Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Jacques Lecoq's Bouffons in Australia

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Jacques Lecoq's Bouffons in Australia

Article excerpt

In The Moving Body, Jacques Lecoq describes his explorations into bouffon, a theatrical form that uses body masking to transform actors into grotesque, outcast characters who satirise society. Lecoq researched and developed the form over thirty years, mapping the dramatic territory of the bouffon, searching for its defining characteristics, examining its relationship to other forms, and pondering the limits of its capabilities. One of his 'great discoveries' was the extent to which this work highlighted cultural differences between his students, who created bouffonesque bodies that were distinctively embedded in their own cultural background. Another 'great discovery' was the way in which the bouffons pushed into the territory of tragedy, their mockery transforming into the sublime, and their violence into beauty. At the end of Lecoq's prolonged investigations, many questions remained unanswered. One of the major issues was whether the bouffon was self-sufficient as a dramatic form: 'Can they construct a whole performance all by themselves? Or should they be seen in parallel with tragedy?'1 Despite Lecoq's misgivings, a handful of Australian practitioners have done precisely this, creating bouffon productions without any reference to tragedy. In this article I will outline the characteristic features of the bouffon form and explore how it has evolved in Australia. I examine whether Lecoq's doubts about its self-sufficiency are borne out by the Australian experience, and explore what is culturally distinctive about the bouffon work in an Australian context. Discussion is framed with reference to social constructions of the 'normal', the 'disabled' and the 'grotesque' body.2

Lecoq began exploring bouffon in the 1970s with a question about 'people who believe in nothing and mock everything'." His initial research focused on parody, in which one person mocked another by imitating their walk, posture, movements and voice. The next phase extended the parody so that students not only mocked what the other person did, but also their beliefs, rules and values. Lecoq observed that this kind of interaction quickly degenerated into a form of malice and resulted in conflict because the person being mocked found the situation intolerable. Lecoq discovered that it was imperative for the person mocking to be visually different from the person being mocked. To this end he sought to create a body that was 'other', and asked his students to transform themselves by adding appendages and padding to create huge buttocks, bellies, breasts, genitals or hump backs. In this way, the whole body became a mask, transforming the students into grotesque, deformed and distended creatures. It provided a theatrical distancing from reality, which offered 'protection' for the mocker as well as the victim. Behind their body masks, students were less inhibited and had the courage to do things they would never have done in their own bodies. The victims were also more able to accept being ridiculed because of the physical transformation:

[T]here was no conflict between the bouffon and the object of his mockery. We were finding our way back to the tradition of the king's fool, who, far from being a real madman, was licensed to express truth in all its forms. In a bouffonesque body, the person who mocks can say the unsayable, going so far as to mock what 'cannot' be mocked: war, famine, God.4

Just as an actor will don a facial mask and develop the character it suggests, Lecoq and his students explored the world of the bouffon characters implied by their body masks. They created bouffons as society's outcasts, fringedwellers who live in bands with their own social organisation, their own rules, rituals and ceremonies. They have their own special logic that subverts everyday situations, and their own inverted hierarchy in which the smallest and weakest is the most powerful. Their favourite pastime is to amuse themselves by imitating and ridiculing the life of human beings. …

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