The Aesthetics of Death
between actor and puppet, between life and death
“The ideal is not flesh and blood but rather the body in a trance state. The body must be clothed in mortal beauty, while radiating its living spirit.”
Edward Gordon Craig
The Aesthetics of Death is a 5-day development project and a knowledge-sharing seminar in October 2016 at Forsøgsstationen between 5 actors and 5 puppeteers working with and exploring the actor’s and puppeteer’s scenic expression and merging both into a new scenic expression.
It is a study in which we push the limits of the theatre of the actor and the puppet, to explore the relationship between the biological and the artificial body, between the representation of the dead and the representation of the living. Research includes Tadeusz Kantor’s performances with actors and puppets on stage, where the inanimate puppets are experienced almost more vividly than the actors, who are mute with mechanical movements and empty eyes. For the puppeteer, it’s about giving life and movement to the dead material – and the study asks the question: What does it mean for the actor’s expression to give “death” to the living body of flesh and blood?
The development project “Aesthetics of Death” is a continuation of the experiment “The Actor and the Übermarionette” in autumn 2015 at the Experimental Station. The experiment was inspired by theatre theorist Edward Gordon Craig’s thoughts and ideas about the “ideal” actor, with an acting style free of psychology and realism – a kind of “super puppet” who can move based on what he wants and not just on what he can do.
As a bid to realise Craig’s ideal of the actor, and strongly inspired by the poetic universe and magic of puppetry, the study team chose to work with puppetry techniques, Etienne Decroux’s physical mime technique and Jacques Copeau’s mask work, to give structure to ideas and emotions and to give the human spirit a physical form.
In the experiment “the actor and the Übermarionette” we took as our starting point the actor’s body and training and transformation and the differences between the puppet and the puppeteer and the actor’s technique and stage expression. We made possible, in our eyes, an impossible encounter with the puppet in a new continuation of the experiment.
In The Aesthetics of Death, we look at similarities and commonalities – not only between the method of the actor and the puppeteer, but also between the physicality and expression of the puppet and the actor.
Read the trial’s statement of intent here
The human is the model for the doll and the doll is the model for the human.
We will perceive the actor as if he were a puppeteer, leading his role or character as if it were his puppet in one and the same person. With the face covered and thus devoid of facial expressions, we focus and concentrate the facial movements in the body’s rotations, bends and lifts, channelling and amplifying the actor’s total expression of movement. The body becomes another body, stylized, more abstract and smaller in character, a moving sculpture where universal thoughts and feelings are materialized in the movements of the sculpture.
We will look at the human as a puppet and look at the puppet as a human.
Can we create a super puppet, made from the best of both worlds – acting and puppetry? Can we create a perfect “monster” on stage? A Frankenstein’s monster, a zombie, a cyborg, where living and dead material mix together, an aesthetic of death, where the dead surrounds us like a skin we try to put on and try in vain to breathe through, or a suit too big that we try to fill with our frail soul.
Can we bind the body with ropes, lashing limbs and joints together to create new movements, new articulations, new forms? Can we play with the physical disability as a way of the human body approaching the doll? And what does it take for us to bring the doll’s thoughts and feelings to life and show how the doll would move if it were brought to life inside our body?
The intention of the study is not to imitate or be a puppet, marionette or sculpture on stage, but to use their particular intensity of imagery on stage.
The knowledge sharing seminar will span 5 days with an open viewing on the last day for all interested. The seminar is practically oriented. This means that everything takes place on the floor. Here, questions are formulated and experiences shared with the various participants in a concrete and very direct form. The experimental station will invite puppeteers Anette Asp Christensen, Rolf Søborg Hansen, Svend E. Kristensen and Bjarne Kalhøj who have all worked as actors. We will invite actors/performers Mireia Serra, Angelina Watson, Lotte Faarup, Malte Claudio Lind and Jens Bäckvall who come with strong physical training backgrounds in Buto, Suzuki and Grotowski technique, each in their own way working towards a different acting vision. Finally, Øyvind Kirchhoff, an actor trained in Etienne Decroux’s mime technique, and artistic director together with Lotte Faarup of Forsøgsstationen, will be the project manager.
Together we will explore each other’s methods, share artistic ideas and thoughts, and find new ways to examine and explore the potential of the performing artist and unlock the inner material that lies unexplored.
We believe that this work and the composition of a group of performing artists with years of experience and an exploratory approach to their profession, can generate new knowledge and create new shared experiences for the emergence and creation of new art across the arts.
The aim of the development project and the survey is not necessarily to provide answers – but to improve our individual craft and learn to bridge the experiences and visions of the different professional groups.
Read the report on the trial here.