrate spiritual force, but cannot remould itself fundamentally’. He calls the face and the hands ‘instruments of mendacity, henchmen of gossip’ and says: ‘they are used to explain, to beg, to make promises and to threaten. The movement of the face cannot avoid intimacy. As for hands, when they are empty they serve only to sketch out false promises’. It appears, then, that Decroux aimed for a ‘dressage’ of the body, wanting to harness its tensions and oppositions and antagonisms and to play with them. ‘The mime is at ease in hardship’ was a maxim of Decroux, and Eugenio Barba tells us (in Bouffonneries no. 4) that this maxim has echoes in the statements of theatre masters of all ages and all traditions. The master of Katsuko Azuma, the great Japanese Buyo dancer, told him that he must tell by the amount of pain whether a position had been correctly adopted: if there was no pain, it was incorrect. And then he added with a smile: ‘but pain does not guarantee that it will be correct’. The same thing is repeated by Sanjukta Panigrahi, by the masters of Peking Opera, by those of classical ballet and of Balinese dance. Pain and hardship become a system of control.

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Through this idea, Decroux finds himself at one with Jerzy Grotowski, as well as Barba, since both advocate what Barba names an ‘architecture of tensions’ which erases daily reflexes and transforms even stillness into action. Just like Decroux, Barba even talks of a ‘fictive body’, devoid of all psychology and from which the actor’s psyche has been erased. Is this really possible? The question remains. In all events, Decroux himself did not pretend to ignore entirely those forces of the unconscious that are feared if not fearsome, as is shown by his statement: ‘What Freud makes you say, mime makes you do’. Or again: ‘When your consciousness is asleep all the birds wake up’. So it is easy to understand why, through their natural immodesty, both face and hands seemed more or less superfluous. In the end, do these techniques of dissociation, interruption and opposition, of disequilibrium and counter-weight, which constrain the body to be no more than an obedient marionette, inevitably guide the actor towards the goal of the mime whose body’s attitudes can inscribe the poem never yet written, never yet read, never yet performed? It is a question that remains open. Jean-Louis Barrault answered it with his idea of ‘total theatre’; Marcel Marceau responded by performing with face and hands. Jacques Lecoq, for his part, responded in two stages: the first was to adopt the scientific analysis and deconstruction of movement and gesture; the second was to reject the ‘torture’ imposed on the actor’s body which, for him, could lead only to formalism and ‘virutosoism’. It remains true that Étienne Decroux was and still is a great catalyst, venerated or detested, who provoked the emergence of a wealth of physical approaches to modern theatre and dance, such as the experiments of Jerzy Grotowski, of Eugenio Barba or of Kantor; those of the Living Theatre and the Bread and Puppet; also those of Bob Wilson and Pina Bausch and the researches and innovations of Ariane Mnouchkine and of Peter Brook. Interview with Jean-Louis Barrault Jean-Louis Barrault – along with Étienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau in particular – is one of those who, as an artist, actor and theatrical creator, rehabilitated mime and pantomime, which had fallen into disuse. He borrowed from Deburau the character of Pierrot in order to create Baptiste in Les Enfants du Paradis, the famous film by Marcel Carné, with dialogue scripted by Jacques Prévert, playing alongside other great actors including Étienne Decroux. Next, Baptiste became a pantomime show in which Marcel Marceau played the role of Arlequin in 1946.

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From 1936, this student of Charles Dullin and partner of Étienne Decroux – with whom he would devote himself up to the ‘thrills of mime’ and of physical expression – created Autour d’une mère, inspired by Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. ‘One only spoke in this piece’, Jean-Louis Barrault would say, ‘when one was alone or when one was dead’. Then there were other pantomimes: La Fontaine de jouvence, which he regretted doing, Renard, by Igor Stravinsky, Les Suites d’une course by Jules Supervielle; not to mention Marches, which he created with Etienne Decroux; but La Marche dans l’eau and L’Escalier he created alone and would later be performed by Marcel Marceau. From Numance by Cervantes, created in 1937 with a revival in 1965, to The Oresteia by Aeschylus, adapted by André Obey and created in 1955, including even Christophe Colomb by Paul Claudel, Jean-Louis Barrault was an actor of gesture and silence as well as an actor of the word. He even talks about oral pantomime, just as Marcel Jousse talks about the manducation of the word. His experimentation with mime in the strict sense ended in the 1950s, but he remains faithful to the benefits of the art of gesture as it

Figure 10 Jean-Louis Barrault mimes the death of the mother in Autour d’une mère. In this shot Barrault experimented with what he would call ‘total theatre’, wherein the actor is a ‘complete instrument’, 1935. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

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was practised under his master, Charles Dullin, alongside Étienne Decroux, whom he calls his comrade, a former Copiau. The language of the body is for him a true language, perfectly identified, coded, possessing of its own grammar and gestural syntax. And when he speaks of a breathed word, this for him means a gesture which, in the silence where it finds its source, is the result of a breath sculpted by a muscular contraction. This is why Barrault moved towards what he has called ‘total theatre’ which embraces the theatre of silence, spoken theatre, pantomime, dance and song as much as the word, the ‘intelligible mouthful’ of Claudel. The Oresteia was very possibly the peak of this, since Barrault, in presenting this work, used the art of gesture, choral song and masks, as much as the art of the word. Although Barrault has written a great deal, given numerous interviews, and in his latest book, Saisir le présent, devotes a long chapter to the language of the body and how he integrates it into his daily life in the theatre, he was willing to talk us through it. Jean Perret: As regards Paul Claudel’s Christophe Colomb, you sought to redefine what you call in your Nouvelles réflexions sur le théâtre and what you have often called, in fact, ‘total theatre’. I quote: Theatre is an art that recreates life at its most complex, simultaneous and present, that is to say fragile, by way of the essential means of the human being in conflict in space [. . .] and were there to be nothing, on these four raised boards, but this man, with nothing else around, playing with the totality of his means of expression, then will there already be total theatre. That was in 1959. Twenty-five years on, would you still say the same thing, and why? Jean-Louis Barrault: Yes, I probably would say the same thing and more, but differently, given that, since then, twenty-five years of experience have allowed me to develop this vision as well as the ambition that I had very early of a total theatre. But let’s look at your why. Why total theatre? Because the gesture, like the word, is part of the body. There was a thrill in studying the human body with Étienne Decroux, and I was taken up in this excitement. The thrills of mime, of the art of silence; I had this enjoyment because for me, and this is still the case, mime finds its source in the silence of life while pantomime is a mute language. Jean Perret: Not all that mute, if, as you say, it finds its source in the silence of life, the inexpressible murmuring . . .

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Jean-Louis Barrault: I mean mute language as opposed to spoken language. Marceau, who is a genius and a genius of pantomime, worked with mute language. Étienne Decroux, who is also a genius, worked with statuary mime, mobile statuary. And myself? Well, I moved towards total theatre, convinced that gesture, like speech, is part of the body, convinced that the word, like the gesture, is first and foremost the result of a breath sculpted by a muscular contraction. Finally, as you know, and I think as I’ve proven, everything results from breath. Jean Perret: You say in your Nouvelles réflexions sur le théâtre, that the art of gesture that you dream of is nothing but the theatre in its essential state, finding its source in silence, as you have just said of mime, which is the art of gesture par excellence. Jean-Louis Barrault: In the silence of life, we should add: in the silence of life, of life that passes us by, ephemeral. We are ephemeral . . . Jean Perret: But has your agenda as a man of the theatre been, since Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, since Numance and, I think, since your Claudel work, to evolve towards a theatre where mime, pantomime and gesture are no longer just counterpoints? Jean-Louis Barrault: No! That’s not what it’s about at all. For me, today the art of gesture is inseparable from the art of the word. That is all. Proust himself, writing about Berma, meaning Sarah Bernhardt, performing in Phèdre, says ‘The gestures of the players saying to their arms, to their garments: “Be majestic.” But the unsubmissive limbs allowed a biceps which knew nothing of the part to flaunt itself between shoulder and elbow’.1 He was an artist. He observed that as an artist. Because it is true: when the word does not carry the gesture and vice versa, there is a risk of distortion and discord. I see actors with great talent who cannot be heard, or who make false gestures. You see, pantomime is the art of gesture and the art of gesture implies the mastery of an ideal and unique instrument: the human body. Theatre is a poetic art that uses the human body to recreate life in the present. It is the only art that deals with the present and is total as such as well. The other arts, in a sense, linger. What you call the art of gesture is simply the physical expression of this extraordinary instrument that is, for the human being, the human body: which implies knowledge of its possibilities and the utilisation of these, of which there are basically three: head, chest, stomach (triad or ternary), a whip (the spinal column), a bellows (the respiratory apparatus), percussion (the heart and its beats). Another ternary. The basis of all physical expression is there. Jean Perret: There we return to Étienne Decroux. Jean-Louis Barrault: If you say so; but one must go further . . .

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Jean Perret: To incarnate, incorporate this knowledge in a sense? Can we call it that? Jean-Louis Barrault: Incorporate, yes: but in space. Body and space are inseparable because we emit waves. This is so true: beyond twentyfive metres you are no longer in the magnetic field of the actor and vice versa. Inside a twenty-five metre range, you are in the magnetic field of the human body, beyond it you can see it but are not in range. Not in the same bed. Theatrical representation is precisely the poetry of this moment where magnetic fields meet, mix. At the Théâtre du Rond-Point and at the Théâtre d’Orsay, the last seat is twenty-two or twenty-five meters from the centre of gravity of the stage. Jean Perret: Let us come back, if you will allow it, to what you call the language of the body. What is the foundation of your conception of total theatre: the art of gesture, the art of silence, the art of the word? Does a language of the body link them, and return like a leitmotif in each of your works? Jean-Louis Barrault: Listen – what is the human body? It is a great symphonic orchestra that in a sense joins up the three souls of Plato: the head, the heart, the stomach . . . Jean Perret: Still the ternary, the number three, the trinity. Jean-Louis Barrault: I have been sensitive to the ternary since my friend Antonin Artaud introduced me to the ternary of the kabala. Look, for gesture, one must work the human body in space, depending on the point of concentration. You have twenty-four vertebrae. These twentyfour vertebrae are divided into three: cervical, dorsal and lumbar: again the three souls of Plato. For speech, it’s the same thing. There are five written vowels and sixty sounds for five vowels: twelve for each vowel, meaning that the word is dodecaphonic. As for the instrumental training of the human body, you will observe, as I have said, that not only the whip (the spinal column) is part of a sequence of three, but also the bellows (the respiratory apparatus): to inhale, exhale, hold one’s breath, meaning theatrically and gesturally to receive, give, close up, etc. Jean Perret: The heart beats the iamb, you say, in three parts: a short beat, a long beat, a stroke. Jean-Louis Barrault: That’s it. It’s percussion. Jean Perret: Like in the ternary of the kabala so beloved of your friend Antonin Artaud, the three elements of life: masculine, feminine, neutral. Jean-Louis Barrault: Now you understand why I am so moved by the ternary . . . Jean Perret: Étienne Decroux, with whom you experienced the thrills of the body-instrument, of physical expression and mime, said:

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‘what Freud makes you say, mime makes you do’. And you, speaking of the importance of gesture in spoken theatre: ‘Quite often, we only verbally express what we would very much like to show; but the slightest gesture reveals what we would have liked to hide’. Do you think that the actor of today – where psychoanalysis is, one might say, in the public domain – is conscious of this ambivalence or this ambiguity? Jean-Louis Barrault: I don’t know; what I do know is that theatre is the very site of ambiguity. But the art of gesture is obvious to me: it is inseparable from my physical expression just as is the art of words, whereas today I know that academic snobbism leads to actors mumbling, with enormous, false, dislocated gestures, punctuating their mumbling. As for Freud, I don’t know; what I do know is that the educated, supple, mastered human body is the only instrument the actor has with which to say everything. Jean Perret: Thus, for you it is the instrument that will permit the actor to play the whole play, what it says and what it doesn’t say, but says all the same. Jean-Louis Barrault: Nothing will ever match the poetry of a moving, speaking body in space. Jean Perret: You were Charles Dullin’s student at the Atelier, in 1931. That is where you met Étienne Decroux. You worked together ‘intoxicated with the thrills of mime’, so you tell me. Nevertheless, you did part company. Then came your mime experimentation – which was confirmed in many works for the theatre, and at the cinema in particular in the role of Baptiste, in Les Enfants du Paradis – stopped at a certain point, at the start of the 1950s, I think. So there were ruptures. Why was this? Jean-Louis Barrault: Not really ruptures. It is more about a progression and an evolution. At the Atelier, with my master Charles Dullin, there was an actor called Étienne Decroux who was looking for someone to do mime with. I offered myself to Decroux. We became intoxicated with mime in fact. We were especially thrilled with the study of the human body. We invented walking on the spot. Then came the physical notation theory of Étienne Decroux, which I helped to construct, and which remains with me, even today. Decroux was a genius of selection, and I had the gift of improvisation. One day, he said to me: ‘I cannot work with you anymore. What you do doesn’t feel like work anymore.’ And I replied: ‘you couldn’t make me more happy, because that is exactly what I’m looking for.’ He was tough, a purist. He told me: ‘I didn’t choose to work with a whore.’ I retorted: ‘the more bums on seats, the happier I am.’

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Jean Perret: The artist confronts the pedagogue. Jean-Louis Barrault: Perhaps. I’m not a pedagogue; I can’t teach. Basically, there was no rupture. Decroux’s grammar is still the one I use. Thanks to Decroux, I discovered alchemy of the human body, the infinite world of muscles which are my references, my support points. Jean Perret: But with mime itself was there a rupture? Jean-Louis Barrault: Theatre is a whole. Mime is part of it. I do theatre. There was the art of gesture and then there was what I have called – as you said – total theatre, which contains pantomime, which is nothing other than the art of gesture in the widest sense of the word. There was an evolution. There is no longer an art of gesture for me anymore. It’s part of the human body of the actor. The art of gesture is an integral part of theatre art. Charlie Chaplin belongs to the theatre even though he was revealed to us by the cinema. Jean Perret: And Bip? Jean-Louis Barrault: Bip too, perhaps, but it’s more limited, although, as I’ve already said, Marcel Marceau is a genius of pantomime. Jean Perret: So, no rupture? Jean-Louis Barrault: No, an evolution. Jean Perret: Even though, as regards mime, you have expressed doubts as to its durability! Jean-Louis Barrault: There is a polemic, it’s true, but I respect the people involved, and they respect this indisputable art of gesture. Jean Perret: It is fifty years since As I Lay Dying, your first show. What is the link, what is the relationship, between one work and the next, between one show and another, between mime and speech, since this is what interests us, between Numance and Le Soulier de satin, between Christophe Colomb and The Oresteia, Les Paravents and Beckett and Duras? Jean-Louis Barrault: First poetry, then theatre, then poetry again. It’s like prayer: I get on my knees, I get in contact with the ground. A tree, for example, is just as Nietzschian as it is Claudelian. Jean Perret: Like the Claudel poem you often quote: ‘how you suckle, old man, at the earth . . . And the sky, how you are attached to it.’ Jean-Louis Barrault: That’s about relationships and influences. We are in a homothetic relationship with a tree. Influences happen when an author, a company, actors have recognised this theatre in its primary state, of which I have spoken, and find the source in life, in this kind of murmur of life in us, which is the very territory of theatrical creation, and not in the noise made by men. It is only in silence that the fantastical appears. It was true in Numance; it’s true in Beckett. The link is there; it’s

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obvious: word and gesture cannot be separated. As Claudel, who I love so very much, says: the word is breath, it is not syntax. Jean Perret: And gesture? Jean-Louis Barrault: It is breathed or there is no gesture. Just as Claudelian verse is breathed or one doesn’t hear it, one doesn’t understand it. Iamb, anapaest or trochee, not the same feet . . . Jean Perret: That’s it, I suppose, the intelligible mouthful that Claudel talks about! Jean-Louis Barrault: Yes, that’s it: it’s exactly that. There is a sensuality. It’s in his poetic art. Claudel had a poet’s sensuality. He incorporated the word. Everything was in it: rhythm, sounds, colours, gesture. Jean Perret: Likewise for others, in the Rabelais, for example, which you staged at the Elysée Montmartre, after they shamefully wouldn’t let you have the Odéon? Jean-Louis Barrault: Likewise. In Beckett, too: but Rabelais is a good example in fact of what I would call total theatre. You see, there is no rupture. That is the relationship of one work to another: a rhythm of life. The heart beats the iamb . . . Jean Perret: At the same time as your Rabelais, Madeleine Renaud was doing Marguerite Duras’s L’Amante anglaise and Oh! les beaux jours by Samuel Beckett. Clowns, bouffons and masks are everywhere, derisory and sublime, as you said, accompanying us. Did you not perhaps have a certain tendency towards, let’s say, fable, the fantastical, tragedy and its bouffons, lyricism rather than for other, less poetic forms of theatre? Jean-Louis Barrault: You are looking for what ties me together! Voilà! You’ve found it. In fact, my next show will be fairground theatre; it’s a total liberation from the expression of the self. I am also tempted by an adaptation of Lewis’s The Monk. Jean Perret: Which was the subject of an important work by Antonin Artaud, I believe, which figures in his complete works. Jean-Louis Barrault: Exactly. Did I not talk about our complicity with one another? Jean Perret: Projects, if I understood correctly, which position themselves one beside Numance, in spirit, while the other one, the fairground theatre, in a way, takes us back to Rabelais? Jean-Louis Barrault: If you say so! Jean Perret: And mask? What is your relationship to mask? Jean-Louis Barrault: There is a geographical map of the being in the face. With a mask, you erase it, but at the same time you extend it to the whole body. The mask is a temporary subtraction of the geographical

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map of the being, but which allows it to be spread over the entire body. It’s enlargement, you see? You have a six-foot face. Jean Perret: Decroux said: ‘the face is crippled’. Jean-Louis Barrault: He didn’t use them. With Decroux, we searched for the mask and never quite found it. Jean Perret: Perhaps because the face is not as crippled as all that . . . Jean-Louis Barrault: I said, it represents us. But in The Oresteia, for example, Sartori’s masks allowed us to reach a dimension, an intensity of expression, that we would not otherwise have reached. Jean Perret: And commedia dell’arte? Is that a form of art that figured in your research? Is it still, for you, today, a reference, or a model for mime and pantomime? Would you say that it is the archetype of total theatre? Jean-Louis Barrault: We are double. The human being has the possibility of living and seeing itself live. Commedia dell’arte is the perfect expression of this duality. Listen, when one of our great modern directors takes himself seriously, which does happen, he’s the Doctor, and I am the Doctor’s Pantaloon, and there you are! This is in fact how the commedia dell’arte created archetypes. Jean Perret: It works through irony. Jean-Louis Barrault: Exactly. Thankfully! What is a theatre that doesn’t use irony? It’s a headache! Jean Perret: You say in your Nouvelles réflexions sur le théâtre: ‘My modest research positions itself between the statuary mime of Decroux and pantomime’. You have in fact been researching. Sadly, you abandoned Baptiste because there was no author around to do with him what Charles Chaplin did with his character. You asked Jacques Prévert, but nothing came of it. You have ended up doing Barrault. But do you think you have found anything? Do you feel like you’ve acquired a following? Jean-Louis Barrault: I don’t know. I don’t think so, because I haven’t done Barrault, as you put it, but simply theatre that never stops searching, questioning . . . so there you go! One should be suspicious of schools. One should not acquire a following. Charles Dullin showed his skill. That’s all. One must obey. Give of oneself and obey. Lenin said: ‘Learn, learn in order to take action and understand’. Jean Perret: If only that was all he’d said and done! Jean-Louis Barrault: That’s a whole different story! But, you know, it’s the same for Brecht. There’s Brecht, and there’s the Brechtians, but they have nothing to do with Brecht. With Leninists or Leninians, there’s no connection anymore either. You know, acting is the art of forgetting oneself in others in order to take them on board, that is in order to

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reproduce the act of love, all the happiness, all the unhappiness, the passions, the desires of man, of his life, and to show them on stage, in the present, in the presence of . . . Jean Perret: Can we conclude this interview with Emerson? I’m borrowing this quotation from you: ‘The body is the first disciple of the soul. Our life is only the soul manifested by its fruit, the body. All the responsibility of man can be contained in one sentence: Make yourself a perfect body’. Jean-Louis Barrault: I’ll sign that, after him of course, and, if I might be so bold, I’ll add another line from him: ‘There is no remedy for love but to love more’. A mime: the Marceau phenomenon A book like this one, which seeks to examine the different aspects of the theatre of gesture, must not be exclusively consecrated to the art of mime. But cannot one speak of it at all? But how can one avoid talking about a mime who has become a true international star, Marcel Marceau? So, let’s talk about him! Or rather let’s try to get the mime to speak and find out how and why Marcel Marceau came to be, well beyond words, the intransigent servant of this art of mime, of the theatre of silence which, sometimes, it’s true, manages to drive out, from the most secret regions of our being, another speech, the essential word. The curtain goes up. We are at the theatre. Yes, we are, even if we sometimes hear it said that ‘mime is not theatre’, which generally means not ‘spoken’ theatre. That said, it is true that Marcel Marceau, purist that he is, adopts a principle that the mime should not ‘use the word’. His only language, in fact, is that of silence, the language of the body in silence. If Marcel Marceau, the man, speaks willingly, the mime Marceau never speaks. Bip doesn’t either. The mime is there to create illusion. In his hands, dream becomes reality. Speech becomes free in the mouth of the other, by way of the magic of the mime, whose art is to enter silence, to bring from it what no word says, and to return speech to all those who love and suffer and die when, in the paroxysm of the emotions, man sometimes cries out ‘I don’t have the words’. Symbolically, then, Bip induces and suggests another dimension of speech: the poem that cannot be heard. But, in fact, if there is a ‘spoken’ theatre, why would there not be a ‘mute’ theatre? And does the art of gesture, the art of mime not precede

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Figure 11 Étienne Decroux talks to students of his atelier, including Marcel Marceau (striped shirt), 1947. Etienne Bertrand Weill.

the word? It precedes writing in any case, surely. On the most ancient of stones, on the oldest statuary, are those not gestures that first signal to us? Animals or hunters, more gestures appear, speaking ones. The mimes of ancient Rome even practised the art of oratory since it happens that they, apparently, would mime Ciceronian speech. No doubt in Greece, as well, they would mime Demosthenian speech. Pantomime and mime began to leave identifiable traces in Greece, in the fifth century bc, thereafter it was Rome and, from century to century, the whole of the western world that would offer the pantomime artist and the mime the possibility of refining their art, not without also rejecting them at times, while in Africa and the eastern world another tradition was constructing itself, that of danced or spoken gestures, in silence or to music (already) and very stereotyped masks. But it is particularly the nearby origins of this art that speak to us the most. Jump forward a few centuries and we find Harlequin, Cassandra, Punch, Matamore, the Doctor, Colombina, the typical characters of commedia dell’arte, and Pierrot (that of Jean-Baptiste Gaspard Deburau). There, we start to approach Bip: and this is the lineage claimed by Marcel Marceau. He adds to it the great silent film actors (silent theatre and film; things are getting closer, in fact), and particularly the greatest

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of them all, Charlie Chaplin, then clowns, dancers, jugglers, tightrope walkers, acrobats. But, above all, in the 1930s, after Séverin, Georges Wague and others, another mime artist would be responsible for revealing Marcel Marceau, a new type of mime, a mime theorist, called Étienne Decroux. Influenced by Jacques Copeau, working alongside Charles Dullin and Jean-Louis Barrault, and eventually on his own, it was Decroux who would codify the language of the body, define the rules of the art of mime – even if this is sometimes disputed today. Fairly quickly, in the 1950s, differences appear with Jean-Louis Barrault and Jacques Lecoq, for example. But Decroux would nonetheless remain the one who ‘awoke’ mime if not gesture, or vice versa. What is certain is that, in the time following the Second World War, Étienne Decroux was the master of mime, the grammarian of physical movement with whom Marcel Marceau would find his own vocation: ‘I will be a mime or I will be nothing’, exclaimed the student Marceau. Three years of school with Decroux, and two simultaneous years with Dullin, another master, it is through him that he met a mime who fascinated him, Jean-Louis Barrault. Marcel Marceau recalls mimed combat, training, imaginary staircases, a mime who would swim, run, walk on the spot, recreating the space and the element by a simple rigorousness of gesture and by the magic that he transmitted. (Marcel Marceau would later bemoan that Jean-Louis Barrault, who was ‘tragic mime of great density’, left the art of mime to devote himself to ‘spoken theatre’). The influence of Jean-Louis Barrault was such a decisive factor at the start of Marceau’s career that his first mimodramas were inspired by Barrault’s most famous ones: Autour d’une mère (from Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying), Numance by Cervantes, La Faim by Knut Hamsum . . . and Bip. Then there was Charles Dullin, the other master, a prodigious actor and director whose students included Jean-Louis Barrault and Jean Vilar. It was Charles Dullin who taught him the dramatic breath, rhythm and improvisation – in short the profession of actor, made up of rigour, freedom, invention, qualities without which there would be neither poem nor poetry. Marcel Marceau would always remember this comment by Charles Dullin: ‘It is not the machine to bring down the gods that we need, it is the gods themselves’. It is in a sense under these three auspices that Bip was born in 1947 and that, in 1948, Marcel Marceau would present the mimodrama Mort avant l’aube at a competition for young companies. The career of the mime Marcel Marceau had begun.

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But if the character of Bip was born of this postwar mix of Dullin, Barrault and Decroux, other more distant influences (in terms of time or of space) fed into the art of the mime Marceau – for example, different forms of eastern art (Japanese, Indian, Chinese), not forgetting Marceau’s archetypes: Pierrot and Charlie Chaplin. But back to Bip. He was to become a poetic and burlesque hero of our times, a character, Marceau himself would say, ‘straight from my childhood imagination, surrounded by characters who are no better or worse than him’, who, like Pierrot, like Charlie Chaplin, now belong to the popular imagination: Bip, like us, trembles just as the red flower on the hat worn by Bip trembles. Gangly and pallid, with his high white trousers and his striped sailor’s shirt and his mouth drawn with a violent red stripe, Bip appears less a weirdo than an ingenuous innocent, more tragic than burlesque, and more pathetic than Pierrot whose white face is all that is retained. Most often, Bip reminds us of the tragic aspect of the human condition, with humour and tenderness certainly, but with cruelty as well: be it the fragility of a butterfly in Bip chasse le papillon (Bip hunts for butterflies), Bip matador (Bip the Matador) or Bip soldat (Bip the Soldier), or his dreams of being Don Juan, Faust, or Mephistopheles, David or Goliath. ‘Just as Charlie Chaplin struggles with different professions, Bip struggles with the hopes and despairs of man’, Marceau volunteers. A lion hunter by trade, he finds himself working as a zookeeper. The star of a travelling circus ends up a cashier at a two-bit circus. In short, Bip tells also of the derisory and of derision: he tells the story of today’s ordinary man, who was ordinary today and will be ordinary tomorrow. And when Bip remembers (Bip se souvient is the title of one of his most famous later works), once again it is a childhood, an adolescence suddenly plunged into the war that he remembers: it is purity, faith, dreams, scorned ideals that he remembers. He remembers Gavroche fallen with his nose in a stream, with the cry of ‘Vive la liberté’, he remembers the Holocaust. He remembers love too; but when he parodies Docteur Jekyll et M. Hyde it is, as he says himself, the destiny of a man torn apart by his double that he shows. Bip has been showing up in the four corners of the earth for forty years, and even if Bip and Marcel Marceau have been as one for a long time, Bip, as a hero, symbol or myth, has definitively escaped Marceau; just as Charlie Chaplin did Chaplin. When Marceau will no longer be there to give him life, will Bip be no more than a memory? Or will he live beyond, with the omnipotence of the symbol, with a sort of heritage of this symbol in us?

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For some, he will perhaps be only an avatar of Pierrot. For others, however, a sign, a reference, a memory, for others an archetype that will survive in the collective memory. Who will decide? Time and fashion, no doubt. One can at least be sure that, here and now, Marcel Marceau seems to possess this desire for continuity. When one has had the pleasure of meeting him, it is obvious. For him, it is a question of poetry. Bip has the strength of a poem as well as its function. One must hear him speak of silence, this great mime, with a voice that is at once abundant and restrained, as if oppressed, with his alphabetical hands, his musical hands, of silence and of eternity; of the timeless man: Bip, in silence, will manage to reach the essence of who we are; reaching the inner cry that sometimes smothers us. And the cage that is opened, more true than the true cage, and the bird that flies away, more true than the bird, more true than its wings, will have perhaps handed us freedom, the freedom to be that often makes us afraid when it is not taken away from us. This is what the mime would say if we ‘listened’ to his gestures. This is what the man would say if we listened to his words. A huge heart, stars in his eyes, ardent and surprised under the charcoal of the eyebrows, Bip continues his journey, silent witness to our struggles, our confrontations with life, with death. Bip ‘climbs over the wall of languages’, said Jean Cocteau, and knows no frontiers. But it is not only through the highly symbolic character that became Bip that Marcel Marceau expresses himself, it is also through stylised pantomimes and mimodramas that he has created and performed as his career, already huge, has unfolded and as time has passed: twenty-six mimodramas between Mort avant l’aube in 1948 and Don Juan in 1964, including Gogol’s Le Manteau, created in 1951 at the Studio des Champs-Elysées, perhaps the most beautiful, and the most theatrical, and if not the most famous of all, revived in 1959 and performed in Europe, in Israel, in Mexico, and finally in the USA, in 1960, with the Marcel Marceau company, reconstituted temporarily since it had had to be dissolved due to lack of grant funding the previous year. Of course, other mimodramas deserve a mention, such as Les Trois Perruques (The Three Wigs), Les Matadors (The Matadors), Le Mont-de-piété (The Pawn Shop), Le 14 juillet or even Paris qui rit, Paris qui pleure (Paris laughs, Paris weeps), which ran for six months in 1959 at the Théâtre de l’Ambigu, along with Le Manteau (The Overcoat). Should one not also mention that the music for most of these mimodramas was written by famous composers, such as Joseph Kosma, Jean Wiener, Jean Prodomides or Edgard Bishoff? Is it not

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the case that mime and music work in a kind of osmosis like music and dance? As for the troupe, it included actors such as Gilles Segal and Pierre Verry who both – as we know – spent a fairly long time on their journey with Marceau, Pierre Verry in particular; also: Sabine Lods, Edmond Tamiz, Gérard Lebreton, or even Dimitri, before he became the great clown that he is today. It was a true theatre of gesture, which incorporated mime, music and dance; there were also acrobats, jugglers, clowns, and so on there, all ‘children of the theatre’ in short, actors of gesture. One could go on listing them, from Alexandre Jodorowski, actor and author of pantomimes (La Cage, Le Fabricant de masques) and today a filmmaker, to Jacques Fabbri or Nicole Croisille. More than twenty years have passed since, with the passing of the company, Marcel Marceau stopped being an actor of mimodramas. But if the company has gone, at the same time and continuing to this day, a rapid succession of Bip pantomimes and pantomimes de style (somewhat atypical thematic character pantomimes) have taken its place with, in forty years, more than a hundred pantomimes – around fifty Bip pantomimes and more than sixty pantomimes de style. In fact, the latter have practically always alternated with Bip pantomimes. They have allowed Marceau to embrace an ever-growing universe of physical and artistic expression, to play innumerable characters and to create a dramaturgy particular to the theatre of silence, to the ‘mute theatre’ that he wanted to make his own, but in which he also wanted to give rise to callings, innovations, creations. As a mime passionately committed to perpetuating, enriching and developing his art, Marceau’s dream was to bring about a true theatre of gesture that would integrate the most diverse forms of both eastern and western art, and not just pantomime or mimodrama. In any case, whether it be Bip pantomimes or pantomimes de style, the shows seen in five continents effectively brought about meetings, festivals, callings even, and gave birth to, or revived, an interest in mime. We even see the appearance, over the course of the last twenty years in the wake of Marcel Marceau, as in that of Jacques Lecoq – but for different artistic and pedagogical reasons – companies or schools of mime in countries or regions where they had never existed. Let us add also that Marceau’s often triumphant world tours – in Europe, the USA, Canada, China, India, Japan and the Soviet Union – not only made him a true international mime star, but also contributed to an image (Marceau = mime; mime = Marceau) which, it has often been said, was to provoke much debate on the art of mime.

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In any case, Marceau has the desire, and it is like a mission that he has given himself, to demonstrate – and with what talent – in a virtuoso way that the art of mime did not die with Pierrot; even if he himself did almost die, one day in 1985, on a Moscow stage. No, he does not believe that mime died with Pierrot, nor that it will die with Bip. But we should listen to him talking about pantomimes de style: Pantomimes are silent songs, interior cries, visual sonatas or symphonies, where man tirelessly seeks the why of his existence: a naked man faced with himself who, conqueror or conquered, ends up testifying, by way of the cry of gesture and the echo of the heart, to the vulnerability of the beings living on our earth. [. . .] Sculpting space, making visible the invisible and invisible the visible, pantomimes de style change the notion of time and of space and, as such, bring a new dimension to contemporary theatre. One should note this insistent reference to theatre. For Marcel Marceau, it is clear that the art of mime is an integral part of the art of theatre, even if it is, and because it is – for him – its own art, a total art. ‘In our theatre’, he says elsewhere, ‘mime, through its attitudes, creates a dramaturgy where the universe of sentiments no longer needs the word. It is the representation of a living universe of forms, forms of life, of metamorphosis of life’. In his pantomimes de style as with Bip, Marcel Marceau endeavours to reach the universal in writing with gesture, true symbolic poems, in making use also of eternal themes as in The Tribunal, The Seven Deadly Sins, The struggle against Darkness, or in an even more profound way in The Creation of the World. And what about the admirable poetry and the human dimension contained in the pantomime entitled Adolescence, Maturity, Old Age and Death? It was inspired, we know, by what Marceau calls an ‘extraordinary dramatic exercise’, proposed by Jean-Louis Barrault – more than forty years ago – called Illness, Agony and Death. There, Marceau attained, thanks to elliptical acting and a very rigorous symbolism, a near metaphysical grandeur. Having attempted to evoke the already long career of the mime Marcel Marceau, traced the role of the actor and that of the creator, observed the dimension that he wanted to give to the character of Bip, and distinguished some of the main works that line the path of this great mime, would it not be appropriate to reflect specifically on the art of the mime, on the role or the function that Marceau bestows upon him or her at the theatre and in the theatre? What justifies mime beyond the exceptional gifts and talents of Marcel Marceau? And why would there not

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be one Pierrot or one Bip each century? Are we faced with a phenomenon that is in some way inimitable? Marceau himself gives a definition of mime: ‘Mime is the art of man’s identification with the characters, elements and objects that surround us. An art of attitudes, it reveals man in his most deep and secret aspirations. We must establish’, he adds, ‘a style, a stylisation, an interior musicality, a theatrics and a poetics of silence, creating reference points in space, optical short cuts, changes of character. [. . .] It is a question’, he adds, ‘of a weight different from that one has in life, of a time sculpted with each gesture, of a time that has a sound that one does not hear.’ But does that still necessitate following the rules? To be followed are those that result in a knowledge of movement and, for Marceau, also those of Decroux’s ‘mobile statuary’, a sort of ‘working drawing from which the mime will be able to go to the summit of his art, if he has the gift and the poetry’. The richness and diversity of the physical language acquired by Marceau are such that he can demonstrate them at any moment. But there is nonetheless a polemic regarding mime in general and the mime Marcel Marceau in particular. One sometimes hears that with Marcel Marceau, mime reached its limits, that Marceau’s ‘virtuosoism’ is not transferable, that there is no equal or that there are no other explanations but the gift, the way and the style particular to this artist. One hears also that the art of mime should not only be executed by a mime, that, on the contrary, it should be used by the actor to serve the ‘spoken’ theatre just as it serves the ‘mute’ theatre. One hears also that if Decroux left us his ‘grammar’, then there must be other ones, for other uses; one can very well ‘just move’ and it does not mean that one is Pierrot or Bip and that one can be a good Harlequin without being the only one, the great one, the unique one. Jean-Louis Barrault, for example, having been the accomplice and ‘acting comrade’ of Étienne Decroux, defined and put into practice what he called ‘total theatre’, to which the art of mime is integral because, quite simply, he says, all of the art of theatre must go via the body, which includes speech. Jacques Lecoq, who for more than thirty years, in his own school, has taught movement, gesture and the language of the body has, for his part, always rejected mime as an art in itself. He goes as far as to speak of dangers of fixity and deformation. Ariane Mnouchkine prefers not to talk about it. Mime, the art of mime such as practised by the emulators of Decroux, seems to frighten

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her, as she has received actors, whose bodies, the bodies of a mime, are ‘forced’, impossible to soften, lacking imagination. Of course, Marcel Marceau does not stay out of these controversies. ‘If mime is integrated,’ he says, ‘into the art of the word, it cannot reach fulfilment. If the mime stops to speak, the illusion born of silent dramaturgy, that is imposed by the very art of mime, is destroyed’. And elsewhere he adds: ‘In our dramaturgy, any word spoken by the actor would destroy the mystery and the poetry, and, of course, the dramaturgy, of silence’. And: ‘the art of mime will never be total if we place it in a dramatic universe where the space reserved for it forces it to make concessions’. And finally, he declares that: ‘Mime is the essence of theatre.’ As for the ‘virtuosoism’ and ‘fixity’ people attribute to him and reproach him for, Marceau replies by way of the School of Mimodrama that he founded in Paris in 1978 and by way of the training he gives there (one should perhaps talk more about that elsewhere), ‘because,’ he says, ‘I believe in the profession and its evolution, [and that] only rigour and physical discipline give the freedom to create and to enrich one’s own vocabulary’. So there are revealed, as if by way of conclusion, the contrary positions of various people and of Marcel Marceau, found in programmes from his shows and in some interviews given here and there, or from memory, from conversations we have had. That is to say that the question of mime and the art of mime should remain acutely open. Long may the debate continue. History will be the judge, perhaps, as long as the most certain answers find their way into the history of theatre and its evolution, and especially into the audience. While we wait for that to happen, long live Marcel Marceau and long may he continue to amaze us! Note 1

Proust, M. (trans. C.K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin) (1983), Remembrance of Things Past, London: Penguin, vol. 2, p. 42.

chapter 5

mime, the art of movement Jacques Lecoq

Lecoq anatomises in detail his vision of the art of mime – its different manifestations in modern times and its governing rules. He then goes on to explore its fundamental elements: balance, rhythm, movement, space.

Let us not forget that mime is an art in itself which can be summed up as an artist who imposes his personality and his style, pre-empting the formal question: ‘is it mime or not?’ This question is without interest as regards a poetic space unleashed by talent. Beyond the surprise that the ‘genre’ can produce when seen for the first time, the quality of the poet stands out. Often a solo performer, the mime is an actor-author who cannot claim to own the genre and, as such, is inimitable. Modern mime depends on silence as its point of departure and gives back to gesture the importance that had been buried beneath speech; but it, too, is in danger of being more talkative than speech itself. To fully grasp the art of mime, one must take it to an absolute point, to the extreme, push it to the limits, to breaking point. Just as when one forces concrete to become a sail: one tries to make it too thin or too big and it will collapse. Architecture removes every one of our illusions, those that could not be linked with the real. To build ignoring the laws of the resistance of materials and those of the equilibrium of forces is ultimately to see one’s house collapse. The silent territory of mime, narrower and narrower as a result of constraints, finds itself in a precarious equilibrium, in danger of falling into that which encircles it. To avoid being an actor who does not speak or a dancer who does not dance, such is the challenge to the mime. The limits of mime will not accept mediocrity. How long can mime resist without calling out to that which surrounds it: speech, music, scenery, etc.? That is the question. The view of the human body as a machine always seems a bit simplistic and, often, the temptation is to make a keyboard of it to emphasise the possibilities of the instrument and as such appeal to virtuosos. The great mime attains the domain of Movement, with a capital M, and does not confuse the exercise with the style. This is how he or she touches us in our depths, how the mime’s gestures make us live our own often

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unexpressed ones. There can exist no little handbook on how to become a mime. What is a mime? If you ask people this question, the reply you will often hear is: ‘it’s someone who doesn’t speak and who uses gestures instead’. This is what the word signifies for most people: a kind of special language, like sign language, translating what words say so well into gestures – the language of an actor who has been forbidden to speak. What was true of the pantomime of the nineteenth century is no longer the case, but still lives on as a cliché. Nonetheless, it has to be said that a lot of mimes expressed themselves in a way far removed from true silence, using desperate gesticulation and grimaces to make up for a lack of words, and make themselves understood this way. These poor mimes have led to the genre being seen as an odd zoological case, one to be seen behind glass. A sickness of the theatre. The mime lives in the depths of silence, where gesture does not replace words. The word ‘mime’ is both precise and vague. It refers to the actor and to the genre. History teaches us that the word ‘mime’ was used in the time of the Romans to designate short plays in verse, containing storytelling, gesture and song, which were in no way silent. Thus words travel and their meaning changes with place and with time. We will, in turn, try to make mime travel once again, to get it out of the silent and solitary ghetto where it is frozen in a formal and aesthetic language. The word mime refers to a phenomenon, that of imitation. If to mime is first of all to imitate, one can only imitate that which already exists and which one recognises, sees or hears. A series of observations follow from this. Let us take a simple, or even simplistic, example. During a family reunion, one of the relatives, the ‘comedian’, stands up and imitates each person present. He mimes the walk of the father, copies the poses of the rocker son, the funny look of the grandfather, and apes the simpering young sister. Everybody laughs at the comparison and at the portraits drawn by this observer, the life and soul of the party, especially when they themselves are not targeted. But there are several levels of quality in the act of imitating. First, I create the illusion that the person I imitate is present in my gestures, and will be likewise in all of life’s activities.

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Professional mimics of politicians make us hear the politicians’ voices, as if it was them that were speaking. Patrick Sébastien mimes his characters by physically incarnating them, in order to feel that they are under his skin. The intonation, the way of speaking are one with the body, the imitator recreating a text coming from its source. Thierry Le Luron imitated his characters while keeping an eye on them, in cahoots with the audience, taking a certain critical liberty allowing for irony and parody. He outlines the body and the voice to the point where caricatural gesture and tone appear. Any actor imitates some of the time, and if he is also the author, he performs himself in the role of the one who is imitated. Thus Philippe Avron, in his show Big Bang, imitates the philosophy teacher from his own school days, who becomes ‘The philosophy teacher’ then, at the same time, speaks for him, and it becomes Philippe Avron, philosophy teacher. Sublimation of imitation. The imitation of the actor-mime demands first of all very precise observation of the gestures, attitudes and movements of mankind and of nature, which will then serve as language for the mime’s own poetry in being transposed. For the mime it is a question of seizing the apparent life of the real in order to make it his own, to replay it within himself, in order then to play it for an audience following his own vision. Each mime is inimitable and can resemble no other, although they all participate in a same language: that of the gesture linked to universal laws of movement. All the quality of what is presented will be in the secret, hidden life, brought to light behind the first recognised image. The actor-mime uses talent to allow us to see what is invisible: hidden meaning. If I mime the sea, it is not about drawing waves in space with my hands to make it understood that it is the sea, but about grasping the various movements into my own body: feeling the most secret rhythms to make the sea come to life in me and, little by little, to become the sea. Next, I discover that those rhythms emotionally belong to me; sensations, sentiments, and ideas appear. I play it again, on a second level, and express the forces in it by giving my movements more precise shape: I choose and transpose, my physical impressions. I create another sea – the sea played with this ‘extra’ that belongs to me and which defines my style. I could have made a drawing, music and also speech out of it, if I was an artist, a musician, or a writer. Profound mime is the basis of all the arts.

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‘And on the shore of my body man born of the sea lies stretched out. May he refresh his face even at the spring beneath the sands.’1 Words resonate in the body, inside each other, with other images. Silence Like a heavy and extended silence, I keep quiet, You can’t speak Then there was a long silence . . . The rest is silence. The silence before the battle, the knightly vigil, the silence in anticipation of the next day and the silence once battle is done, that takes the place of the murmuring. Yes, he remains in the silence, the hero. But also, the child does not know what to reply and offers his silence as an answer to the question. Everybody will work in silence and concentrate on their work. The first steps resonate clearly on the asphalt of first morning, as if isolated, they stand out in the silence as the night fades. It was as if life stopped, as if it were hung on the held breath. Silence gives life to a gaze never seen, to gestures not yet ventured. Everything is ready for an arm that is lifted to have meaning. We wait for it in the silence of waiting that gives the act to follow all its value; thus the word is awaited as if it is necessary to the meeting. Silence also distances itself with farewells that have never taken place; In a solitude that shuts down and comes to a close, in a silence that ends . . . It is from silence that the quality of the gesture and the word are born. In this melting pot the trajectories and impulses are prepared and organised. In the inner space, rhythms urgently emerge. Will he speak? Will she take action? He stood up. He walked. He turned around. He looked at me for just an instant, which was enough in order to understand, and he continued on his way. Silence is loaded with different qualities according to whether it begins or concludes an action, an act, a word. The urgency of an action that mobilises us entirely requires a silence favourable to this action. Action requires it. A mountain climber who scales a rock face does not feel the need to speak. A little routine action that does not require great concentration, but rather a kind of automatism, can engender speech

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to facilitate the very act, as well as preventing it from being boring to complete. Old women talk as they knit, but not about what they are doing. Silence at the beginning allies itself to the concentration that allows the action to come. The whole stadium goes quiet: the athlete is still, concentrating on himself, about to try to break the world high jump record, all in marked silence. Silence, action, reaction. The applause breaks out, the champion has gone over the line of victory. Silence after the action on the other hand demands reflection, self restraint. After having consulted the list of examination results, the pupil who has failed often stays painfully silent, close to tears. He who did his very best to pass is prostrated. He isolates himself and wants to be alone. Silence enlivens the gaze, itself, at first. There is always a return into oneself in this rather than opening to the exterior. A shy person is often silent, looking as if he is protecting himself. Silence always hides at the back, where one must look for it if one wants to find it. There is no conflict between speech and silence. Silence offers the word its quality. A speech that does without silence is nothing but

Figures 12 (opposite), 13 (page 73), 14 (page 75), 15 (page 77), 16 (page 79) and 17 (page 81) Jacques Lecoq demonstrates ‘The Wall’, which, when taught at the school, is made up of a total of 57 precise attitudes, c. 1958. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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verbiage. One wants to say: ‘Enough! Be quiet! Your words no longer have the necessary silence, where they find their true value.’ The unsaid must be allowed to emerge. Absolute mime Absolute mime, mime at its limits, has an actor performing it alone, without scenery or costumes, in an empty place, without objects, without using words, in silence, but also without replacing words with gestures that might translate them, nor speaking internally and maintaining a sub-speech. These constraints force the actor to create what the eye does not see by way of illusion and, if the actor gives himself the task of being able to recreate the world by miming it in a limited time, he is faced with numerous problems to resolve: giving the illusion of place, of objects, of beings and things and placing them in time and in space. Such is the premise of absolute mime which, by way of constraints, forces the transposition of the real and the invention of an elliptic language. Nonetheless, if one thinks of the audience, one cannot go beyond a certain threshold of fatigue in giving it a real puzzle to solve. The show must be a short one. Absolute mime draws from the audience’s imagination real images held in the memory in order to give life to the illusion; it tends towards short numbers which it takes away from theatre to create an autonomous, plastic and dramatic art. The obstacles to overcome Constraints will force the mime to fix what is lacking from the real with compensations, recreating it. The freedom of ‘everything is possible’ will allow the invention of a world with laws other than those of reality. The constraint of the non-object is about recreating, by imaging, the presence of a piece of scenery or an object and interacting with them in a sensitive way. It is also a relationship of action favouring the illusion of the expanse, of the situation, of resistance and of weight (look at it, touch it, move it). The constraint of silence forces one to make oneself understood without speech being involved: when words are no longer possible or are not yet possible, recovering the territory of the unsaid that the discourse of words had forgotten. These two constraints develop a sense of space for the actor improvising.

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If I open a door, I must close it without changing its location. To take an object and maintain the illusion of its shape, material, weight, without naming it, forces one to recognise it and recover the very sensation of its feeling and its function. If we try to mime all the actions that we do every morning from waking up to having breakfast, the innumerable little gestures that we do automatically without thinking about it, we realise that we did not know what we were doing and everything gains importance as it is recreated. Since the reformers of the theatre, Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Copeau, theatre pedagogues have developed silent improvisation, seeking to return sensitivity to the perception of the body for the performing actor, eliminating real objects in order to perceive them better. But to recreate an action, an object with illusion (action mime) allows the imagination to invent what does not really exist, to change its dimensions, its weight, to overturn gravity and to play with the infinite possibilities that allow the actor-mime to take flight towards other worlds, wherever the imagination might lead them.

Figure 13

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Comic mime allows games like those found in comic drawings, in cartoons, in trick filming. Unfortunately, these possibilities have been used in numerous ‘snap-shot demonstrations’ to pseudo-poetic effect (the sculptor in love with a statue that comes to life). On the other hand, there is one theme of illusion that cannot work before an audience – conjuring, for the lack of real objects removes any possibility of surprise. The constraint of time by way of speed offers the theme being treated the possibility of a short cut, suggestion or ellipse, as in cartoon mime where it is enough to give the attitude from the beginning and the attitude from the end to understand what happened in between. A theme that takes place over a year can be played in three minutes. This is like the four seasons of a tree, as in films where one sees the opening of a flower from images taken every three minutes, playing on the acceleration of time. The constraint of time by contraction can allow a mutation of language, an essentialisation of the gesture, like the distillation of wine into spirits. In approaching the theme of the life of a man, from birth to death, which must not become either an acceleration nor a simplification, contraction causes the essence of things to appear, free from anecdote, from surface effects, revealing the organisation of abstraction. We can see that the infinite possibilities of mime acting can easily fall into the trap of becoming facile demonstration exercises. But when mime travels, carried by a poet, to the interior of the domain reserved for silence, for short moments he or she can express what no word could say. This is part of acting in the great theatre of art. Gesture can affirm, suggest, symbolise and write the poem as in Japanese Noh, where the masked actor comes on stage and dances rage. The constraint of time by way of expansion proposes a lengthening rather than a reduction of time: to do in five minutes what in reality would take thirty seconds, without falling into the trap of slow motion, but showing, as under a microscope, the different emotional moments that we would not see with the naked eye. The constraint of space: on a reduced stage doing what is done on a vast stage forces one to find transpositions (see locomotion on the spot: this is what allows the actor to run while onstage without being obliged to leave!). I remember a cabaret show that the Yves Robert company performed at La Rose Rouge. It was a western where numerous characters

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fought in a saloon; the illusion worked perfectly on a stage reduced to 3 metres by 2. Pushing the diminution of the space even further will necessarily lead to hand mime and puppetry. The constraint of being alone is tempting to the soloist and highlights the qualities of a virtuoso mime: to switch characters, to have them play together, etc. The possibility of being another body, an element, an animal, a tree, a material, objects, a colour, a light, takes the play of combinations and the mime territory to infinity. Let us not forget the constraint of mask, which takes from the face the mimicry so dear to nineteenth-century mime, when it was said that a masked mime was not a mime. Mask allows one to find a stronger expression of gestures and of physical attitudes. The half-mask, which leaves the lower part of the face free, allows speech. Moreover, the actor is obliged to improvise a text that is different from the one he would have spoken without the mask, and to bring out another voice. The final constraint is as follows. In the days of Roman pantomime, a mime stood on his head and did with his feet what he did with his

Figure 14

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hands to show his talent. We come to pure virtuosoism, where absolute mime ends. Pedagogy of the constraint A measure of constraint is indispensable but exaggerating prohibitions can lead to the negation of expression, to the point of absurdity. I have seen pedagogical constraints lead to making an actor wear a hat with a little bell on it; the objective was to move without letting the bell tinkle. This is like the instruction given to an actor to not move while speaking, or to hold the hands tied; thus speech has to be stronger and have maximum intonation. Nevertheless, constraints are necessary as rules of the game for acting. A high jumper would not jump so high if there was no obstacle to clear. The pedagogue must know where to place the bar at exactly the right height to make it a positive provocation and improve the actor’s play. After all, ultimately, anything can be mimed. Constraints favour style; too much constraint leads to virtuosoism, to feats. Not enough constraint dilutes the intentions and the gestures in the soup of natural gestures. This bar of constraint, this necessary obstacle, is placed at different heights according to the pressure expressed in the strength of the intentions and the actor’s play. The most difficult thing is to find the right measure of constraint so that the life presented expresses itself in a style that remains alive; otherwise the bar, if set too high, can result in a bruising that snuffs out its life. Constraints are necessary for transposing life into representations of life, for creating another life that is stronger. They are born of the demands of poetry. Style Style results from the economy of means employed between a desire and a constraint. It results from a convention, from a rule of the game. The necessary obstacle is indispensable in pedagogy as it is in learning to be free. It must vary from person to person. It is not in the armchair that adapts to your body that you will be best off, but rather in one that resists it a little, but not too much. In that armchair you will be better off. In the first case the body gets stuck in a form that receives it, in a sympathy that cancels it. In the

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second case, the body thrives in a living immobility provoked by a little ‘extra’. The most difficult thing is to know how to choose constraints in a way where they are not only a simple exterior given but are born of the desire of artists, of their own special playfulness. The rules of the game The rules of the game in poetic creation are in the playing itself, which seeks for constraints to help improve its quality. Children who play with a ball of rags, kicking it around, bit by bit produce rules that are obligations, and limit the game, in order to make it more interesting: they set boundaries on the playing field, agree on the width of the goal. This is how the old game of soule became rugby football. Soule was a game played between the ablebodied men from two villages. A large ball, made of rags (the soule) was placed between the two villages and, when the signal was given, the players started the attack, and had to get hold of the ball and place

Figure 15

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it in the opposing village square. Everything was allowed, or nearly everything. One must not fall into the trap of formal exterior constraints that impose a particular style on to something that does not justify it: ‘in the style of ’. Rather, one should find the strictness of the constraint in the very heart of the theme at play. One should not be afraid, faced with a great theatre text, to push it around a little in order to reveal the structure that organises it; this can be done without premeditation, without an opinion, as if it were being discovered for the first time. A weak text cannot resist when it is pushed around. The rules of the game belong to the author. One cannot produce a play without going to meet him or her. Directions of mime Mimes use different styles according to their poetic world. One can locate three main directions: dramatic mime, based on the theatrical situation and the character in action, often comic, and dramatic symbolic mime, that represents ideas and concepts through images borrowed from the real plastic mime, which is close to sculpture, that plays on the movements of the body without need for a story, ending up as a game of abstraction of movement. These three directions intermingle. The theatre of gesture and image welcomes the different possibilities that mime offers. Encounter with the temptation to systematise It is tempting to build a perfect system, fixed in rigorous choices that leave no doubt for those who learn it. Such a system, easily conveyed like the Tables of Law, requires devotion to an established order, without the imagination of questioning: it is a gymnastic or aesthetic system easily reduced to fifteen lessons in a manual. For the movements of the human body, the geometric analytic system presents itself thus: the body standing, divided into several parts according to its anatomy: feet, legs, thighs, pelvis, bust, chest, shoulders, arms, forearms, hands, neck, head, and the toes and fingers. First, find a procedure. Each part of the body is isolated from the other parts and animated in the directions suggested by the first space of

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a cube; the mechanics are reduced next to oblique directions from the horizontal and vertical. All movements are not possible from this geometric choice that fixes precise attitudes at 90, 45 and 30 degree angles. Often a body part refuses to do backwards what it does forwards. The body is not a geometric object equal on all sides: one cannot bend the knee the other way. The system then continues with a sequence that takes in all of the attitudes without marking them, with global, curved movements. The cube prepares the ground for the sphere that brings with it twists, circumductions, and rotations; these bring about other movements when they are combined with flexions, extensions, translations in front, behind, and to the side. One can apply all of these movements and combinations to a particular part of the body that ‘assumes autonomy’ in relation to a fixed point: the play of the neck-head atop fixed shoulders, the play of the breastchest atop a fixed pelvis, etc. We thus harvest many different movements and attitudes that lead to the actor becoming a perfect marionette fresh out of the workshop.

Figure 16

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Second, we look for the value of each movement in terms of expression; we seek the justification. Movement thus leaves analytic gymnastics behind in search of dramatic gymnastics. Third, it is enough to allow the articulated über-marionette to take life in order to find life in expression that will have benefited from precision of articulation and have become more readable, in the same way as articulation and diction are necessary in order to be heard and understood. The whole point is for life to reach the surface of movements without them being an aesthetic and formal constraining grid, which is often the case in ‘statuary mime’. The security of a system often makes one take mechanics for technique, just as 1-2-3-4 can be taken for rhythm. The system is a sort of pre-structure to take hold of and animate the body-puppet, like scaffolding that is set up in order to construct a statue (think of the Statue of Liberty) but that should never ever replace it. Now, next, the structure must become invisible, which is the hardest part. One might also fear that this analysis could go too far, to the point of sadism and fear that to push difficulty to this point only ends up destroying what we started with: ‘to play life better’. The comments ‘that hurts’, ‘I have been working hard’, are always suspicious from an artistic point of view, where pleasure must be present. The exercise is not the aesthetic. The demonstration is not the expression. The mechanics is not the technique. Virtuosoism is not life. All theatre characters whose preferred form of expression is gesture (those in commedia dell’arte, or the Peking Opera) are organised by way of analytic pathways. The isolated play of one part of the body alone assumes an expression. The training of an actor, without pushing it as we have seen, borrows the lines of geometry. Wearing a mask lends itself to play and transposes the natural, rounded and continuous gesture into a more readable, articulated one. Movement with a capital ‘M’ A knowledge of the laws of movement is indispensable to artistic creativity, in particular in the domain of theatre, and to the play of author and actor who directly retransmit life into movement. Movement is characterised by a displacement in relation to stillness. There is no movement without a fixed point. Everything that moves is recognised according to a chosen element referring to the immobile. Thus I watch a goose flying in relation to the immobility of the pond. I see the beating of its wings in relation to its body. I observe

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the displacement of its body up and down because of its head being still. I move around on a still Earth, but one that rotates and that moves around a still Sun that, in turn, moves with its galaxy in an infinitely moving universe. It is easy to understand why man needs to find a fixed point in the sky to locate himself, and why he needs to put a stop to the huge vertigo he feels when the different fixed points, in which he sincerely believed, reveal themselves to be false as he gets to know the universe better! The gods are also fixed points for humans; and fixed points make laws, even if humans play a part in that. God has so much work to do that he needs some help. But everything moves, and the fixed point along with it, if we let it. Therein lies the humour of movement. The fixed point If the fixed point situates the displacement of a movement, the movement is evidence of the fixed point. In what moves we see only the immobile. This is a very interesting idea in dramatic expression.

Figure 17

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In illusion mime, if I put a hat on my head, the presence of the hat would be reinforced if I hold it, for a moment, still in space and if I place my head into it with a movement using the whole body. In the Greek tragic chorus, the same problem occurs concerning the coryphaeus, who speaks on behalf of all. If the coryphaeus leaves the ranks to speak, and the chorus remains still, he becomes a chief who has taken an authoritative decision. If the chorus moves, leaving the coryphaeus immobile, he thus becomes the chosen delegate: either way the coryphaeus can speak for all. On Magnani’s entrance in the review Chi e di scena, I employed this principle. The scene takes place in a square in Rome full of carnival characters, dancing in multicoloured costumes. All of a sudden we hear the long and strident sound of a siren announcing an aerial attack, as in Rossellini’s film Rome, Open City; panic, to-ings and froings in the crowd which disappears, leaving the stage empty, revealing, in the middle of the square, standing, alone, still, in a little black dress that clings to her body, Anna Magnani, who quietly sings a song from the Trastevere about Rome. It had to be Magnani: only she could succeed, alone, in balancing the space of the stage left free by the crowd. If there had been a cat there instead, we would have laughed to fill the empty space between the presence of the cat and the presence of the crowd: the weight imbalance. This demonstrates the importance of movement in the relationship between equilibrium and disequilibrium, subject as they are to the laws of gravity.

Equilibrium and disequilibrium The human body is aligned to the laws of gravity that pull it down and give it weight; life pushes it upwards, fighting against these very laws. In moving, upright, from this equilibrium, the body risks falling, through a series of successive imbalances, catching itself at each step; this is how it walks. It acts and reacts; it receives and gives. Standing on one leg, if you catch a medicine ball weighing five kilos from one side, and you want to retain your balance, you had best throw it immediately to the other side. If two opposing forces fight one against the other, the rupture of the equilibrium of forces causes a movement of displacement. Alternating

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Figure 18 Drawings by Gaston Ledoux, taken from Physiognomy and Gestures by Giraudet (1895). In his book, Giraudet explains the system of Delsarte, which aims to analyse the expressive laws of the human body. Here we see ‘opposition’: a movement in one direction implies another in the opposite direction, thus respecting the law of equilibrium. Jacques Lecoq collection.

allows one part of the body to rest in relation to another: what is done on the left is then done on the right. To throw a pebble into the sea, I do a preparatory movement in the opposing direction to the target I am aiming for. In any movement there are two in the opposite direction. Thus love rubs shoulders with hate. Leonardo da Vinci, in his Treatise on Painting, gives us pertinent observations on movement:

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when a man lifts a weight with one arm, he naturally throws out the opposite arm; and if that is not enough to form an equipoise, he will add as much of his own weight, by bending his body as will enable him to resist such an accidental load. We see also, that a man ready to fall sideways and backwards at the same time, always throws out the arm on the opposite side.2 The art of movement must always bear in mind notions of compensation, alternation, preparation, rhythm and space. The body of Artaud Antonin Artaud understood the mobile human body like no champion of the stadium could. His injured body, taken out of orbit because of an ‘error of nature’, had an acute sensitivity to the equilibrium of forces. He cried out the difference between equilibrium and disequilibrium that he could translate no other way than by impossible images and impossible movements; so extreme and absolute were the respective positions. In L’ombilic des limbes he speaks of the tearing apart of the point: all the branches of the fan falling into a single centre. Overturning the body in his desires, opening his arms, the obligation for him was to close them. Two inverse bodies inhabited him, one in conflict with the other in turns. His neurosis launched unfinished transverse lines that could reach no end point. This corporal dynamics can be found embedded in all his texts.

Compensation Illusion mime highlights the resistance and the weight of the object by way of adequate compensatory movements. To carry a bucket filled with water, I compensate by leaning the body to the opposite side to keep balance. This compensatory attitude suggests the weight of the object. At the cinema, I have often seen suitcases that were supposedly full carried as if they were empty, which of course they are. Feelings confront one another within us and create conflict between love and reason, passion and destiny, each pulling one way or the

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other. In tragedy, the choice being impossible, death alone is the outcome. Alternation Alternation favours duration and puts one part into relief while at the same time according it new interest. One cannot imagine a person who laughs all the time – that would be worrying. Just as night lets day rest, in the theatre we alternate different scenes to make the show more interesting, more balanced. The preparation movement In the largest displacement of an object or of oneself (throwing, jumping) one creates, prior to the actual action gesture, a gesture in the opposite direction that serves to define its direction, to find its point of purchase, to concentrate the propelling force. This is the effort preparation, its momentum. The high jumper pushes into the ground before projecting into the air (flexion, extension). One swings back on a chair before moving

Figures 19 (opposite), 21 (page 87), 22 (page 89) and 24 (page 91) Jacques Lecoq miming ice skating, one of the sequence of ‘twenty movements’ that students learn in the first year of the School. Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

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Figure 20 This Bronze statue of a discus-thrower was made for Lecoq, and sits on the bookshelf in his office. In Ancient Greece the discus was not thrown in the same way as in modern athletics. The movement is closer to that used by a sling-shot thrower. This magnificent movement suggests something analogous to a ritual: elevation, prosternation, a painful twisting movement and the cry of release in the disequilibrium of the fall. Joel Anderson.

forward to get up (retreat, advance). The discus thrower prepares the twist with a twist in the opposite direction. In expression, the preparatory movement is so potent that it defines the action that follows it. Thus a child knows a slap is coming only by seeing the hand raised, a threat. Suppressing the preparation movement will create a surprise. To feign is to do an action with a false preparatory movement. An oversized preparatory movement for a tiny action will create a rupture that laughter will balance. This is exploited in the cinema with the burlesque. In cartoons, when the dog Pluto prepares to run, he steps back three metres before setting off towards his goal. In order to start walking, Monsieur Hulot makes a little jump backwards. One could say he takes a step back to take a step forward. In Shakespeare, comic scenes are placed before tragic ones to prepare the audience to receive them, applying the laws of alternation and the preparation movement.

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The accentuation of movement To detach the start of a movement from what precedes it, and to emphasise its ending, is to accentuate a movement. All theatres with a high level of performance, where gesture is stylised, have succeeded in finding this accentuation. Movement is contained between these two physical attitudes, which, through their immobility, mark the start and finish. The accentuation is located in the unleashing of the movement from immobility, in the shortest instant, finding its regular speed very near its start point, giving the impression of relaxation. Likewise, for the ending of the movement, stillness is preceded by an acceleration, emphasising the final position. This accentuation terminates with a slight bump as the movement reaches its arrival point, which can also be expressed as a little explosion. The classical Japanese theatre and the masked play of the commedia dell’arte employ this accentuated movement; as does even the Peking Opera, where actors’ movements literally explode into monumental poses. The accentuation at the end is very important, as it lends its quality to the movement. The full stop that ends the sentence justifies the fact that it ever started. It is the same thing for words in the theatre, where actors tend to drop the ends of lines.

Figure 21

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The great Italian actor Memo Benassi, used to performing in the open air, added a ‘t’ sound to the end of lines that finished with an e. This accentuated the word in order for it to be heard (he had performed with Sarah Bernhardt and Italy did not have its Jacques Copeau). In the theatre it is the last act that counts, and one always remembers the ending better than the beginning. It manifests the quality of the whole. Rhythm A movement has no form and no life if it has no rhythm, and here we touch on a major aspect of movement. We can unpack a rhythm, reduce it into beats and give it a faster or slower tempo. We know that rhythm is organic in essence, that it is made up of rise and fall, of strong and weak beats, but its essence eludes us when we try to penetrate it, just as the mystery of life does. It is life. It carries with it a vocabulary that confuses it and the words for it rock around in everyday language, knocking into each other. It is measure, speed, cadence, time, frequency, and so on. Soldiers march with a cadenced step. Gymnastics on apparatus is done ‘in time’ to music. Jazz has a distinctive beat (why more so than classical music?). A song has rhythm because the bars are cadenced and the frequency is fast. So we can trace rhythm using different perspectives without ever reaching the end. We catch it with the trap of bar-lines. Rhythm brings with it an emotive aspect, sympathy, love. The theatrical communion between the audience and the author through the intermediary of actors is a rhythmical agreement. I knew a great actress who was playing Electra in Sophocles without knowing what she was saying, and I know of spectators who have cried without understanding the words of the text: they are linked by a violent emotive rhythm, the intuition of great artists that goes beyond the power of reason. A couple can be united by a common rhythm and fight to secondary rhythms, like the tree trunk with its branches that argue. In life nothing takes place at the same speed. Speed progresses or regresses. Movement has a beginning and an end but the middle is not in the middle. To talk about movement, about rhythm, about space and about time, is to talk about life and its mysteries. ‘Space is the measure of time’, as Aristotle put it.

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Space Movement is not only a displacement of lines, but also it causes pressures and tensions in space. Forces play against one another in this way, giving a living vibrant consistency to space. To define one’s route is superficial. A Rodin sculpture, immobile in its own material, moves by itself and makes the space around it move: it draws together in its form the contradictions that animate its dynamics. ‘Pushing-pulling’ is the directional motor that comes about along with: pushing-oneself-pulling-oneself and being-pushed-being-pulled. At this level movement takes on its true dimension, organising itself in the time-space, through rhythm. Theatre with a high level of performance places the body in a space of tension that is higher than what it normally inhabits in life. I was thus able to establish a scale of tensions of the body on seven levels. Each of these levels suits a different style of theatre, getting stronger and stronger, and can use varied types of movement, such as sitting, walking or even speaking. Here are the exercises that I give my students and the observations I have made about them.

Figure 22

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Figure 23 Lecoq demonstrates miming ‘pulling’: the fixed point, the engagement of head and pelvis. Early 1950s, Italy. Jacques Lecoq collection.

Sub-relaxation: an expression of survival, like just before death; the image of sea birds that are tarred up on the beach; one speaks with difficulty, for oneself, incoherent, using swear words. Relaxation: a smiling expression of the ‘body on holiday’, leaving the arms to swing freely and playing on gravity’s pendulum, the body rebounds on itself. One speaks to others and seeks out groups of friends. The economic body: neutral, as if programmed for a minimum of effort for a maximum return. Everything is said, politely but no more than that, and without passion. The supported body: one carries the weight of one’s own body. This is the first sensation of the space under pressure: discovery, interest, suspicion, one calls, one designates, a sort of state of alert. One seeks a partner. There is no relaxation. Themes are at the level of the realistic theatre, sensitive to situation. The first muscular tension is decisiveness. I go. It is action that starts it. Words are precise, clean. In the theatre this is the level of realistic acting, in action. The second muscular tension is the arrival of passion. Anger is the natural state. Put an angry person on stage, and he will be at the level of play-acting. The actor must also have this level but without getting

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angry, or shouting. It must be play. This theatre is close to mask and one cannot replay this level in life. It is already stylised theatre at this point. The third muscular tension is the maximum. The gesture plays to resistance, slowly and without a trajectory, as in Noh. One can only simulate the tension of this level, which is close to asphyxiation. Words are no longer spoken, but inter-cut with sounds that lengthen them. We see that this mimodynamic experience offers a scale, a range of different theatres. Speech and the very nature of the text change according to bodily tension. Inversely, each theatre text contains a level of body tension required to play it. But to spend one’s time varying the agreements, performing a ‘relaxed’ version of a high level text, in order to be modern, is a virtuoso game without merit. It is merely intellectual complacency that ignores the very dynamic of the text and the body of the actor. Productions of Greek tragedy (as well as translations) have suffered a drop in quality because of this. The dynamics of the passions Everything can be placed on a scale, on a dramatic climb that is rhythmically organised. The levels are not located at an equal distance from

Figure 24

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each other, but in a living rhythmic relationship. Thus fear starts as worry, followed by dread, and develops into terror. The actor-mime must within himself feel the different nuances of the passions, which make for a richness in his performance that can only be attained through exercise. His understanding must first and foremost be mimodynamic. The performance of commedia dell’arte is an example: you take a situation and carry it to its most extreme expression, where acrobatics come into play, just before death. One dies of everything in this theatrical game: of envy, of jealousy, of laughter. Pantaloon makes the perilous leap into anger. We play at a high level of performance that that ‘essentialises’ the psychology in the action. The mounting situation reaching its climax is returned to its opposite, always in search of equilibrium. It finds itself thus reversed and takes names like The Taming of the Shrew, The Robber Robbed or The Confessor Confessed. Dynamic structure organises the play of the situation and the passions just as it organises the play of the body in movement. The dynamics of words The word is a gesture that modulates within organised sounds, in words propelled by verbs: I throw, I lift, I twist; I throw myself, I lift myself, I twist myself; I am thrown, I am lifted, I am twisted . . . Action is inscribed into words. Articulated language has made use of analogical images. From a movement, each language recognises one part, privileges one moment. Let us take the example of throwing a ball: French privileges the beginning, and lets the ball get away: je lance; Italian privileges the ball’s arrival at its target: io lancio; in Japanese, it is neither the departure nor the arrival but the trajectory that is brought out. Words contain (inner space) in their sound the dynamic of materials, images and action which they more or less remember. Other words circulate around (outer space), in black and white rather than in colour, and look, explain, define. At the centre of these spaces verbs animate, words born of the earth stay faithful to it in their dialects. Each country preserves physical adherences in its words, and sees them differently. For example, for the French, the word beurre participates in the sensuality of the slight melting of the named material; for the English, the word

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‘butter’ is dry, firmer, in the fridge. There are words, like confiture in French and ‘marmalade’ in English, that manage to meet in a neighbouring dynamic; more trickling in French, more upheld, gelatinous and trembling in English. Notes Perse, S-J. (trans. Wallace Fowlie) (1958), New York: Pantheon Books, p. 105. 2 Da Vinci, L. (trans. John Francis Rigaud) (1835), A Treatise on Painting, London: J.B. Nichols and Son, p. 35. 1

chapter 6

the explosion of mime Jean Perret and Jacques Lecoq

The following section consists of an interview of Lecoq by Jean Perret, interspersed with short explanations of key ideas by Jacques Lecoq. This is the part of the book in which Lecoq moves from the history and aesthetics of mime to sketch out his unique pedagogic approach. Here we find, formulated in print for the first time, the approach that will be expanded in a more systematic form ten years later when he comes to write The Moving Body.

Jacques Lecoq is a man with a calling. Be it in competitive sports or physiotherapy; in theatre, dance, cinema or television; architecture or the plastic arts, Jacques Lecoq has always been passionate about movement and form, and, above all, mime and gesture. Since the opening of his school in 1956, he has explored the disappearance of mime and the symptoms of its demise, leading to his involvement in what he called the explosion of mime in theatre, ‘giving voice to silence’ at a time where it was heresy for a mime to speak. He strove to find the essence of mime and integrate it in his pedagogy. Similarly, he incorporated different dramatic territories into his unremitting exploration, creating an ‘actorcreator’ who would use improvisation as a tactical, as well as technical, device. The study of classical texts would come later, once the trained actor had tackled all of the styles of acting and was finally ready. As Lecoq has noted elsewhere, being an actor is no ordinary occupation and this is why his training cannot be compared with traditional methods of teaching. His pedagogy nurtures, directs and strengthens; it helps budding talent to bloom and reveals what was hidden within. What Jacques Lecoq never forgets, and this is central to his pedagogy, is that students come to him with a desire, a vocation, a gift, a talent and occasionally a delusion. They are looking for a way to realise their dreams, for the right suggestions. They want him to stimulate their thirst for life, both from the inside and the outside. They want him to train their bodies, to help them explore gesture and speech, to ignite their ‘actor-creator’ imagination. This has been the aim of Jacques Lecoq and the goal of his International Theatre School: to provoke a creativity rooted in a true theatre of

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gesture that ‘moves and speaks with integrity’. Let us now listen to the words of both the man and the pedagogue. The pedagogy of movement (interview of Jacques Lecoq by Jean Perret, including seven explanations of key ideas by Lecoq) Jean Perret: The school that you created in 1956 has always been an international and professional theatre school, however your career followed a varied progression to arrive at this point: you have been a teacher in physical education, a physiotherapist, a mime artist and actor, and then in Italy, you helped found the Piccolo Teatro School with Paolo Grazzi and Giorgio Strehler, who is now the director of the Théâtre de L’Europe in France. So, can you tell us exactly how you became Jacques Lecoq, or rather, how you became this internationally recognised pedagogue? Jacques Lecoq: I have always loved movement. My first introduction to it was in stadiums and swimming pools, where I could enjoy the simple act of moving: the body’s extension in throwing the discus, pacing my breath and stride in running races, that moment of suspension just above the bar in the high jump. These actions expanded in my mind, and I could feel myself jumping high, swimming fast with the river’s

Figure 25 Lecoq gives feedback to students. Catalan actor Sergi Lopez is seated on the floor, to the right of Lecoq. Alain Chambaretaud.

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current. Going around the track in the evenings, I would see my shadow grow larger or smaller depending on the sun’s position. My body remembers all of this. I can recall doing a 1,500-metre swim where time gradually seemed to slip away and the steady rhythm of my front crawl helped me solve a maths problem that I had been set for homework. These physical sensations were so powerful that they still flow through me today and they have undeniably influenced my teaching of movement. Despite the Occupation, during the war I was able to continue training and become a teacher in physical education and then a physiotherapist. This paramedical work led me to specialise in rehabilitation, especially with paralytics, and the anatomical understanding that this gave me proved incredibly valuable. You see, it was physical education and rehabilitation that first steered me towards bodily expression, movement and, later, to mime and theatre. Jean Perret: Going back to the war and Occupation, wasn’t it during this time that you discovered theatre, whilst other youngsters took refuge or hid in ‘youth camps’? Jacques Lecoq: Absolutely. It was actually during that time that I met Jean-Marie Conty, who had been top of his year at the École Polytechnique, a pilot of the Aéropostal company with Saint-Exupéry and an international basketball player. He was interested in theatre and friends with both Antonin Artaud and Jean-Louis Barrault, whom he had

Figure 26 Acrobatics teacher Christophe Marchand demonstrates stage combat to students. Alain Chambaretaud.

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helped through some difficult times, as Artaud’s letters to Barrault testify. And it was he who stimulated my interest in theatre. Barrault would give us a demonstration; Serge Lifar would ‘choreograph’ us. Under their supervision, we were able to perform theatrical games; ready for the most challenging gestures and actions, and it was an incredibly enriching experience. I later joined Travail et Culture (the T.E.C.) (Work and Culture) with some friends, where I took improvisation classes with Claude Martin, who had been a student of Charles Dullin and an actor in his company. I also took expressive dance classes with Jean Serry, a former principal dancer at the Paris Opera. It was during this time that we formed Les Aurochs, a company that created plays based on improvisation and consisted of myself and, amongst others, the poet and dramatist Gabriel Cousin. Then came the Liberation and, led by Jean Serry, some of us took part in huge demonstrations that would comprise of ten to fifteen thousand people. We demonstrated at Chartres to celebrate the return of our prisoners of war, under the name Les Compagnons de la Saint-Jean; also at Le Puy, for the pilgrimage of the French Scouts, where we performed a show directed by Georges Douking; then at Grenoble, where we took part in two large celebrations directed by Louis Ciccione, one for the freedom of the town and another for May Day, in honour of the work that the newly liberated people could now resume. Jean Perret: You have said that these performances relied on improvisation, on the body and movement. Did they not also introduce you to mime, which could be seen as both your starting and finishing point? In fact, where did you learn mime? Jacques Lecoq: Starting point and finishing point, that’s true to an extent and you’ll see why. As for my apprenticeship, it was a very slow and long process. But we’ll come back to that later. It’s important to talk about it as it was, and always will be, fundamental to my training, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I want to talk to you about Étienne Decroux, whom I respect but who, paradoxically, did not train me. Despite the encouragement of my friends, I refused to work with Decroux, who was attracting everyone who had an interest in mime. I had seen a demonstration that he gave at the Salle Iéna and, sitting in the first row, I was shocked by his mechanical style of movement and the loud and forced breathing that sounded like ironmonger’s bellows. I decided that I could never be a part of this style of mime and that it would be better to find a personal technique myself. At the time, I was interested in nature and its movements. It was later that I understood that natural gesture cannot really be used in art. Decroux said to me once ‘I hate nature and all that is natural’, and

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I thought that, in a way, he was right, but that there were probably numerous ways that one could transpose nature. To be honest, I’ve always thought of Decroux more as a plastic artist or sculptor than a mime, and certainly not a dramatic mime in the sense that I had envisaged. It was on the road that I discovered professional theatre, with Jean Dasté in Grenoble in 1945. He came to see our company performing a show that incorporated mime, dance and song, and subsequently asked some of us, myself included, to join a new company that he was putting together called Les Comédiens de Grenoble. There was no audition to pass just a shared vision, and so, with a leap across the stage, I was employed by Les Comédiens de Grenoble and began my professional acting career. Through Dasté, I was now learning from the experiences of Jacques Copeau and, more importantly, the Copiaux. I took charge of the company’s physical training, and my own experimentation into mime and theatre began. Jean Perret: And you followed in the wake of the Copiaux, using the mask work and other theatrical forms that they rediscovered? Jacques Lecoq: I’m coming to that. It was in Grenoble that I discovered mask work and this was an enormous moment for me. The masks that the Copiaux used didn’t really have any expressions. They were called ‘noble masks’, but I eventually began to call them neutral masks. Two shows in particular affected me. L’Exode (The Exodus), a mimed and masked choral piece that showed the flight of a village faced with occupation, where each performer was alternately transformed into a church, a house, oxen, or wagons. The farmers of the region watched with almost religious silence. Even though they had never seen theatre before, the theme was so poignantly of the time that they understood the transpositions completely. The second was a Japanese Noh play called Sumida River, directed by Marie-Hélène Dasté and Jean Dasté, and liberally adapted by Suzanne Bing. I oversaw the movement of the boat in the play, and it was a very tentative debut into choreography. I think you can see from this, the close relationship between Jacques Copeau and the Copiaux and also their direct influence on me. Jean Perret: So if I understand this correctly, at this time you were leaving teaching behind in favour of becoming an actor. But didn’t the opportunity of meeting Barrault, and especially Dasté, push you towards theatre and a theatre school, long before your time in Italy confirmed this direction? Jacques Lecoq: You know, at the time, the roles of actor and teacher were merging together for me. To such an extent, actually, that after two

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years performing in Grenoble, I moved to the Éducation Par le Jeu Dramatique (Education Through Dramatic Performance) in Paris, where, based on my own education in Grenoble, I taught physical expression for actors. It was a vocational school created by a group of actors and directors: Jean-Louis Barrault, Alain Cuny, Claude Martin, André Clavé, Marie-Hélène Dasté and Roger Blin, driven by Jean-Marie Conty. It was a new French school that wanted, in the words of a book edited at the time, ‘to make its students alive’. It was a place of exchange and sharing. Jean Perret: Was this influenced by Copeau’s ideas or rather those of Antonin Artaud and Charles Dullin? Jacques Lecoq: Much more by Artaud and Dullin, certainly. But the school, under this ‘influence’, if you like, was definitely a place where ideas were exchanged and it had an enormous effect on me because it was there that I met the director Gianfranco de Bosio and his collaborator, Lieta Papafava, who had both come to the Éducation Par le Jeu Dramatique to study for the year. They asked me if I wanted to work with them at the Padua University Theatre. Italy! Well, I agreed to go for three months and ended up staying in Italy for eight years, from 1948 to 1956: three years in Padua, two in Milan and three more doing various things as an actor, mime, choreographer or director in theatre, television and film. Jean Perret: I think it would be fair to say already that this period in Italy was a time of initiation for you. What were its main stages? Jacques Lecoq: Initiation might be too strong a word. However, it is undeniable that my time in Italy was extremely important. It allowed me to expand the possibilities of mime. Gianfranco de Bosio led a professional company, which began a school project resulting in numerous shows, and was also a main component of Italian youth theatre. My time in Italy broadened my perspectives, like a fan opening out. In the first few days after my arrival in Padua in 1948, I gave the company a demonstration of my know-how. Among other things, I showed them the world-famous ‘walking on the spot’ that Étienne Decroux and Jean-Louis Barrault had invented. They responded with admiring looks and then one of the actors, Agostino Cantarello, a poet, watchmaker and central figure of the company, who would later play the role of Pantalone at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan, stood up and said: ‘Che bello! Che Bello! Ma dove va?’ (‘Beautiful! Beautiful! But where’s it going?’). This sentence remains a symbol of the moment of realisation that occurred for me: I was suddenly aware that an isolated mime didn’t actually go anywhere. Gradually, Italy brought me back down to earth, grounding me in the lives of everyday people. It introduced me to a commedia dell’arte that was actually a reflection of the human condition, in all of its glorious

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Figure 27 ‘Arguments’ – scene from Travel Diaries, production by the Jacques Lecoq company in 1959. Wearing the masks made by Amleto Sartori, from left to right: Yves Kerboul (Harelquin); Élie Pressman (the Doctor); Isaac Alvarez (Pantalone); Philippe Avron (the Captain). Liliane de Kermadec. Jacques Lecoq collection.

tragedy and comedy, especially in this country that is so sensitive to the urgency of life. The sculptor Amleto Sartori, with whom I began working on masks, is part of this ‘peasant heart’ in which the language and strength of Padua is rooted, closer to Ruzzante than Goldoni, the two extremes of commedia dell’arte (1500–1750). The commedia dell’arte The commedia dell’arte is a magical territory in theatre, one that has always inspired dreams and imagination. For two centuries, this great reservoir of actor-improvisers travelled from Italy all around Europe. The actors kept the same roles and gave a sense of perpetuity to the characters. How many men wore Harlequin’s mask, from the Bergamot peasant Zanni to the elegant and dancing Harlequin of nineteenth-century pantomime? How did they perform? Did they really improvise? For whom did they perform? Where are they now? These were professional actors who played the same role for years and then passed their skills on to their sons. The actor who was playing the role at the time reinvented certain characteristics. There are many contradictions that arise when one talks of commedia dell’arte. The actors did not improvise, as we once believed: he was the author of his own lazzi and did not change them every night; he simply had a wealth of things to choose from.

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Every author, whether he creates a gesture or a spoken or written text, improvises the first time that he moves in the space or puts pen to paper. Even if he has an initial idea, he must at some point throw himself into the unknown. From this starting point, the actor-improviser-author rehearses and refines his creation, testing it and finally performing it for an audience, who see only the finished product. This is where things start to get out of hand: people reinvent the past with few of the facts and all we are left with are basic concepts or verbal descriptions, but no images and no actor or his lazzi, despite the many books written on the subject (I recommend Constantin Mic’s The Commedia dell’Arte, which emphasises the dramatic qualities of this theatre that is often considered as little more than entertainment). In 1947, Milan’s Piccolo Teatro staged Goldoni’s Servant of Two Masters with the wonderful Moretti. It was the most performed play at the Piccolo, one that Strehler directed several times, unfortunately ‘improving’ it over the course of time thereby losing its initial freshness. It did, however, reintroduce the audience to commedia dell’arte. The irony is that commedia dell’arte is mostly known thanks to Goldoni, who actually declared war on the genre, rather than to Gozzi who wanted to revive it. Despite the rivalry between these two writers, the era of the actor-improviser-author was over. Between 1500 and 1750, between Ruzzante and Goldoni, commedia dell’arte evolved over the course of its 250-year history and this is what enables us to take such liberties and imagine what it used to be like. Imagining the past is much easier than imagining the future, because we know that the past existed, even if we don’t know the past, we can fairly effortlessly recreate it. I personally prefer the earlier, rural commedia dell’arte, closer to Ruzzante’s work, the performances in the countryside of Padua, rather than the later plays in Venetian salons. When we talk of a theatre of gesture it is this style of theatre, written in dialect, that I think of fondly. Dialects have a very physical and earthy association, and they link word and gesture in a very particular rhythm. That is why they are so difficult to translate: sophisticated language often mistakes rural for vulgar. This explains why knowledge of Ruzzante’s theatre, which was written in Paduan, is now so limited. Commedia dell’arte is based on man’s pas