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Almonds and Raisins

Meeting with a Remarkable Man

By John Peowrie, 1991 Wallacetown, Ontario, Canada

"I found the meeting with this remarkable man to be a source, an amalgam of ideas, like a pot from which each sampling has a different flavor or a different taste, yet all of which came from his own unique brand of genuine creativity Finally, I am constrained to say, 'Thank whom we must' for a Samuel Avital in our midst."

Until one is called upon to recollect something, the memory remains tucked away and contributes only a fragment of the sum total of our life's experiences. Yet, in a sense, it may also color largely or minutely all our subsequent actions in one way or another.

My recollection here recalls almonds and raisins, in particular one almond and one raisin, which invariably evoke the memory of something much larger.

After some years in British Theater, I immigrated during the mid-sixties to North America and used my knowledge of English literature to do poetry recitals. In 1966, while in New York City, I gave a recital encompassing a wide range of poems in at the home of friends. The audience of some two dozen people, nearly all strangers to me, was as varied and as interesting as one would be likely to find anywhere. At the end of the show, the hostess, a charming French lady, introduced me to Samuel Avital, explaining in English that he had recently arrived to the U.S. and that his English was very limited, though he spoke French fluently. My own French is hardly worth mentioning here. As he cam across the room, unseen by her, he moved with all the natural facility that a professional mime should have. He had taken something from the buffet.

The introductions were begun. I was still standing and holding my binder of poetry, when up came his hand and into my mouth was popped a large raisin in which was embedded an almond. He next made a gesture in which his hands encompassed his heart and his eyes encompassed the room full of people. Then, his whole body seemed concentrated in one hand--and he touched my chest above my own heart.

What need for words here? None at all. From that moment on, Samuel and I have been friends. Though geographically apart, the spirit engendered that evening has remained ever fresh and ever growing.

When an artist writes of another in whom he has faith, the words come without effort. Only time and brevity of space must limit them. To write of Samuel in those day is, in one sense, to write a description of myself and all the artists who have attempted, and achieved to a greater or lesser degree, a dedication of themselves to a life of art devoid of directly commercial ends. All artists who endeavor to keep always in view the creative act as being essential, even the essence, of one's existence.

From his student days in Paris, I dug into his knowledge of Etienne Decroux, adding to my own scant knowledge derived from the one book of Decroux in English and my few lessons in mime from an actor/director in London, who, in turn, had 'learnt mime,' and had 'sat at the feet of Edw. G. Craig in France.' Craig's own experiments with movement have left their mark in the history of theater. I found this remarkable man, Samuel to be a source, an amalgam of ideas, like a pot from which each sampling has a different flavor or a different taste, yet all of which came from his own unique brand of genuine creativity.

It is perhaps not out of place here to continue the food metaphor into the reality of food. The cost of good tuition in the arts is never cheap, and not all the sacrifices that the young student makes at the time are apparent. There are later ones. The young Avital in Paris made such sacrifices. Rather than skimp upon the quality of time spent with his great teacher, he skimped on food.

I recall his amusement at the seemingly endless number of times he ate bread and sardines, this being the limit of his budget. Another sacrifice came later. He suffered ill health due in part to the deprivations occurring in his diet during so much of his student days.

However, I believe that if one were to ask him: 'Was it worth it?' His answer would be both a philosophical and a passionate, human 'yes.'

Finally, I am constrained to say, 'Thank whom we must' for a Samuel Avital in our midst.

Editor's note.
John Peowrie has been an actor and director in British Repertory Theater for many years. He has toured the UK and Europe with his one-man show of poetry. He moved to Canada and compiled, wrote and directed two tours, 'Shapes, Shadows and Sounds,' which incorporated mime, poetry and Commedia del Arte, and 'An Introduction to the Art of Pantomime,' which used poetry and mime. He has done numerous lectures and recitals on TV and radio. Especially notable is his lecture series on 'The Role of the Artist in Society.' His feature articles on artists have been published in National Art Magazines. Abbey Gallery Press published his 'Image, Form and Color,' and the University of Toronto published 'Mural Art--Cereceda.' He passed away this last December 1998, may his soul rests in peace.

"Samuel brings awareness to the soul of people and gives the artists who work under his direction the need, dedication, and love for the world of silence and the beautiful art of movement."


- Marcel Marceau, BIP 1961

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LCDS is an independent school for self-discovery through the human Arts.  The school offers seminars and workshops teaching the concepts of Theater, Mime, and Movement.