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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Retracing our creative connections
Animated, Autumn 1998. Theatre is an empirical artform: you learn by experience, by doing, by discovering for yourself. The International Workshop Festival is a striking example of a consistently successful attempt to provide training for those who seek to know more and do more in our exasperatingly difficult but alluring medium. (1) Dick McCaw explains how this extraordinary initiative meets artists needs, interests and preoccupations
Actors, choreographers, dancers, designers, directors and teachers have all benefited from our annual festival of workshops which cover all aspects of the performing arts, from an interdisciplinary perspective. Led by teachers or practising artists of internationally acknowledged quality, with whom British artists would not normally have the chance to work - Germaine Acogny, Lucinda Childs, Lev Dodin, and Jacques Lecoq to name but a few, the effects can be subtle or transforming. In total 221 artists from 37 different countries have given workshops over the past ten years.

Created in 1988, The International Workshop (IWF) exists to provide professionals working in the performing arts with continuing training opportunities, giving them a chance to rethink and rediscover how, why and with what they perform. The body is the actor's and dancer's instrument. IWF's job is to find inspiring and sensitive teachers who can keep it tuned and conditioned. They offer insights into new techniques and help kick old habits by showing new possibilities. Thus, they enable the artist to exercise creative choice. The workshop is a place in which you are free from the pressures of production or teaching where you can concentrate on questions of creative process.

The most effective way of demonstrating an interdisciplinary perspective is to take one fundamental theme in performance and show how different genres and cultures approach the theme. This explains why in 1995 we began a seven year series of festivals under the general title of A Body of Knowledge in which we explore one aspect each year. If you want, these are the awkward kid's questions which adults prefer not to answer! Each festival offers some 30 variations on one theme, demonstrating how many solutions there are to one basic aspect of performance. These are the titles for the full programme:

1995 The Performer's Energy
1996 ... And Movement
1997 Voice/Dance/Movement and With the Whole Voice
1998 A Common Pulse
1999 Between Character and Performer
2000 Passages and Dialogues
2001 A Sense of Space

When I saw a performance by a Polish theatre company - Gardzienice Theatre Association - I realised that rhythm was so much more than following a beat or metre, it is the very spirit, the soul of the performance. In their production of Avvakum what I saw was rhythm in its every manifestation: the movement, the undertow of chants over which lines were spoken and sung, the use of the space, the colours - it was a complex polyrhythmic weave. I then heard Wlodek Staniewski, their Artistic Director, talk about the different rhythms of the scenes and realised that he was talking about more than phrasing or pacing, he was talking about the feel, the life, the composition of each different scene. I still find this difficult to understand, but very easy to recognise.

But I know that rhythm is related intimately to composition, both as a point of departure - Virginia Woolf claimed that 'a novel starts with a rhythm' - and as that the moment of completion. Aristotle described rhythm as that moment of integritas when all the parts of a composition find their place within a whole. Rhythm is about interconnectedness. But we aren't talking about a jigsaw puzzle or pattern where every piece fits (that is, the rhythm of two dimensions) we are talking about a dynamic sense of rhythm in which time and three-dimensional space are functionally related. This isn't too hard to understand: we can all hear when a car engine isn't ticking over properly - it sounds unrhythmic. Or take the example of when we say that someone is 'out of synch' - I would describe this functional interconnection as rhythm.

I've already described the body as the actor's or dancer's instrument and I would say that our workshops this year are about 'tuning' ourselves, just as we would with our cars. We are inviting artists to discover a fresh integration of thought and action, to sharpen their coordination and feel for the ensemble, to explore the musicality, the harmony, the phrasing of movement. We present the work of some of this century's masters of rhythm - Emile-Jacques Dalcroze's Eurhythmics, Reinhart Flatischler's Taketina, Vselovod Meyerhold's Biomechanics and Gabrielle Roth's Five Rhythms. However, it is not simply a question of tuning 'ourselves' as isolated individuals: this may be fine as therapy, but we have a job of work to do as communicators, as artists and teachers. So, I would add that these workshops are exercises in 'tuning in'. Tuning in to other people's rhythms, both as individuals and as a group, tuning in to the rhythm of the space. On the most fundamental plane of all we can also talk about tuning into the ground beneath our feet and the air above our heads. Our workshops are so many recipes for refinding our creative connections.

Which brings us to the programme of workshops in Leeds with Acogny, Michelle Durant and Abdelaziz Sarrokh. What brings them together? First and most obviously, dance. Did I say 'most obviously'? Once one scratches beneath the surface one finds that each of these three teachers has a very different account of what is dance, even of what is a dancer. For Acogny, rhythm, life and dance are inseparably intertwined: "The body is rhythm, rhythm gives life, rhythm creates feelings - rhythm determines - rhythms meet rhythms, rhythm makes dance." (2) Durant is a member of Urban Bushwomen whose artistic mission is "to synthesise spiritual influences with the technical demands of formal dance training, uniting a concern for the history and actuality of African-Americans with an interest in cross-disciplinary theatrical forms."(3) The performances of Sarrokh appeal to specialist dancers but also bring into question the concept of the 'professional' dancer along with other notions about contemporary dance."(4)

Maybe the principle theme or question here concerns African dance. In order to explain the thinking behind the selection of these three teachers I need to go back to 1992 when Nigel Jamieson (IWF's founder and first Artistic Director) created a project in Nottingham called Stamping Ground which brought together traditional artists from Nicaragua, the Philippines, Australia, and the Lakota Sioux Rosebud Reservation -along with Germaine Acogny. (Stamping Ground was the title of a piece made by Nederlands Dans Theater following Jiri Kylian's two month stay with an Aborigine community.) During a plenary session Acogny asked us to rethink our image of Africa and African Dance. Firstly, there's the problem of this place called 'Africa'. The European image is of one uniform place - not a continent much larger than the former Soviet Union divided by a vast desert, containing some 40 different countries, many more languages and cultures, each with their own cultural traditions and dances. The second image is of a hunter-gatherer or agrarian culture where everyone lives in mud huts. Whilst this is still true of a percentage of the population it doesn't account for millions of people who live in Lagos, Kinshasa, Dar-es-Salaam, Nairobi, Dakar or Lusaka. African Dance is now as much an urban as a rural phenomenon, and the 'traditional' dance so much in demand in the West has more to do with our myth of Africa than actuality.

It was also in Nottingham that I worked with Koffi Koko who was born in Benin and who began dancing in Europe some 20 years ago. Over this period he has worked with two great Japanese performers: the Kabuki actor, Shiro Daimon, and Yoshi Oida, a stalwart of Peter Brook's company, Africa and Japan? When I began to explore this axis I found that many Africans are working with Japanese - including Acogny's percussionist Arona Ndaya who now spends half the year in Japan. And so I put together a programme in 1996 featuring Elsa Woliastion (who worked for 14 years with the Butoh artist Yanoh), Koko, Carlotta Ikeda and Shiro Daimon. This gets to the heart of IWF's interdisciplinary and intercultural aesthetic: by looking at how these four artists approach movement (and space, and energy, and rhythm) we realise how much they have in common, and how meaningless and isolating concepts like 'African dance' can sometimes be. A project like this opens new meanings and perspectives - suddenly the dance of Africa has an international dimension which we all too rarely see.

Our 1998 programme in Leeds at The Yorkshire Dance Centre is a similar enquiry with three very different accounts of dance and Africa, as seen from Ghent in Belgium, from Senegal and from New York. As I write, their workshops and discussions have not yet begun, but my hope is that through these exchanges we will challenge and change our old habits of mind and body, and open ourselves to new possibilities.

Dick McCaw, Artistic Director, International Workshop Festival. Contact +44 (0)20 7637 0712

References
1 Eyre, Sir Richard, Patron, International Workshop Festival, 1998.
2 Acogny, Ibid.
3 Durant, Michelle, Ibid.
4 Sarrokh, Abdelaziz, Ibid.

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001