The Actor-Dancer as an Artist-Citizen
…the artist must be in some measure an outsider; but she must also be inside, participating deeply in life and in her world if her art is to speak to the reality of others in that world. This is part of the bridging function of the artist; to live in both worlds at once, with an eye to the social context of the times, and an ear to the unconscious tides that will carry us into the future…Through her awareness and sensitivity to these tides, the artist intuitively reflects the present social and cultural trends, even as she also envisions the potential future, and communicates the essence of this vision through her work (Hartley, 2001, p. 229).
The actor-dancer is foremost an artist. Despite the well documented differences in skills and training needs the actor and the dancer share a key common denominator – body movement and its artistic expression. Just as The Makings of the Actor seeks to occupy the “middle ground…the best of the worlds of both theory and practice” and aims at “bridging the divide” (Fisher -Yoshida et. al., 2009:2), the actor-dancer as an artist-citizen also occupies a liminal space. The artist-citizen lives between the conscious, everyday world of doing, speaking, moving, working, producing and politicising; and the unconscious, creative ‘dream’ world, the ‘silent world’ of symbolic action, “a world too deep for speech” where “sequences of movements are the sentences of speech, the carriers of the messages emerging from the world of silence” (Laban, 1980, p 87). Often going against the grain, the artist citizen’s work is to engage in the social, cultural, and spiritual development of her world through her art. Her work goes beyond entertainment and telling stories to embodiment of the deeply held collective unconscious and bringing it into conscious awareness for all to see.
Collectively we are facing extremely turbulent and unsettling times. The COVID19 pandemic has meant huge changes for us all. The ‘new normal’ requires us to work remotely through screens, to limit our movements, show a new sense of care to strangers as we don masks and sanitise hands; we are careful to avoid touching things and people. We have been separated from loved ones. Artists have lost the creative contact of the rehearsal and performance space. Artistic work in theatres and schools has been disrupted, curtailed, cancelled. Performers and performers-in-training are making artistic work in childhood bedrooms, streets, zoom-calls, and back gardens. The domestic has become the backdrop to our creative improvisations and the dramaturgy of the stories we tell.
During the lockdown, the murder of George Floyd has provoked a wider consciousness around issues of racism, further inspired by the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. Meanwhile the temporary shut-down of transport networks and much industry has given many people a peaceful pause to reconsider their relationship with nature, tapping into contemporary concerns about climate change and the health of our planet and of our species and others. The sharing of these concerns with memes, videos, and comments on our increasingly busy social media, aligned with our personal experiences, pushes these issues to the forefront of our individual and collective consciousness. In isolation and ‘lockdown’ we have lost contact with one another but have, perhaps, gained contact with the natural world and a deeper connection with ourselves. A cough may spread the virus; a ‘cough’ on social media and in performance may spread ideas and new ways of being in the world – through our ‘coughs’ and ‘sneezes’ we connect.
In the maelstrom of global issues which 2020 has presented, the artist-citizen occupies the threshold betwixt and between the dreamland of the collective and individual unconscious and the consciousness of our ‘awake’ reality. She lends her body and her voice to those unheard and “like the shaman, lives on a threshold. One eye on the world within and the other on the world without, her awareness travels between the two” (Hartley, 2001, p. 220). But the artist citizen does more than ‘represent’ human concerns. She is “…primarily an agent of transformation whose function is often to unsettle the status quo, not to confirm it…The artist is sensitive both to what is happening culturally and to the spiritual meaning of the times. She perceives the larger picture of the society in which she lives, and reflects issues of current concern in her work; she is also instinctively attuned to the movements of the collective unconscious which underlie the fabric of society, and it is her task to speak of this. She intuitively sees beneath the surface of things to what is real” (Hartley, 2001, p. 228). We need art more than ever now, to tell our stories, to inspire and ignite the changes we want to see. And we need the artist’s confidence in knowing herself, to speak up.
Training of the actor-dancer’s body then, needs both the technical aspect of physical acuity as well as the initiation into the unconscious, “land of silence, the realm of the soul” (Laban, 1975, p. 89) in order to hear these voices. This is because “there is in the art of movement the body, which has to be carried to and fro over the threshold between consciousness and the unconscious” (Laban, 1955, xz/k/3427, p. 13). The artist-citizen needs a training which not only addresses technical ability, but which actively invites her to dive deeply into her unconscious, submerging herself in the realms of living imagination, fantasy, feeling, archaic memory; to become a kind of sensitive antenna to the collective unconscious. If the actor-dancer is to fulfil her destiny as an artist-citizen then her teacher must be the guide who supports her in accessing such realms and must therefore also develop such artistic capacities and processes for themselves.
In this paper presentation what I would like to advocate for is broad education through the arts, and specifically movement which aims to “help people through dancing to find bodily relation to the whole of existence” (Laban, 1975, p. 108). It is precisely because of the artist-teacher’s ability to understand artistic processes which take place ‘between worlds’, whilst simultaneously cultivating methods which allow the student-artist creative freedom and individuality, that the teacher becomes an important player in the processes of artistic development. Education through the arts allows learners “to feel what we cogitate about” and “cogitate about what we are feeling” (Laban, 1970, p. 4).
This presentation offers a snapshot of a practice which seeks to reintegrate notions of spirituality which afford the mover a toing-and-froing ‘between worlds’ into the practice of Laban Movement Analysis for actors in training. Poetic writing, drawing, witnessing, and movement accounts are explored alongside movement analysis. These creative articulations were produced by my students and myself in the processes of teaching and learning movement in the actor training studio, as well as in my personal, private movement practice. They reveal the explorations into the ‘dream-like’ side of the artist’s work of “initiation into memory” (Bleakley, 2001, p. 222), the “timeless, wordless process” (Hartley, 2001, p. 222) stimulated by Laban’s choreutic and eukinetic theories and their connection to the soma-spiritual.
Juliet Chambers-Coe is a GL-Certified Movement Analyst, Laban and a PhD candidate at the Guildford School of Acting at the University of Surrey. Juliet trained as an actress (GSA) and for over a decade worked in theatre, T.V, film and radio. Since gaining a Masters Degree in Somatic Studies and Labananalysis from the University of Surrey in 2005, she has applied Laban Movement Analysis to theatre and actor training both as a Movement Director and as a teacher. Juliet teaches Laban and movement studies at Drama Studio London and Rose Bruford College. She is also the creator of the Labanarium: a resource and network centre for the movement community. Her current research focuses on the soma-spiritual in movement training for actors and their teachers.