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Bodyspeak: A New Look at the Art of Movement - Part 4

Part 4: The Workshop Laboratory

In these early years Le Centre Du Silence became Avital's laboratory, where he could fully distill the teachings of the mime masters and develop his own unique methods. The work was improvisational and experimental, employing some prepared exercises along with anecdotes and stories. Students took notes and gradually the method evolved, always in direct response to the participants' needs.

Most of the students in these years came because they were interested in theater and were drawn by Avital's unique method of developing theatrical technique. But it was clear that their personal needs went beyond the requirements of professional apprenticeship. The late 60's and early 70's were a time when many people were drawn toward deep personal and spiritual search. Avital felt concerned to develop for his students a means to engage in these explorations that would provide fulfillment but avoid some of the pitfalls of other paths that had become popular at the time.

The demands of life in the West could not be fully addressed, he understood, by methods that drew people out of the stream of life for prolonged periods. It was too easy to drop out entirely or at least to opt out and live life in a state of numbness, feeling personally alienated and professionally stifled. The divisions of life were taken for granted to such an extent that the task had become not only to integrate art and life but also self-discovery and life.

Creativity had always been an important issue for Avital. He found that while traditional methods might be effective in developing either physical or mental discipline, they did not directly stimulate creativity. In fact it was essential to practice the discipline precisely in the time-honored manner in order to realize the greatest benefit. This was true of yoga or Tai Chi or even classical ballet, and for certain types of sitting meditation practice or martial arts. Obviously great benefit can be derived through a judicious practice of these and other such disciplines. Discipline is surely the foundation of excellence in any art, including mime. It was necessary to bear in mind, though, that any discipline is not an end in itself, it is a tool of greater realization. The finger is not the moon.

Avital developed a number of exercises with the purpose of directly accessing creativity. They come into play in all the workshops but have been assembled and condensed in "The Journey from Thought to Action." It's an eye-opener. When Avital resumed teaching recently, I participated in this intensive weekend event.

We began with "Presentation With and Without Words." Exactly as the title of the exercise suggests, each participant is asked to introduce himself or herself first, with words, and then, without words. The second half of the exercise is followed by a group commentary, which Avital calls "The One Who . . ," with each member of the group summing up his or her dominant impression of the individual's silent presentation: "The One Who Was Shy," "The One Who Walked in Circles," "The One Who Blew Kisses," and so on. The comments are meant to be brief and impressionistic. They have the effect of opening up the group and introducing the feedback principle: creativity does not exist in a vacuum. We are constantly taking in information, synthesizing it, and giving it back in a new form.

Another exercise, actually a series of exercises, called "Act and React," illustrated this principle in a most startling way. We began by walking around the room in a group. There were twelve of us; a comfortable size, I felt. On Avital's cue (he would strike percussion sticks together) we had to freeze in place and carry out an instruction: to represent an emotion, for example, or utter the exact thought that was in our minds the moment the sticks were clicked. The purpose was to lubricate our wheels and get us back into the practice of manifesting our thoughts with freshness and immediacy. Avital would select a few individuals to hold a pose that he found to be particularly illuminating. The rest of us would move around this living statuary, offering our own insights or marveling when someone had achieved the very essence of immobility.

Then came the magical moment. For the next activity of the exercise, we had to walk the room once again at random and then, at the instant the sticks were struck, take a pose in response to whatever occurred in our vicinity. There were no other instructions given: just act and react to each other instan-taneously. We were surprised to discover that our immediate response to one another had produced a coalescence: our groupings had meaning as if a sculptor or director had premeditated the tableaux. The effect was as stunning as if a chemical compound had suddenly precipitated out of a solution.

For the physicist, the doctor, and the engineer who were participating in this workshop, for the lawyer who had spent her professional life wading hip-deep in language, or the 75-year-old self-declared ski-bum who wanted to try something new, or the shy woman who never dreamed she would feel so safe in such an environment, for the massage therapist, the artist, the writer, the timepiece restorer, and the professional storyteller, for the scholar who wanted her book to be true - there was something here for everyone. "Every artistic genius is a specialized type of mime,"(14) M. J. d'Udine observed after studying with Dalcroze, an innovator in the arts of movement who influenced Decroux and many others. In my weekend tour of Avital's atelier I realized the full truth of this insight.

One of the classic illusions of mime, the creation of a box in space, became "The Moving-Box Encounter." First, we learned to form the box by parallel movements of the hands. Then, we enlarged it or contracted it so that it became big enough to lean against or small enough to pop in the mouth. Next, we learned to move around the room in silence carrying and manipulating, creatively, our cube of space. Finally, we practiced transferring boxes back and forth to one another: this moving meditation had become a careful and tender, silent, dialogue.

The physicist had come to the workshop because he was curious about mime. "There had to be something behind objects that lay deeply hidden," said Einstein. This is a territory explored by mime that would, of course, be of interest to a physicist: MimeWorld where the MimeMagician plays with the laws of motion and sometimes upends them, defying gravity and creating objects in thin air; where eye-knots are tied in superstrings; where MimeTime is an arrow that bends back on itself; and MimeSpace, the moving box, is the original hypercube. Parallels, counterweights, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction" - physicists, engineers, and mimes are well-equipped to understand such things. And the mime embodies the knowledge.

"Apart from the five senses," Decroux wrote, "there is nevertheless one that serves the mime."(15) He couldn't put a name to this sense and, until quite recently, "kinesthesia" had not been given the status of being considered a "sense." It is this faculty that is activated and heightened through the explorations of mime, and that makes mime a true physics of the body, as well as an art.

Continue to Part 5: The Sixth Sense

"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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Le Centre Du Silence
P.O. Box 745
Lafayette, CO 80026

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About LCDS

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.