Talk at Sadler’s Wells Theatre

‘Drama between Theatre and Dance. Reading new work at Sadler’s Wells’.

A public talk given by Sinéad Rushe,
11 November, 2013.

Commissioned by the Lilian Baylis Theatre. The talk included a close analysis of two works in the Sadler’s Wells programme: Study#3 by The Forsythe Company and Sideways Rain by Alias, and was followed by a discussion with Guilherme Botelho, artistic director of Alias Dance Company.


The title of this talk is Drama between Theatre and Dance. And tonight I’m going to focus on the work of two dance companies, William Forsythe’s The Forsythe Company and Guillherme Botelho’s company, Alias.

The evening will take the following format:

  • I’ll start by showing some short extracts of work by these companies, about 4 mins
  • I’ll talk for half an hour – in the talk I’ll largely focus on Forsythe company because I have seen much of their work over the years and Guillherme’s is a more recent discovery, but it is also because I’d like to have that conversation with Guillherme here tonight.
  • Then I’ll invite Guillherme on stage to discuss his work for half an hour
  • Then we’ll open it up to questions from the floor, finishing about 8.30

The first film I’m going to show is clips from Sideways Rain by Alias which has performed all over the world and at Sadler’s Wells last year. The piece is progressive but I have spliced sections of it together to give you a sense of the development of the show.

The second series of films are from The Forsythe Company. They are not the most recent of his works but they serve to give a flavour of their work for those people who haven’t seen much of their work.



Half of the year I teach and direct on the three year BA Acting (Collaborative and Devised Theatre) programme at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and earlier this year the actress Judi Dench came to the school to address the actors training there. When asked about her process she said, well I don’t do any of that intentions stuff, if that’s what you mean. By intentions she is talking about one of the standard tools in an actor’s process where a character identifies something they want from another character in the scene, and calls them objectives. When pressed a little further on her process of preparation for her roles, she replied something to the effect of ‘well, you just do it, don’t you.’ Perhaps she didn’t really want to discuss it. But her comment got me thinking about the nature of ‘acting’. Perhaps of all the arts it is the most nebulous. Of all the mass of people who talk about theatre I’ll just cite one of the most recent books by French philosopher and playwright, Alain Badiou. On the one hand he says:

‘theatre and philosophy have the same question: how to address people so that they think their life differently from the way they normally do.’[1]

And on the other, he states that theatre is:

‘the art of hypotheses (. . .) a fertile dialectic between a horizon of infinite greatness or grandeur (. . .) and the luminous, fragile force of the very brief movement of a performance, a dialectic which creates the illusion of approaching this greatness while at the same time participating in its genesis.’[2]

These quotes are from his Eloge du Théâtre, In Praise of Theatre and as the title suggests he has great belief in the potential of theatre. Badiou is a philosopher who has an inflated sense of the power of truths. The power of a truth like equality, for example, or justice, all the way to mathematical truths.

On one level, there is a truth in theatre that is as simple as a child’s ability to act, play a role, be someone else. The grandeur of it is that it is something as simple as imagining that you are a hero, a princess, a pirate. And on this basis we can understand why historically theatre was considered subversive. If I can play at being a political leader, why can’t I be a political leader? On the one hand, we expect the likes of Judi Dench to make works of greatness but on the other, she seems to be saying that there isn’t much of a process to get there. This combination is curious. Surely an important question to ask of the great work of art is: how did they do it? In theatre, this question is less obvious. There is something implied of the secret and mysterious actor’s genius that needs no explanation and has no words to describe it. I don’t mean to denigrate Judi Dench’s work: she is a fantastic and instinctive actress, but I just use it by way of comparison. For me, one of the most inspiring ways of trying to think through this problem is to look at dance works that have a dramatic movement and impact.

The dance companies I’m looking at tonight are those which emphasize the connection between process and product. Indeed, in Forsythe’s work, process has almost become the product itself. It would be inconceivable for one of Forsythe’s dancers to reply to a similar question about how they make work with: ‘well, we just do it.’ We’ll have to ask Guillherme what his dancers would say. On this question Forsythe is clear: ‘Work is not some sort of secret. It’s rather superstitious to think one has to keep one’s method secret. That’s primitive – and we’re not. (. . .) Work doesn’t need to be kept secret. It won’t disappear just because we communicate.’[3] Forsythe’s dancers are extremely articulate about what they do. They can speak about their inner state in the present moment of performance, as well as use the classical dance vocabulary in which they all trained, as well as use a new vocabulary to describe how they have deconstructed the classical rules. I’ll say a little more about this later. Articulation is a part of their cumulative experimentation around what a dancing body can do and it takes nothing away from their ability to move instinctively. And I suppose here my question is what can the actor, theatre-maker and director learn from the dancer. What would theatre become if the likes of Judi Dench asked what can the actor and acting do? What if we went inside that and really looked at it and began to construct something from that place? What would that be?


I want to be clear that I think there are many innovations in contemporary theatre. There is the post dramatic theatre movement, the immersive theatre movement, devised theatre, live art, ideas of total theatre have been around since Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty in the 1930s, and of course there are many pioneering theatre artists in the UK. But I’d like to posit that these remain, for the large part, experiments in form, investigations of the nature of the live event, ways of staging content innovatively, or reinventing the classics, for example. All such endeavours I support. However, while they may be investigations of what theatre can do, rarely, in my view, are they investigations of what acting and the actor can do. Rarely is the spotlight shone on the very nuts and bolts of the actor’s process. I’m not necessarily asking for this as end in itself or as a sort of actor navel-gazing, but more in the way Forsythe has demanded that his dancers look at the way they move, look at the way they think about how they move, the way they negotiate thinking about the classical form as a springboard from which to do something else. Forsythe himself states clearly, ok we can’t do classical ballets anymore where the boy gets the girl by rescuing her from the evil kidnapper, so what can we do? He says his aim is for the audience to think ‘oh, I didn’t know dance could do that… I didn’t know that was possible’.[4] For him, ‘each instance of choreography is ideally at odds with its previous defining incarnations as it strives to testify to the (…) wealth of our ability to reconceive’[5] In theatre, what if we began not with the process of making a work of theatre, not with the mode of production, but with acting as a starting point for investigation, asking ourselves what does it do, and how could it be reconceived as a starting point for something else?

In a sense, I’m returning theatre to the actor and the actor’s craft and I call Michael Chekhov to my defence here. For those of you who don’t know Michael Chekhov is the nephew of playwright Anton Chekhov and was an actor at the Moscow Art Theatre in the 1920s with Stanislavski. Both Stanislavski and Chekhov were actors and directors and devoted their lives to understanding what the actor does and how they can do it better. I quote Michael Chekhov here: ‘I think the theatre consists of the actor and that is all. Nobody else is important in the theatre, from my point of view. If the actor is not there, then there is no theatre. All that the director, the author, the designer will do will never make a theatre.’[6]

So if part of my desire here is to understand how to rescue theatre from what Peter Brook calls ‘Deadly Theatre,’ I am positing that by grappling with what the actor does or is actually trying to do in the present moment – of rehearsal, of preparation and of performance, we might get somewhere. Yet in many processes, this part of the theatrical equation is left for the actor to ‘get on with.’ Actors are hired on the assumption that they already know how to act so that directors and companies can get on with making the work/show. This makes sense. But they are rarely hired on the assumption that they will be able to investigate and interrogate how exactly they act. Does anybody care about that? Not really because that’s the business of drama schools and acting coaches. You build up a mountain of knowledge and tools and then you apply them. And as anyone who has ever tried acting knows it’s hard enough to apply them effectively never mind begin to question or deconstruct them. And yet, why don’t we? Why isn’t that part of our theatrical landscape?


Some of the reasons why are very concrete. The first is you need time and shared knowledge. What is significant about the Forsythe Company and indeed Alias is that they are companies. In Forsythe’s case, some of the dancers have been working together for over twenty years, first in the guise of the Ballet Frankfurt that Forsythe ran, and then in their reconfigured company, setup in 2005. These dancers train together every day and perform together at least four times a week. Forsythe is able to innovate because there is a long shared collective knowledge. And trust. One of Forsythe’s dancers Jone San Martin told me that she will pretty much try anything because she trusts Bill implicitly. She understands that there is an integrity of investigation and that he is searching for what she is searching for and vice versa. She says that during a performance she knows that he is listening outside the work as much as she is listening inside it. The Forsythe company have accumulated experience together, and in any production they are never starting from scratch. It’s not a once off. I’m reminded of Peter Brook here who asserts that ‘nothing in a theatre performance is more important than the people of whom it is composed.’

As we all know, the repertory system which once existed in this country was some kind of equivalent of this and if Judi Dench is the actress she is today, it might at least be in small part due to the fact that in her early years of learning her craft after drama school she was a beneficiary of such a system. The last couple of years have seen huge cuts to theatre companies in this country but even when those companies were in a more stable place, a lot of funding sustained the administrative costs of keeping the company going rather than, for example, paying the year long salary of a consistent body of artists to develop sustained work together on a daily basis. I understand why. It’s expensive. But a condition of innovation surely has to be the ability to take the long view.


The second reason that we don’t perhaps investigate what the actor does, is that to do that you need to know something about acting. What is striking about the dance profession and Forsythe and Guillherme are no exception here, is that more often than not, choreographers are dancers. It is almost unthinkable to imagine a choreographer who couldn’t dance. And yet, in the recent English tradition of theatre-making, it is perfectly reasonable and indeed more common than not, for the director never to have ‘acted’. It is not considered inappropriate for a director to know very little about an acting process. As long as they are ‘smart,’ have read the classical texts, have interesting ideas and can run a technical rehearsal, there is no problem. Dana Caspersen, F’s long time collaborator and dancer in his company says of Forsythe ‘for him, choreographing is dancing, it comes right out of him like you turn on the tap’. F says himself that for him ‘choreography serves as a channel for the desire to dance.’ Don’t forget that Forsythe practically never dances in his own productions but he continues: ‘You cannot organise from the outside because you can only perceive these events – because they are very complicated — from the inside, you have to be inside the event to notice enough…’  Guillherme I know also danced in many of Alias’s earlier productions. Of course in the UK there some examples of the actor-director. The founder of the National Theatre Lawrence Olivier was one and happily, its newly announced artistic director is also one, Rufus Norris (Simon McBurney, Mark Rylance, Michael Grandage). And of course, there are some directors like Peter Brook who manage to direct as if from the inside – again something made possible by the existence of a company and long term collaborators. And when you read his writing all of it is essentially a grappling with what the actor does, with acting. But such directors are rare enough. And I think it is unlikely there would ever be an investigation of what acting can do as long as theatre is dominated by a system dominated by directors who have little knowledge of what acting is and what doing it actually involves.


So in one respect we are talking here about an expanded sense of people’s roles. Forsythe’s own artistry extends far beyond choreographing and dancing. He does the lighting design for nearly all of his shows and is self-taught, he says ‘by necessity’. He often designs the productions too and has created, with Dana Caspersen and other artists, a whole range of installations called choreographic objects: The clip we saw of Monster Partitur is one such example. Some of these works involve no dance at all, but are provocations to the general public to move or interact with a place in a particular physical way. Forsythe sometimes ‘conducts’ performances through live feed to the dancers and technicians, telling them to say certain things and when and he often adjusts the overall composition of sound during the show.

In some sense his practice echoes that of Michael Chekhov who developed his own actor training to free the actor. Part of Chekhov’s aim was to expand the actor’s notion of herself as an artist. This meant not only cultivating a particular attitude to the work in the studio, but cultivating actors who understood how every aspect of theatre works. His vision when he set up the Chekhov Theatre Studio at Dartington Hall in 1935 was to form a touring company of actors after three years of training. His assistant describes how he wanted the actors to be ‘trained and skilled in every aspect of the theatre’[7], how they ‘had to write plays, design costumes, sets and lighting, create music and direct.’[8] She said that Chekhov’s desire for them to create their own plays at Dartington ‘was always paramount.’[9] We can see here in Chekhov an early model of the actor-devisor-creator and these ideas take root as a principle in his training called the feeling of entirety or the whole. But for Chekhov, the whole is to be constructed from and through the craft of the actor. He says to actors:

‘Simply show [the] tremendous desire to overcome (…) difficulties, [and] these voices around us that tell us we are not allowed. If this strong spirit is there (. . .) if this is done by a group of actors, pioneers, then I believe in everything (. . .) and that the actor will gain all the rights that the actor rightfully has, and will create the theatre that is worth creating.’ [10]

So if Chekhov is asking the actor to step into the aspirational role of maker-director, I’m asking the theatre director to step into the shoes of the actor. Chekhov is very clear that the future of theatre should be in the hands of actors.


For Forsythe, this expanded sense of roles extends also to content. It seems that nothing is out of bounds in the creative process and onstage: architecture, science, physics, mathematics, technology. The dancers create live abstract sound, they create ‘breath scores,’ and often they speak text too: they treat these elements as they treat the dance, an extension of working with the body. They don’t ask themselves, can I speak? They explore it and see how far they can go. Dance then becomes one element among many: lights, sonic architecture, music, and text all function as equal partners in the drama. Antony Rizzi, a dancer with the company in the Ballett Frankfurt days stated that: ‘The most important thing that Billy has taught me is that anything can go with anything.’ [11] Jone confirmed this to me. ‘It’s Balanchine on the one hand and Utube on the other’ and indeed many of the dancers all cite Forsythe’s ‘insatiable curiosity’ beyond dance. This refusal of things in their proper place situates the work within French philosopher Jacques Rancière’s ‘aesthetic revolution’ where he claims that:

‘everything is material for art (. . .) art can show and speak of everything in the same manner. (. . .)’[12]

One of the kernels of his concept is the idea of equality.’ Rancière is suspicious about the legacy of a certain reading of the modernist movement in art, where he says what has been emphasized is ‘pure art,’ where we consider each art form as autonomous. He wants to explode this and assert that art is and should be mixed up with all sorts of other preoccupations – how we live, who we are, politics, religion, community. This is one of the equalities he is talking about.

And if Forsythe asserts the equality of material, he also asserts an equality of expertise. Forsythe maintains: ‘I need to work with autonomous artists. I need to work with people who have an idea of what they want. In other words, if you want me to tell you exactly what you want to do, then you probably shouldn’t work with me. If you have an idea about your own dancing, then great.’[13] He accepts that he is the ‘editor in chief’ but that everyone has responsibility.[14]


It’s easy to think that the most impressive, innovative thing about Forsythe is the interdisciplinary nature of the work. In the case of Forsythe it is impressive. But for me the most impressive thing is the expansion within the discipline, the investigation of dance practice itself and the person of the dancer within that. Jone San Martin described to me a process that Forsythe calls ‘balletic thinking.’ This has echoes of Artaud’s ‘affective athleticism’.[15] She says balletic thinking is:

‘a state of aiming for something that is impossible, just an idea, it’s putting yourself in a situation where you try to go somewhere. People in classical ballet develop a strong will and Bill likes to work with effort and frustration, there is a lot of space for failure in his work. But you only fail if you aim for something, for something beyond. Bill transports the psychology of that balletic situation to everything.’

On this point Forsythe himself says: ‘(in dance) a tremendous amount of effort is made and there’s nothing left over. (. . .) It’s like arabesque – you can put your leg up in the air, you’re attempting an idea, you’re trying to do an approximation of that idea but you are not the arabesque, there is no arabesque.’[16]

This idea lies behind One Flat Thing, Reproduced, the piece we saw with the tables. This work was inspired by Robert Scott’s expedition to the South Pole. Forsythe says:

‘You can be at the South Pole but you are never really there. (Like arabesque). … you couldn’t stay there, you couldn’t remain there physically. There’s this restlessness, you can’t stay in one place for a long time, you’ll get run over.’[17]

Jone told me this idea of thinking dancers is the most interesting part for her and the nature of the company’s balletic thinking has evolved over time. It has gradually moved from formalized choreography to choreographic environments. Earlier in his career with the Ballet Frankfurt Forsythe choreographed set movement sequences but even then he made it clear to new dancers that it was ‘only a skeleton. Now you have to fill it in.’[18] When the dancer Sang Jijia joined the later company, he said he was overwhelmed by the number of ideas. ‘To me at the beginning I could only think of one way of doing [a movement] and I did not have such an open way of thinking.’[19] Jone San Martin told me that now there is little choreography, no steps per se, only improvisational tasks, ‘operations’, situations. Sometimes the tasks are individual: Dana Caspersen describes one series:

  • ‘find directions or shapes in your own movement that link up visually with another person, and align yourself with them
  • change your orientation in space and in time (i.e. change speed)
  • agree to wait for others
  • link up with another by performing an isometry of his or her movement. ‘

An isometry is where you transfer the force of a movement to another area of the body.

Sometimes the task is to deny someone else’s task to accomplish your own. In other words, the dancers are making decisions in real time most of the time. They have markers in the structure, points of synchronicity perhaps, but largely they are functioning ‘freely’ within given parameters. Even when Forsythe feeds in tasks live, Jone said that in the live performance, the dancers make the final decision; they play around –in live performance—with how much can they Bill quiet by maintaining his complete attention because ‘he’s the one who’s the most demanding, much more than the audience!’ In this way the dancers are actors in a simple sense. They take action. They make decisions. They act upon a will impulse in real time within given circumstances.


All this means that the dancers have to observe what is actually going on. In Nowhere and Everywhere at the Same Time, the piece with two hundred suspended pendulums which we saw the short clip of earlier, he asked the dancers to ‘see what’s in front of you and start from now.’[20] Their task was to produce conclusions and express their observations. What I love about this is that a whole composition is created through the multiple lenses of the individual dancers. They are highly individuated within a work whose overall impact is impersonal, if you like. They have no choice but to come into the present moment of seeing this particular pendulum in relation to other pendulums and dancers, and initiate a response. That’s the show. There is no way that Forsythe could control it. As Jone said to me, ‘it’s a utopian performance. We try to arrive at a state where it’s possible.’ And what’s interesting is that when I saw it at Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, there was a power failure of some sort, one of their timer clocks stopped working so the dancers had no markers to let them know where they were in the piece. And the performance faltered in some way that is hard to articulate. And the next day in response Forsythe tried to fix or ‘choreograph’ aspects of it and Jone told me how furious she was with Forsythe, that she argued with him to say that it wasn’t necessary, that they wanted to try for what they had set out to achieve. But she said that such problems – of not quite achieving in performance what they have achieved in rehearsal – have:

‘brought us to realize that the only way we can work together is by listening to each other. The work has been more and more developed in that direction. We are. (. . .) We work with just listening to each other and we keep trying that.’

I’m reminded here of the French director Jean Vilar’s great phrase where he states that the duality in stage creation is: ‘to be or not to be.’[21]


I suppose it’s tempting to think that it’s all easy because it’s improvised, it’s all a kind of virtuosic dancing about. But in one way you might say that part of Forsythe’s whole project has been to prepare the dancer to improvise and Jone emphasized how hard they practise to develop ‘collective embodied thinking.’ Over the years the company as an ensemble have developed a whole new dance vocabulary that inverts the usual modes of operation within classical dance. You can see it on a CDROM called Improvisation Technologies. Forsythe describes the methodology as:

‘a training in how to sense motion traces (. . .) it’s about ‘how to analyze when you’re improvising (. . .) Normally you do circles with your legs and arms – so maybe now do circles with your shoulders instead; you migrate [movements] to where they usually don’t happen. (. . .) You can use these ideas of geometric inscription just as rigorously all over the room and all over your body. ‘[22]

The vocabulary is interesting in itself with terms like: extrusion, algorithm, bridging, collapsing points, parallel shear, avoidance, compression. One particularly interesting example is a particular use of the gaze which was developed later, called dis-focus, ‘a kind of seeing that is not a diminishing of vision, but rather a widening of vision, backwards’.[23] F describes these processes as  ‘room writing’ or ‘the ability to write with any part of your body’[24] where movement can be generated from any point, rather than taking impetus primarily from the legs or arms around a vertical trunk.

In spite of all this methodology, rather remarkably, Forsythe concludes that for him:

‘The purpose of improvisation is to defeat choreography, to get back to what is primarily dancing. I consider choreography to be a secondary result of dancing. There is a truce between choreography and dancing. In the kind of complexity that I use, I want to make things that are irreproducible due to their temporal complexity. That’s part of the goal.’[25] Elsewhere he calls this ‘the hope of being without enduring.’[26]

This statement is all the more interesting because his work is in fact extremely formed where very clear worlds are defined. But within this the dancers seem not to be reaching targets but navigating territories moment by moment, and Forsythe’s geographical language reflects this: he speaks of the dancer’s maps, landscapes, latitudes and longitudes, orientation. This language describes an active and fluid psychology where the dancers consider movement as a question rather than an answer, where, as the critic Roslyn Sulcas puts it, the dancers are ‘disarmed of balletic certitude.’[27] Indeed Forsythe describes one of their aims as wanting ‘to detach ourselves from positions of certainty.’[28] If one doesn’t search for security, true creativity can emerge. He’s challenging the dancers to confront moments of failure and vertigo, moments were balance is lost and declares: ‘I don’t want to know what’s going to happen. I want to be ambushed by the results.’[29]


So Forsythe is asking the dancer to inhabit a very particular state. Jone described it to me as a kind of thinking with the body. She described as:

‘Thinking, sensing, and listening, I have to have the whole body at the extreme state of perception.’ ‘I should not go with my habits. Bill likes to be surprised. Anything that is too fixed is dead. I listen to what the room needs. Develop sensitivity to what is inner and what’s outside. When you get to that point, it’s not that you stop thinking you just know what to do. All the elements are supporting you.’

For me this is a description of an actor when they are what I call ‘in the zone’, when they are spontaneously responding to impulses in the present moment, making choices that are completely in tune with the big picture. Michael Chekhov calls this the actor’s ‘divided consciousness’ when you are completely immersed and yet completely aware of everything that is around you, you are both completely in and out. It’s rare I think to see actors in this state in performance, more common in rehearsal perhaps, but what is fascinating to me about Forsythe is that he is trying to create the conditions whereby this is the dancer’s most prevailing mode of operation. Jone described to me a mind-boggling array of simultaneous tasks for her role of the mother in Three Atmospheric Studies:

  • Her choreographic task was never to be in a line, but to be in a spiral
  • She has to try to find ways to erase anything that her partner Matteo proposed
  • At the same time she was translating in real time what Matteo was saying
  • And there were an array of events happening in space, the timings of which she couldn’t miss.

When I asked her how she achieved this she replied:

‘you have to let go and at the same time be totally in control. To play with all those elements and also to be able to observe how far we’ve got. We always have to be in between letting go and being attentive to the others. It’s not what I do. I deliver something so that someone else can take it and then someone else can deliver it. Then something happens’.

It sounds like a good pass in football. Forsythe elaborates on this point:

‘[it’s] not where you put the movement, but where you leave it. You try to divest your body of movement, as opposed to thinking you are producing movement. So it would not be like pushing forward into space and invading space – it would be like leaving your body in space. Dissolution, letting yourself evaporate.’[30]

So it seems to me there is a dialectic between activity and surrender, between the voluntary and involuntary, between conscious willed intentions and intuitive decision making. Perhaps this approaches something of Michael Chekhov’s ‘psychology of the improvising actor’, where the actor has the ability to improvise or respond to impulse even within the most set text and stage business. But for the Forsythe company, there is nothing mysterious about how to get there. In Dana Caspersen’s words, it is ‘dogged, repetitive practice’[31] that prepares the ground. On the one hand, it’s ballet class and on the other, it’s practising ‘understanding that freedom is not the absence of external pressure, but an internal ability to remain fluid and engaged under demanding circumstances.’[32] We get something similar in the school of experimental writers of Oulipo, where there is the same combination of constraint and freedom. They call them ‘enabling constraints’. Jone confirms that the company’s whole practice is to open the potential for this creative state of being. In the studio they practise ‘remaining consistently curious’. They practise ‘being willing to move into the complex, mutable energetic structure of a piece that is being born.’

This process I am describing is the opposite of static and individual. It is moving and collective. And again I am struck my how by and large in UK drama schools we train artists as individuals to sell themselves to the individual labour market, like any other labour. Why do we hesitate to cultivate a psychology that enables the building up of shared practice and ensembles that reach their apotheosis in companies such as Pina Bausch where the long-term loyalty is so evident in the work of the dancers. Our programme on the BA Acting (collaborative and devised theatre) at Central is trying to take some small steps to redress this balance and change this culture.


In conclusion, the examples from dance make me wonder how the actor practises and is preparing for this creative state of being. Actors, flitting from production to production, from cast to cast, have trained differently and have different kinds of processes, so the chances of common denominators are slim. Young actors encounter this in the profession where they move from a training situation where acting vocabularies are referred to all the time, to a professional situation where they can barely encounter this vocabulary at all. Sometimes, simply there is no vocabulary. The lack of continuity between training and working can seem enormous for actors who care about their craft, whereas most dancers emerge from training expecting to continue training in rehearsal and certainly expecting to do daily class. I know Alias opened their morning classes to other dancers and visiting professionals to provide a space whereby artists can up their practice. But what do actors do? I’m sure there are a diligent few who, alone at home, work their psycho-physical instrument every day. Classes at The Actor’s Centre , too, are often healthily full. But still many actors don’t practise. It’s not necessarily demanded. It’s not offered or it seems too difficult because people have to earn a living. By and large we don’t hear of theatre companies or theatre institutions opening their morning class to working actors. On the one hand, I think it is largely because there is no ‘class’ going on. There may be a warm-up or some games or some improvisation towards creating material for the show, all of which are perfectly valid, and we can understand how in tight four week schedules, directors don’t want a load of unemployed unvetted actors clogging up their valuable morning rehearsals. But again here we lament the demise of the rep theatre which offered a place for actors to practise their craft. It may not necessarily have been class but it was daily work with a consistent ensemble over a sustained period of time. What are actors to do? The model of these dance companies shows that practice makes perfect. Or at least, in Peter Brooks words, makes ‘a spark… a small spark of life.’[33] For him:

‘Theatre as a word… is like speaking about life. The word is too big to carry meaning. Theatre is not to do with buildings, nor with texts, styles or forms. The essence of theatre is within a mystery called the present moment. (. . .) In the millisecond-long instant when actor and audience interrelate, (…) it is the density, the thickness, the multi-layeredness, the richness—in other words, the quality of the moment that counts. This level of quality within the instant is the unique reference by which an act of theatre can be judged.’[34]

Michael Chekhov asserts that ‘it is impossible to persuade an actor to live in the present unless one has shown him the actor’s path by which he can achieve this.’[35]

I believe that many actors are on or want to be on that path. But I think we have a responsibility to make sure it doesn’t lead to a dead-end.


[1] Alain Badiou with Nicolas Truong, Eloge du Théâtre, Café Voltaire/Flammarion, Paris, p.20 and 34.
[2]Alain Badiou with Nicolas Truong, Eloge du Théâtre, Café Voltaire/Flammarion, Paris, p.8-10 (my translation).
[3] William Forsythe, Information technologies, Interview with Nick Heffner, 22 April 1999, CD-ROM, booklet, p.20.
[4] Spirit of the Arts film, Rolex.
[5] William Forsythe, ‘Choreographic Objects’ in William Forsythe and the Practice of Choreography: It Starts from any point, edited by Steven Spier, London, Routledge, 2011, p.90.
[6] (Dartington archives (mine) MC/S9/2: Deirdre Hurst du Prey: Dartington Hall Records, Series 9: Technique of Acting, Teaching Notes, 1980s).
[7] MChekhov, Lessons for the Professional Actor, p.8
[8]The Drama Review, Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 1983 (T99) 0012-5962/83/020084-07 $4.00/0 ? Michael Chekhov Studio, P.90 PDF 45461
[9] The Drama Review, Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 1983 (T99) 0012-5962/83/020084-07 $4.00/0 Michael Chekhov Studio, p.90 PDF 45461
[10] The Drama Review, Volume 27, Number 3, Fall 1983 (T99) (1145536 PDF, p.29, 30, 31 TDR, p.30)
[11] William Forsythe and the Practice of Choreography: It Starts from any point, edited by Steven Spier, London, Routledge, 2011, p.5.
[12] Jacques Ranciere, ‘Politics and Aesthetics,’ translated by Forbes Morlock in The One or the Other, French Philosophy Today, edited Peter Hallward, Angelaki Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, Volume 8. number 2, August 2003, Routledge, p.205.
[13] Spirit of the Arts, Rolex.
[14] Spirit of the Arts, Rolex.
[15] Artaud, Theatre and its Double, p.2 ‘An actor is like a physical athlete… a heart athlete… the actor relies on the same pressure points an athlete relies on to run, in order to hurl a convulsive curse whose course is driven inward.’
[16] Synchronous objects, Forsythe Company website
[17] Synchronous objects, Forsythe Company website
[18] Just Dancing Around, interview with William Forsythe, a film by Mike Figgis.
[19] Spirit of the Arts, Rolex.
[20] Focus on Forsythe film on
[21] Jean Vilar, De la Tradition Theatrale, l’Arche, Paris, 1955, p.74.
[22] William Forsythe, Improvisation Technologies, CDRom, booklet, p.16.
[23] Dana Caspersen, Decreation: Fragmentation and continuity, p.95.
[24] William Forsythe, Improvisation Technologies, CDRom, booklet, p.59.
[25] William Forsythe, Improvisation Technologies, CDRom, booklet, p.24.
[26] William Forstyhe, Choreographic Objects, p.90.
[27] Roslyn Sulcas, p.10
[28] William Forsythe, Choreographic Objects, p.90.
[29] Heidi Gilpin, Aberrations of Gravity, p.122.
[30]  (Gerald Siegmund, The space of memory: William Forsythe’s Ballets, p.136 (F in 1995).
[31] Dana Caspersen, Decreation: Fragmentation and continuity, p.94.
[32] Dana Caspersen, Decreation: Fragmentation and continuity, p.94.
[33] Peter Brook, There Are No Secrets, p.12
[34] Peter Brook, There are no secrets, p.81-2.
[35] Michael Chekhov, Path of the Actor, p.127.