Last week, we interviewed Physical Theatre students Sam Barksdale (BU), Lydia Utter (BU), and Gabriel Stephens (BU) about their ongoing work in Commedia dell’Arte with professor Michela Mocchiutti, and we asked Dance students Olivia Wood (Muhlenberg), Lexi Solazzo (Goucher), and Jack Russell (Cornish) about their experience with two week-long intensives: Butoh with Mitsuru Sasaki, and Contemporary Technique & Partnering with Massimo Gerardi!
What’s been the biggest surprise about your work with Commedia dell’Arte?
Sam: Well, I think the number one thing about Commedia dell’Arte that surprised me was the amount of improvisation. I figured that fully improvised theatre only belonged within a specific genre or style, but with Commedia I’m noticing more and more that the improvisational tone of it lends more to the form than anything scripted.
Lydia: I’d say the biggest surprise is how simple it actually is. The stores are basic tropes that we all know and love- there’s no pressure to make an incredible story that no one has ever heard before- it’s about having fun, and making sure the audience is having fun right alongside you.
Gabriel: The biggest surprise I’ve found in working with Commedia is how much room there is for personalization and exploration within the set characters and situations. I thought coming into the work that the predecided structure would be a limiting factor, but I’ve discovered that it lays a firm base for my own discoveries that I draw from the mask, the scenario, and my knowledge of the character.
As an actor, are the demands of Commedia different than in text-based work? How so?
Sam: Physicality is key in Commedia. In other styles of theatre, specifically text-based, physicality takes a backseat to vocality. Of course, the body is still the primary catalyst of theatre no matter what form or style one uses, but in Commedia, the body is everything. Words are not necessary for the telling of the story, even if a script is included.
Lydia: Much different- it takes a lot more thought on my part to be clever and creative on the spot. But that also means that as funny things come to me, I can just say them without having to struggle against the text. It also involves the body more than any other type of theatre I know of. Character is everything, and everything you need to create and utilize a character is already in the body.
Gabriel: The demands are not exactly different, but much more present and noticeable. Commedia demands full body awareness in each second, as well as diligent attention to where your scene partner is and what they are doing in relation to you. Text-based work demands this too, but Commedia’s success hinges entirely on these demands, so they are much more immediately noticeable.
What new things are you learning about your voice from Commedia and Voice in the Mask?
Sam: I can make all of the silly noises that I want to, and I can do so safely, without being told that it’s not a good choice or that it’s wrong or bad.
Lydia: I knew there were resonators on my face, but I don’t think I was aware that they actually resonated until I put on the mask. I had a lot of weird voices and sounds that I knew how to use, but I have so many more now. So many more sounds to make in the middle of the night while my roommate’s sleeping. Yes.
Gabriel: One of the most important things I’ve learned from voice in the mask is to trust the instincts that arise in my voice and body. I have discovered that when beginning an action, in the seconds before my judging mind kicks in, my body and voice will have a strong impulse, or feeling, and often my judging mind will take me in a different direction from this. Recognizing that my voice/body knows more than I think it does, and allowing it to move me and not the other way around has been instrumental in my work in this class.
What surprised you most about the Butoh work?
Olivia: I was most surprised about how fast and athletic the work was. Most of the Butoh I have seen was very slow and sustained. I also didn’t expect the work to be so funny, because Butoh was created as an expression of the grief after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Lexi: I was most intrigued and surprised by the internal and personal connections we were able to have, or discover, in our work each day. Within each exercise and piece of choreography that we were able to compile for our final performance I felt as though I was discovering a new piece of my artistic makeup. It was incredible to see how much we as individuals, and as a collective ensemble were able to grow and transform. I was also incredibly surprised by different ways Butoh can be presented or taught. I came into the workshop with a very cliche definition of the kind of work would be doing and as time passed my outlook and understanding grew immensely.
Jack: I was surprised how much more of a philosophy it was than just a dance style. There were some aspects of the performance that were very “Butoh” but the dance as a whole was very similar to contemporary works. In learning the technique of Butoh we mainly learned a way of performing the given choreography as well as the history behind Japanese Theatre. I was really able to dive into my inner world and discover a new form of meditation through performance and movement.
How did the Contemporary Technique and Partnering (with Massimo) work differ from similar styles you have worked with in the past?
Olivia: I hadn’t gone in as much depth with partnering, meaning lifting, so that was interesting. The fluid, athletic style really worked with my body in the styles that I have done before. However, we played more with extensions and quick floor work, which was a very enjoyable challenge.
Lexi: The work we did with Massimo differed from other styles I have worked with in the past because it was so much about finding a fluid yet logical way of moving. It made us think twice about the way we were executing and transitioning through the movement. It also made us reevaluate how much we could expand the movement and make it larger than what we thought it could be. I also have not had much experience with partnering in the past so this workshop not only taught me a lot about partnering but allowed me to understand the importance of connecting with your partner when moving. It showed me that trust is essential in partnering as well as risk, connection, and energy.
Jack: Massimo was a completely different kind of teacher than I had ever had but the styles he worked in were the same as I would be studying in the states. I generally take Graham, Lewinsky, Limon and Cunnigham technique. Massimo differed from my teachers in his neccesity to push the students to fully experience the movement rather than just allow them to just internalize and contemplate it. He asked of me not to push my body past its limits but for me to aim for more than I was comfortable. I learned that I’ve defined limitations as barriers that will forever plague me. You can push limitations while still protecting and taking care of your body. His partnering work was like a reminder of home and only furthered my understanding of weight sharing and cooperative communication through the body.
How do you feel you will incorporate aspects from the Contemporary Technique and Partnering and the Butoh work into your own aesthetic?
Olivia: My first thought was that I will pick moves and qualities that I like and do them. A lot of the Butoh work was instinctual, and I feel that following my own instincts could be very useful when it comes to generating and refining material. I also appreciate the fluid quality of Massimo’s classes. Would love to work more with assisted partner jumps!!
Lexi: After these two workshops I feel like it is inevitable to ever stop thinking about the fantastic information that I received both of the weeks! However, I hope to incorporate partnering as a whole in my work because before having Massimo I was a bit intimidated by it and rarely utilized it. I also plan to incorporate the energies of both Butoh and Contemporary workshops in my work because I feel as though I was able to better solidify my movement qualities through those lessons. Lastly, I hope to be able to bring the refreshing lightness and freedom in the movement. It was so enjoyable despite how demanding it was at times.
Jack: I fell in love with the slow walks in Butoh and will likely begin to incorporate them into my choreography. The idea of also looking at my back rather than focus in the space allowed me to focus just on my body and movement rather than my shape in space and comparing myself to others. As for the contemporary work I will explore using relaxation as energy and as a spark for further movement and digging myself out of the whole I’ve been in, allowing me to push my physical limits to strive for more and continue growing in range of motion and strength.