Thomas’s book Juggling Trajectories (2016) is the first study of the highly prolific circus company Gandini Juggling. Since it was founded by Sean Gandini and Kati Ylä-Hokkala in 1991, the company have continuously explored what juggling is and what it can be by collaborating with ballet dancers, fashion designers, computer programmers, sound designers, set makers, and mathematicians. They tour their shows around the world and perform in theatres, opera houses, and festivals. Gandini Juggling’s core principle is to investigate the nature of juggling as a source vocabulary of movement. Their early work focused on fusing the vocabularies of dance and juggling. The choreography of Gill Clarke echoed Trisha Brown’s work in its search for “the schemes and structures that organize movement, rather than the invention of movement per se”. The method of construction they use is to combine existing material with new experiments, often developing the performance within a context of a thematic idea. As they have refined their distinctive performance vocabulary Gandini Juggling’s shows have included No Exit (2004), an adaptation of Jean Paul Satre’s novel Huis Clos (1954), and their ongoing performances inside a steel and glass ‘Cube’ that were originally conceived whilst the company were performing at the Millennium Dome (2000 onwards). Their most successful work to date has been Smashed (2011), an homage to the work of ground-breaking choreographer Pina Bausch.
Thomas first became aware of Gandini Juggling’s work when he was an undergraduate student in the mid-1990s. After deciding to make the company the subject of his final year thesis he has been researching their practice ever since. In this sense Thomas is a unique figure in the Gandini Juggling story by not ever becoming a member of the ensemble and yet having intimate insights into their methodology. Kati and Sean have told Thomas that he is the person who makes the work make sense for them, which lead them to commission him to write Juggling Trajectories. In writing the book Thomas’s process resonated with Jasper Johns’s articulation of the primary principle of juggling: ‘Take an object, do something to it. Do something else to it’. By treating the company as a ‘jigsaw’, Thomas was able to unpick it through a series of choices that produced proposals: proposals of groupings, proposals of namings, and proposals of impositions. These aspects were teased out in order to write the story of Gandini Juggling in words and pictures.
The Bred in the Bone Story by Matthieu Bellon
The work Bred in the Bone undertook in 2016 has lead Matthieu to ponder what factors influenced his company’s creative development – (touring performances, curating a Festival, training actors in a residency, rehearsals, directing shows). The genesis of the company can be traced back to a desire to fuse the traditions of the avant-garde theatre of Eastern Europe, particularly in the heritage of Grotowski, and the text-based traditions of Western Europe, notably practiced in the UK. Bred in the Bone’s first piece Unreal City: A Jazzed Performance, based on TS Eliot’s The Wasteland (1922), was performed in 2005. The cast was comprised of Jeremy Harrison (Rose Bruford College), Rafa Habel (Song of the Goat), Krystyva Krotowska (National Theatre), and RADA trained actress Tanya Munday. Musicality was the main unifying factor that linked the performer’s cultural traditions and performance techniques. The experience of directing Unreal City revealed to Matthieu that any changes in theatre languages that occurred during the piece (aesthetics, techniques, dramaturgy, etc.) were comprehensible to an audience as long as the actors and musicians had a common understanding of each other and of themselves at the moment of the performance. Unreal City continues to act as benchmark for Bred in the Bone by concretising the company’s first principles: Aesthetics and techniques derive from the training and not the other way around, musicality is the unifying agent of theatre-making, and whilst structures of performances may differ the underlying presence of the actor differentiates theatre from all other art forms.
Adapting Don Quixote in 2011 presented the challenge of finding musicality in the dense text, resulting in Bred in the Bone taking six years to devise the performance. The scope of the project and the fact that the original cast of Unreal City were not available compelled Matthieu to train a new group of actors and musicians. During this period Matthieu found a way of articulating the principles Bred in the Bone work from beyond the boundaries of the company in the form of workshops and establishing the format for acting residencies internationally. Owing to a mistake in a symposium programme at RBC one year and having been researching the musicality in Shakespeare’s plays, Matthieu decided to incorporate the whole of the canon into Don Quixote. This significantly enhanced the strength of the company’s training and their teaching.
Making performances from training is a mode of working strongly associated with the ‘studio’, where pedagogy is foregrounded over the imperatives of theatre production. Being attached to an educational institution such as Rose Bruford means it is almost impossible for Bred in the Bone to secure public funding and also makes it difficult to adapt their work for commercial systems of production. These limitations, however, are the price of being able to research through practice without the pressures of producing final performances. As the name of the company implies, the essence of Bred in the Bone’s work comes from within, meaning performances originate from the inner to the outer. The organic and highly contingent nature of this approach means Bred in the Bone are not concerned with replicating a particular aesthethic but are instead focused on consistently testing and re-affirming their methodology. Matthieu has adapted an exercise he first encountered when he was part of Song of the Goat that uses the impulse of a hand clap to shift eh actor’s focus. The aim of the exercise is to enhance their awareness and responsiveness to each other and to the space, thereby encapsulating the optimal sense of ‘aliveness’ in the final performances Matthieu is always striving for. In this way, each stage of Bred in the Bone’s training is a ‘paradigm of [its] dramaturgy’ (Eugenio Barba, An Amulet of Memory). Furthermore, it sets training as a base for any work on aesthetics, whatever the aesthetics, this in turn resulting in what can only described as a series of fundamental ‘scales’ for the actor. It is these ‘scales’ that Bred In The Bone aims to develop within the Laboratory.
The Future of the Document by Dr Joseph Dunne
On October 31st Joseph co-hosted a one day, interdisciplinary symposium at City, University of London, in collaboration with Dr Lyn Robinson. The event forms part of Joseph’s ongoing practice research into the intersections between the fields of Library and Information Science (LIS) and theatre and performance. The trend for practitioners working across artistic disciplines to document their work and create their own archives has raised a number of issues pertaining to the ways live performance operates in today’s digital knowledge economy. Can performance be read as an information generating machine? How can systems of documentation be incorporated into the theatre-making process? And what is it we are trying to save when we record live events?
Lyn is a Reader in LIS at City. Her interest in performance dates back to her reading of Bruce Shuman’s The Library of the Future (1989) in which he offers a scenario of a book being lived or experienced: an ‘immersive document’. This notion has strong links with immersive and participatory performances, most famously practiced by Punchdrunk and Blast Theory, in its emphasis on the action of the spectator/reader/ participant to make a constructed (un)reality tangible. After learning of their shared interest, a colleague of Joseph’s at the University of the Arts put him in touch with Lyn, whereupon they realised it was necessary to strengthen the often tangential links between their disciplines.
The Future of the Document was designed to instigate a conversation between archivists, documentarians, visual artists, theatre and performance scholars, and LIS scholars. The institutions that were represented included the V&A Museum, the British Library, the Royal Albert Hall, the Tate, Rose Bruford College, the University of Kent, London South Bank University, and the University of Surrey. The papers covered a broad yet deep and interconnected series of themes, all of which grappled with the expanding definition of documents and documentation in the context of digital culture. A full programme of the symposium can be found on the Documenting Performance website (https://documentingperformance.com/).
Joseph and Lyn are now considering co-authoring a publication based on the papers presented at the symposium.
Black Theatre in Britain: 1950s to the present by Dr Susan Croft
The exhibition Black Theatre in Britain: 1950s to the present was recently staged to mark Black History Month in the Reception area of the College. In creating it Susan drew on the material she recently deposited with Rose Bruford College Library Special Collections and Archive, but also on an engagement with that history over several decades, which has seen the politics change around its title Black British with a capital B, or black British, Ethnic Minority, Black as including Asian – or as distinct from it, African-Caribbean, BAME…. Susan’s research in the field started with an essay when she was still a student on African-American women playwrights in the Black Theatre movement in the USA, and then when she was working as a dramaturge and Director of New Playwrights Trust (later Writernet) with helping set up the Second Wave Young Women Playwrights Festival with a young women’s arts project based in Deptford at The Albany Empire, particularly focused on encouraging young black women to write. Out of that Susan began research on an essay, published in 1993 but focused on the 1980s, which aimed to document the upsurge of Black and Asian women playwrights. The essay included a bibliography listing over 50 of them whose work had largely begun to be staged in that decade: Winsome Pinnock, Jacqueline Rudet, Jenny McLeod, Cindy Artiste among many others.
In the latter part of the 1980s Asian women writers started to appear including Nandita Ghose, Jyoti Patel and Rukhsana Ahmad. Later as Curator of Contemporary Performance at the V&A Theatre Museum Susan was concerned to make accessible information about the extensive history of Black British theatre within the collections, which was very hard to find unless you knew where to look. This led to her editing the guide Black and Asian Performance at the Theatre Museum: A Users’ Guide, and to curating the exhibition Let Paul Robeson Sing! together with a timeline of Black Theatre within the displays of the Museum (then in Covent Garden, sadly since closed), including portraits of the major 19th century tragedian Ira Aldridge and engravings by Hogarth such as ‘Strolling Actresses Dressing in a Barn’. An online version of the guide and other resources on Black Theatre History are still available online, however. Alongside this Susan has continued to collect and research the growing number of Black and Asian playwrights, to collect flyers, reviews and where possible scripts, seeking to ensure that the breadth and depth of this work is not forgotten.
Susan’s other research has been on women playwrights and alternative theatre, both areas that tend to be marginalised in theatre histories by a cultural amnesia which constantly erases recent practice from the record. In this context the National Theatre’s Black Plays Archive and Jatinder Verma’s Black Theatre Live initiatives are hugely welcome. The exhibition reproduced in facsimile an array of items from the programme for the all-black version of Anna Christie by Eugene O’Neill, produced by the West Indian Drama Group in 1959, with Carmen Munroe in the cast to flyer for Fallen Angel and The Devil Concubine, presented by members of the ground-breaking Jamaican collective Sistren in 1988 and the 1983 special Equity Journal, published to mark the first Conference on Integrated Casting. Susan hopes to restage the exhibition as part of the 2017 Symposium for those who missed it. Meanwhile if anyone with a particular interest in exploring aspects of this history as part of their studies or otherwise would be interested in helping sort and list the archive, please get in touch!
Dr Susan Croft, Clive Barker Research Fellow,
Further information including links to additional resources in this area will shortly be available on theatrefutures.org.uk