2016 was a year of rich development at Melbourne Suzuki. The core members, Rodrigo Calderón Kathleen Doyle, Molly Farquharson, Nilees Inisahus, Lorna Mcleod, Gareth Trew and myself have engaged in close analysis of the basic training and some interesting developmental work arising. There have been many points of discussion, one that has recurred is the idea of the performer's journey from one still position to another.
In the first place, the performer exists on stage. A great deal of consideration is given to the relationship between the centre down there in the abdomen and the performer's focal point beyond the audience. The centre might be considered the seed of the performer's expression, it is internal and personal. In Suzuki training the performer creates a stable yet continually evolving relationship between centre and focus. Depending on the play, the focal point might be a person, the seaside or a memory and the relationship between the internal and the external creates a rationale for the performer's presence onstage. For example an aesthetic in the centre of compression might be a preparation to attack an aggressor. If expression is derived from the centre in relation to the focus, any part of the body conveys the rationale of the whole. To continue the example, the compressed centre might curl the fingers inward which might invite an attack. This guards against closing off and provides a mechanism for the performer to play with focal length, direction and existence on the stage.
This we have understood for some time, but what has appeared this year is the intimate relationship between from and to (In our training the term was first coined by Kathleen). In order to journey between two positions of stillness one needs to understand the rationale of that stillness - its history, relation, intent and intensity. The quality of a stillness is altered by the preceding journey, equally, setting out from a period of stillness will be altered by the experience of the stillness. For example if one arrives in stillness after slow, high-resistance movement, if that exertion has achieved a metaphorical characteristic like sickness, then the stillness will express it and the setting-out will continue sickly... or perhaps transform. One way to evaluate the expression of a rationale, moving or still, is to save a part of the concentration to observe position, breath, focus, relation and intensity and in this, the training relates to many meditative practices that express the notion of an 'outside eye'.
In Suzuki training there is an exercise called changing statues (it is also called small changes but it is not to be confused with moving statues). In changing statues, rather than a series of statue/neutral/statue attitudes, one continues statue/statue/statue and the attitudes may describe a series or counterpoint. For example a series might be picking up an apple with freezes along the way, counterpoint might be 'I'll pick up the apple', 'wait, no I won't'. Usually the changes are executed with as much speed, energy and resistance as possible and the performer tries to stop the movement succinctly. But for some time we have been experimenting with the rhythm of the change, rather than a sequence of snapshots, the performer examines the interplay between journey and stillness. Put simply, the movement between still positions can be fast or slow or somewhere in between.
It was in exploring this variation that the question arose concerning the quality of the journey and so two ideas associated with Noh theatre arose, firstly johaku (序破急) and secondly ma (間). This is no surprise as much of Suzuki’s training draws on Noh. Whole books are written about these two concepts which pervade all artistic expression, one might say, all aspects of life in Japan. Jim Breen’s Japanese dictionary defines johakyu as ‘artistic modulations in traditional Japanese performances; opening, middle and climax (end)’. Simply speaking, johakyu describes the quality of journey and ma the quality of stillness. In high-jumping an athlete prepares, sets off, builds to maximum velocity and then jumps. If at the last moment before the bar they were to stop completely still, they would be describing the arc of johakyu followed by the suspension of ma. Within this suspension of movement tension between reflection and anticipation extends for as long as the performer holds the suspension.
Of course Tadashi Suzuki’s training is not so much a dance method as a method for acting and so this concept is employed speaking text. In training and exploration we remind ourselves that one of the strengths of the training is to develop the charisma of a performer speaking from complete stillness. However if that stillness is attenuated by the journey then the quality of the vocal expression changes. It is as if in focusing simply on the from and to, the performer creates an authentic and transformative existence from which to speak. Put another way, when speaking, if a motionless attitude includes a consideration of from and to, then the so of the past and the perhaps of the future influences vocal density, pitch and resonance as well as the aesthetic in the centre and its relation to external foci.
This is but one aspect of this year's exploration. We are all at different levels of experience, but without exception exploring the actor’s existence through the experience of journey and stillness has provided recognisably unique expression for each performer - as we continue, new ground continues to appear. Anticipating the development of my play Mute in 2017 (The Intriguing Case of the Silent Forest, performed in 2019), fills me with great excitement when I consider bringing this slow-burn laboratory to bear on a new play with this dedicated group of performers.