So how does Biomechanics fit in my system?
I am a true disciple of Stanislavsky’s ideas and my commitment to the Gister concept of Action is deeply rooted in real life human psychology and behavior. And still I look at acting as a creation of art like all other fine arts. Abstract forms are only dynamic if there is a solid understanding of realism. Say you are a painter—--you cannot truly express the human form artistically unless you have diligently studied it through anatomically correct figure drawing. Do you think that Picasso’s Cubist work would have made such an impact if he had no classical training? The poet E.E. Cummings used unconditional structure and grammar in his work but all that would be shallow and ineffective if he didn’t have a deep understanding of the English language. You cannot deconstruct something you don’t know how to put back together again.
I keep coming back to this Chekhov quote: “The stage is art. Kramsky (a Russian painter) has painted human faces brilliantly. What if we cut the painted nose out of one of the faces and insert a real one? The nose will be real, but the picture will be ruined.” As a teacher of tomorrow’s actors I’m interested in encouraging a melding of a psychological-technique and a physical/theatrical one. I love bold theatrical transformation in acting—the kind that is larger than life but at the same time true! That takes fearless commitment and a true understanding of realism if it is to be believable and effective for an audience. And yet, abstract and modern forms are truly exciting to watch. Actors should have a range to explore every possibility and every choice. They should have a technique that gives them confidence to be bold transformational actors no matter what the genre or story asks of them.
So in 1997, while in graduate school, I had the opportunity to travel to St. Petersburg, Russia to participate in an amazing project that forever changed my life...it was the "Revizor Project." This was a joint venture with a small class of directors from the St. Petersburg Theatre Academy and the first year actors at the Yale School of Drama. The project’s goal was to fully produce a reincarnation of Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1926 production of Gogol’s "Inspector General." The project began with five intense weeks in Russia. Then again for two to three weeks the following year in New Haven. At that time the project concluded with a bilingual and extremely scaled down production of the historical performance. At that point the project seemed all but over...the the following year a lucky few of us would continue. In the summer of 1999 we would return to St. Petersburg for two more weeks of rehearsal and then off to Amsterdam for two weeks to perform at the International Theatre School festival.
As we were attempting to recreate Meyerhold’s staging we needed to understand more about Meyerhold’s Biomechanics. Alexei Levinsky was brought in to teach us. Alexei studied Biomechanics with Nikolai Kustova who was a member and teacher in Meyerhold’s company. Alexei introduced us to the work through a series of “stick” exercises to develop balance, focus, strength, flow, and relationship. A key element to the physical movements of each exercise is that they break down into three parts.
-The preparation (Otkas)
-The action (Posyl)
-And the finish/rest/release (Stoika)
The verbal count for the exercises is “And, 1, 2.” This is dimonstrated in the following videos.
Meyehold also developed etudes which are brief physical stories. Nikolai Pesochinsky defined the Biomechanical Etudes best when he...and I’m paraphrasing...said they take an everyday movement and make it artistic. There were at least sixteen developed in Meyerhold’s time but I have only heard of about five that have survived and are known. There are single person etudes such as “Throwing a Stone” and “Shooting a Bow.” And the partnered etudes are “The Slap,” “The Stab with a Dagger,” and “The Leap on the Chest.” Each etude also starts and finishes with a movement called “Daktyl.” As in all the phrases in the etudes, the Daktyl contains the signature three parts...Otkas, Posyl, and Stoika.
In the videos you will see an introduction to some of the stick exercises, Daktyl, and the etude “Throwing a Stone.” I hope you will enjoy these! Please contact me if you have any questions or are in the NYC area and are interested in a workshop. I hope you will check this site from time to time, as I will be adding more videos in the future of additional stick exercises and etudes.