“The world is full of nonsense. Sometimes what happens is really completely unbelievable.”
Images below are from our current research and development phase.
In 1834 Gogol was made Professor of Medieval History at the University of St Petersberg, a job for which he had no qualifications. He turned in a performance ludicrous enough to warrant satiric treatment in one of his own stories. After an introductory lecture made up of brilliant generalizations which the ‘historian’ had prudently prepared and memorized, he gave up all pretense at erudition and teaching, missed two lectures out of three, and when he did appear, muttered unintelligibly through his teeth. At the final examination, he sat in utter silence with a black handkerchief wrapped around his head, simulating a toothache, while another professor interrogated the students.”(Lindstrom, T. (1966). A Concise History of Russian Literature Volume I from the Beginnings to Checkhov. New York: New York University Press. p. 131.) This academic venture proved a failure and he resigned his chair in 1835.
We have been throughout the devsing process working with sticks and using a wide variety of exercises from different traditional and contemporary influences. In the beginning of this year the group began practicing one of the Etudes from Vsevolod Meyerhold, in particular to get us to think more with our bodies, to continue to be rhythmically aware and to express emotion and thought spatially.
Sticks have been used to train performers in various cultures in both traditional and contemporary theatre- by the traditional Peking Opera, Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Jerzy Grotowski. Complicite theatre company and Peter Brook’s International Centre for Theatre Research in Paris. For Meyerhold, the stick is important for two related reasons: firstly, because it brings together a number of Meyerhold’s training sources . sport (the javelin, the foil), circus (the baton, the juggling club), commedia (the slapstick), silent comedy (Chaplin’s cane); and secondly because the stick constitutes a kind of ur-prop in biomechanics – it is an object which carries all the associations of those disciplines but none of the baggage, an object which speaks to the performer as much as it does to the audience, an object which, in terms of the development of biomechanics, increasingly speaks for all other objects: the prop of all props, if you will. Because of this, the use of sticks remains a central part of biomechanical training today.
Here we share with you one of the first and simplest, but nonetheless important stick exercises from the work of Meyerhold:
Take a metre length stick of wood, of medium weight and strength. Place the stick on the palm of your right hand, keeping it flat. Make sure that your knees are soft and ready, not locked out. Let go of the stick with your left hand and begin to balance it with your right.
Focus all your attention on the top of the stick. You will need at first, perhaps, to move your feet to compensate for its movements, so be led by the stick and dance in time with it. Work to bring the stick under control but enjoy also where it leads you. Don’t forget that others are in the same space, trying to do the same as you. Now repeat this exercise on your left, ensuring once again that all the steps are in place: flat palm, soft knees, attention on the top of the stick.
Here, the stick is acting as an index of your own balance as a performer, it is reading you and reflecting back your centre of balance. Gradually, over days and weeks of returning to this exercise, the movement needed to keep the stick vertical is reduced and the object develops a haunting sense of stasis. This is a sign of a developing and hidden ‘technique’ – it can only be achieved by practising the art of balance repeatedly. The static stick conceals numerous micro-changes being performed by you in the act of balancing; like all technical studies, the virtuosity of this exercise only becomes recognisable through its absence . as a shadow behind the observable act.
An 1829 letter to his mother, reveals how Gogol viewed St Petersburg’s inauthentic condition:
“Petersburg is not at all like other European capitals or Moscow. In general each capital is characterized by its people, who throw their stamp of nationality on it; but Petersburg has no such character-stamp: the foreigners who settled here have made themselves at home and aren’t like foreigners at all, and the Russians in their turn have turned into foreigners – they aren’t one thing or the other”
Further events here become enshrouded in mist.
A nose! Sure enough a nose! Yes, and one familiar to him, somehow! Oh, horror spread upon his face!