Movement & Character, part one

Benedikt Negro
photo kateconklin.com

Sunday evening, I had the great pleasure of taking a workshop at Body Chance from Benedikt Negro, lead performer in Cirque du Soleil’s O for the past 11 years. Let that sink in a moment. 11 years, 10 shows a week and no injuries, thanks in part to the Alexander Technique. That’s something like 5,000 performances. He studied mime and pantomine for 3 years in Berlin in addition to dance, acting, etc. It is astounding to be taught by someone who has that much control over his body. And we had a lot of fun!

Shorthand difference between mime and pantomime? In pantomime, you walk the dog, in mime, you are the dog. Paul Curtis, Founder/Director of the American Mime Theatre, uses the following definitions: Pantomime is the art of creating the illusion of reality by dealing with imaginary objects or situations. Its art rests on the ability to imply weight, texture, line, rhythm and force to the air around them. Mime, on the other hand, is the art of acting silently through various kinds of theatrical movement.

Among other things, Benedikt taught us about progressive and digressive movements (as in throwing and catching an imaginary ball bouncing off a wall). The movement is big to small and then small to big in terms of the body – torso to fingertips, fingertips, hand, arm back to torso. It’s expressed in the body, not the face, which is an important note for improvisers, actors and fiction writers creating characters. Concentrate on the body, the shape, how it moves and you can learn a lot about character and emotion.

After the workshop, he performed for a small group of us and it was extraordinary. At O, the audience is 2,000, so to see a performer of his caliber in a studio was a very special treat. There was a Q & A and my question was how he keeps the performance fresh for himself after years. He said that once he regarded it as part of his daily routine, then it is like anything else, some days you notice a spectacular sunrise, or enjoy the smell of coffee, birdsong, or a friend’s smile. You look for the small pleasures and that’s what keeps it fresh not only for himself but the audience. He was very aware of the obligation to the person seeing the show for the first time. Good advice for anyone, especially those of us living the creative life.

More next week….

 

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