"Lat on your feeeeeeeeeeet!"
This sentence has left the mouth of monsieur Gaulier a lot over the year. And once it does an imaginary whip cracks behind the guilty party and yes, for a short while the feet get lighter.
Then sure enough, a few days later, someone in the class puts on a pair of heavy socks and the same call emerges from under that grey gallic beard.
This idea of lightness features heavily in Philippe's teaching, his book is called the tormentor - light theatre.
In the workshop we are stopped if we are too "'Eavy."
Not just heavy in the way we walk and move but if we are heavy in the way we play or even in the way we handle props.
Non, there is no room for heaviness in this lightest of theatres.
The question of how to teach this is an interesting one and one that our current movement tutor Carlo is addressing in a way that I find totally different to the other teachers.
Many of the other teachers have focussed on fun using a variety of different means to access what they feel is necessary for us at school. Some through dance, others through acrobatics, others using other techniques they have learned and yet Carlo is the only one to address lightness specifically in class.
We practise the horse cantering with specific focus on our feet being silent. We jump the camel jump, a high jump bringing the knees to the chest and landing with a cat like pad on the floor. Some of us are more succesful at this than others. My favourite game of his so far was a game of musical chairs, well sort of, we had chairs and music played. When the music played we had to lift our chair off the floor and dance with it, staying light and tall. When the music stopped we had to place our chairs on the floor and sit on them as quietly as possible. It is surprising when the element of game enters an exercise as simple as moving a chair quietly the results are really noticeable. I also really enjoy his version of the walker game, you may know this one. everybody sits in a chair with the exception of 1 player who is the walker. there is one empty chair and the objective is for the walker to sit in the empty chair, everybody else has to keep the walker out of the empty chair by getting out of their own chair and sitting in the empty chair before the walker sits in it.
I've both played and facilitated this game a lot and have my own "outcomes" from it (I don't like the word outcome as it suggests that I'm actually a bit closed off to what else could be in the game, however in reality thats probably true. Carlo's version stresses that any excessive noise will be penalised by the noise makers removal from the game. So diving into chairs heavily without control suddenly becomes a no-can-do option. Also once the game gets going he introduces a spy. The spy is a person who is there to help the walker sit down in the chair by "accidentally" making a mistake or some other such means. Obviously we all have our eyes closed when he goes around to pick the spy but the spy rule is great because suddenly the whole groups awareness lifts we are all doubly aware as we not only want to keep the walker out the seat but we also want to catch the spy.
We have also looked at balance with Carlo, again this is continuing to train us in lightness and physical control. Balance through an exercise as simple as stepping over a bench in slow motion. What is it to be balanced asked Carlo before going on to say that it was easy to feel and one way to tell was to do something and then ask yourself if i stopped could i do it in reverse? so off we went trying first to step over a giant egg and then onto the bench. Then for added difficulty the same thing but with a book or a shoe balanced on a part of our body. then trying to swap the objects with our classmates.
One of my favourite things so far was the slow motion forward roll. stopping halfway and reversing it.
What is all this concern with lightness for, you may ask yourselves? Why lightness why not heaviness? Why not weight?
For me, when light things take flight, they dance on the winds and flit through the air carving out beautiful patterns that enchant and mesmerize us.
Lightness can do this. In our imaginations, we can soar and take the audience with us, to dream lands filled with the ghosts of beauty and desire. Heaviness cannot do that,as soon as it stomps in it brings the imagination crashing back to earth, back to naturalism and back to the 4 walls of the theatre. And we are reminded that we sit in our seats watching heavy people thud about.
Lightness does the oppositte.
Lightness can set us free