ISTA, The principles that dance

ISTA, The principles that dance

By : Gregorio Amicuzi
Translation : Fiorenza Sammartino
Photo : Francesco Galli

We are in Favignana, a small island in the Egadi archipelago, in Sicily. A voluntary confinement, 70 people from more than 15 countries. An itinerant intercultural village, imagined by Eugenio Barba in 79, which through its 16 editions, becomes reality thanks to the incredible work and effort of the organizers who accept the challenge of doing the impossible! Thus opens the meeting, with Eugenio Barba who talks about the impossible. Quoting Fridtjov Nansen shares the following thought:

“The difficult is what takes some time; the impossible is what requires a little more “

And so ISTA is inaugurated, an act for theater and research, which seems impossible to achieve and even more so in times of pandemic. It is not a festival, nor a congress.

ISTA, International School of Theatrical Anthropology, is a meeting where the participants live, sleep and eat together with the teachers. Over the course of 10 days, the questions about the “returning principles”, as Barba calls them in the book “La Canoa di Carta”, are answered in the different traditions that are presented.

An intense program that starts at 7.00 in the morning in front of the sea, where every day a teacher or a teacher sing to welcome the sun. Following the practical workshops and meetings with the master Eugenio Barba. In the afternoon work demonstrations and in the evening shows also open to the public.

Barba creates and gives life to the concept of Theatrical Anthropology together with Nicola Savarese in the book “The secret art of the actor”, defining it as the territory of study of the pre-expressive behavior of the human being in a situation of organized representation. Search, study, analyze everything behind the stage action, the actor’s bios and the common principles in the different theatrical and popular traditions, specifically where there is an organized representation of reality.

What is the daily work of Parvathy Baul, singer-guru of the Baul tradition of Bengal? What exercises accompany the dawn awakenings of Keiin Yoshimura, a theater teacher No and Kamigatamai in Japan?

What is the training of Julia Varley of Odin Teatret, which allows her body-voice to be alive, active after more than 40 years of work? What is the daily physical work of Ana Woolf, an Argentine actress expert in Tadashi Suzuki’s technique?

What do Gambuh dance, danced by the performer I Wayan Bawa of Bali with Flamenco by Caterina Scotti, Bharatanatyam by Tiziana Barbiero or Katakali by Alessandro Rigoletto, all three members of the Pocket Theater of Bergamo, have in common?

What categories should we use to relate a popular tradition of the state of Pernambuco in Brazil, the Cavalo Marinho presented by Juliana Pardo and Alicio Amaral of the Brazilian group Mundo Rodá, with Kapila Venu’s Kutiyattam? Or how do these traditions dialogue with Lydia Koniordou, a Greek actress and expert in ancient Greek drama? These and other questions accompany the ISTA.

A great kaleidoscope of techniques that the master Eugenio Barba approaches with a microscope, in search of all those details concerning the physical tensions of each action. It is starting from these empirical observations that the principles of theatrical anthropology are elaborated, thus influencing the bodies of the participants who wonder how and if they will be able to incorporate them into their daily work.

According to his definition, the “returning principles” present in the different performative traditions are reduced to three: the balance in the action or principle of the alteration of the balance, the dance of oppositions and the omission or principle of simplification.

The questions and the scenic tasks that Barba proposes to the teachers focus on learning, on how to study and on how their techniques are transmitted. His questions highlight the tensions in the actor-dancer’s body and his ability to direct his energy, influencing the viewer’s kinesthetic perception.

Eugenio Barba analyzes, questions, composes and above all contrasts the different disciplines with a look that becomes a school and allows the 50 participants to open up, question themselves and build their own vision of what theater is and above all why it is done.

When asked what ISTA is and why it is necessary, the Master replies:

“The ISTA has become for me a situation of kinesthetic didactics: learning to learn by doing. I can bring together masters I have known for a long time from different theatrical and dance traditions and genres and with them transmit our knowledge of the technical principles of the presence of ISTA is part of a knowledge sharing project that the Barba Varley Foundation is carrying out, together with the open access journal “JTA, Journal of Theater Anthropology” and the making of ten films on theatrical anthropology. .

In the ISTA sessions, participants have the opportunity to meet masters from Asia, Latin America and other cultural areas who demonstrate in practice the technical principles that allow the development of the actor / dancer individual stage presence.

The field of theatrical anthropology is the study of the human being in an organized performance situation, ie when the actor / dancer uses his presence according to principles other than those of everyday life.

ISTA can influence and open new horizons for a handful of participants. They are not many, they usually range between fifty and eighty. But participation turns into the physical and material experience that the earth is round.

And what are the consequences for an actor or director of the discovery that the earth is round, and what are the effects on the social and artistic environment?

I’ll tell you how the Latin Americans who studied and participated in ISTA reacted. For them, the meeting with Asian actors was at first a surprise: what could be the use of such an “exotic” way of doing theater, so far removed from the theatrical techniques of Latin America, the United States and Europe? However, they discovered and began to understand that behind these distant forms, there were technical principles that could be used.

What did the smartest of them do? They looked at and analyzed their own culture, all the extraordinary spectacular richness of popular manifestations in the Andean culture or in Brazil with the dances of the Orixas del Candomble, the Cavalo Marinho, the Bumba meu boi and many others. A whole profusion of actors who dance folk dances whose techniques and expressive power had not been taken into consideration at all by the people of the theater. In Latin America, starting from the 1980s, those who had lived the experience of ISTA began to use the principles of theatrical anthropology in relation to the heritage of their own culture.

In the next issue of JTA, Journal of Theater Anthropology, texts written by Latin American directors and actors will be published describing how theatrical anthropology has been a tool for them to approach and understand their own indigenous cultures. Thanks to the knowledge of theatrical anthropology, without copying the external forms they fed and inspired their artistic creations.

In a performance situation there is a change in behavior from everyday to extraordinary. This is what constitutes the actor / dancer technique. This technique is rooted in the use of some technical principles that intensify presence. Presence is an essential factor to attract and stimulate the spectator’s attention and at the same time keep it for an hour, two hours, three hours … So to stimulate the brain, to feed the attention and perception of the spectator, the actor must produce a whole series of new stimuli, not only at the verbal / conceptual level of the text, but also at the level of physical empathy with the viewer, making dynamic and sound actions. This is the job of the actor / dancer. This intrinsic knowledge of the technical principles allows a dynamic of somatic and acoustic variations that are real associative and sensory stimuli that affect the nervous system and the kinesthetic sense of the viewer.

Among the technical principles that theatrical anthropology has identified and which are the basis of the actor / dancer extra-daily behavior are: the alteration of balance and daily posture, which causes a tonic mutation of the actor’s presence , a network of organic tensions in the body that have an impact on the viewer’s vision and neurological activity, that is, his perception. The extra-daily behavior of the actor / dancer generates an unusual body, a process of estrangement, that is, making surprising a behavior that everyone knows: walking, picking up a pen and writing, smoking. For the actor, it is the way in which he intensifies his actions that becomes fundamental. Here lies the immense wealth of technical wisdom in the various codified traditions. Those traditions are a concrete example of how to intensify the presence as well as become an inspiration for identifying those principles that can help the actor who works in the contemporary world to build his individual way of being present today, in his time and place “.

The different traditions are presented in two working sections every morning in the four working rooms, which are named after the cities that hosted the previous editions of ISTA.

The morning training is followed by work demonstrations and moments of reflection with the masters themselves. Master’s lessons by Barba who, in the role of director of this “School of the gaze”, as Nicola Savarese defines it, pays attention to those details that connect the archipelago of techniques presented to the participants. In this way, the common principles are highlighted, the “principles that dance” in the different personal and collective traditions of the invited masters.

In the afternoon, after lunch, there is also a moment of “barter”, an exchange between the participants. In this exchange of ideas and practices, relationships, friendships and collaborations are born.

A necessary village made possible thanks to the incredible effort of Maestro Barba, 85, of his collaborators and above all thanks to the strength and determination of the organizers, Teatro Proskenion of Reggio Calabria and Free Lines of Rome, who took the reins of the project despite Covid.

We sail on this island, Favignana, where an ancient trap welcomes us and the sound of the sea at dawn lulls us, while the teachers transform silence into action with their song.

We carry with us many questions, many exercises to be explored in the working rooms and above all a lot of diversity, invisible threads that become tangible thanks to the techniques.

With all this we imagine the next meeting, in some country of Spain capable of receiving this great theatrical village and making the impossible possible: a great necessary meeting where, thanks to the “dancing principles”, diversity becomes a common experience.