Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Slow Dance or Fast Sculpture: Suzuki Training in Sydney's Contemporary Performance

Academic journal article Australasian Drama Studies

Slow Dance or Fast Sculpture: Suzuki Training in Sydney's Contemporary Performance

Article excerpt

This article focuses on a dialogue between Tadashi Suzuki's Method of Actor Training (SMAT) and its reception/interpretation among Sydney contemporary performers in practice during the 1980s and 1990s. The strict discipline of Suzuki's regime is at times cast as martial-like, demanding the obethence of trainees and prompting anxieties about the formation of a cultlike group mind. It has often been difficult for observers to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the Sydney performance ensembles' collective creational processes - with their broadly democratic élan - and their extensive practice of SMAT. I attempt here to bring aspects of these artists' diverse practices - as practice - into relationship with each other, acknowledging Suzuki as the author of the training, while discussing the impact of its resonance with a series of closer and more distant influences as the Sydney ensembles of the 1980s and 1990s critically appropriated the training, putting it to work in their particular historical circumstances. ' The lively local field of alternative performance during the mid-1980s was well cultivated to receive and facilitate SMAT's contribution to performance making in the period and it contributed to the identity of what came to be known as the first wave of 'contemporary performance'. Suzuki's training was not like a cargo cult arriving from out of the future to structure the field; rather, it operated through a series of resonances with epistemological shifts about performance in Sydney at that time. Its catalytic effects 'entered the local blood stream', mediated by each performer's existing histories as they devised new works. Not only were these practitioners actively reinterpreting and adapting the capacities engendered by Suzuki's training but there are gaps and spaces generated through its practice that invite a practitioner's reflexive relation to its orders.

Early practice of Suzuki training in Sydney's contemporary performance movement

After a decade and a half of profuse performance art activity in Australian state capital cities - Sydney being one of the liveliest - the performance ensemble The Sydney Front was formed in 1986.2 One of its founding members, Nigel Kellaway, trained with Kasuo Ono and then with Tadashi Suzuki in 1985 during two years in Japan.3 On returning to Sydney, he conducted Suzuki training within the group assembled by Sydney's Entr'acte corporeal mime theatre to create Ostraka in 1986. From its inception, The Sydney Front immediately began 'stomping' - their term for Tadashi Suzuki's method - led by Kellaway. Another Front member, Chris Ryan, recalled that the question of how to communicate with audiences - what was to be their performance language - was 'on the cards right from the start' and that each member - mature performers, choreographers, dancers and actors with diverse backgrounds - 'had their own agenda around this. As soon as we started rehearsals, training was an hour and a half each day and that was the language.'4 It was a performance language forged in the 'interpraxialogue' between devising - physically improvising material - and training embedded in the diverse impacts of a 'close' and interested universe of artistic peers.5 The Front met in a dance theatre piece, Dinosaur, choreographically led by Rhys Martin after his return from working for a decade in Reinhild Hoffman's Tanztheater in Germany. The Front's notions of the possible in performance were radically extended by three classic Pina Bausch works at the 1982 Adelaide Festival.6 Interestingly, The Front's first funding applications were to the Dance Board of the Australia Council. In coming together, after working with or witnessing powerful theatrical auteurs, they chose deliberately not to have a single person identified as a director or choreographer.

In 1986, the fourth year of operation of the cross-disciplinary arts centre The Performance Space (TPS), Simon Penney responded to a week's evenings of short works from diverse genres: ? …

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