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Calls for Remembrance: At Work with Traditional Chants1


This article discusses the dynamic relationship between ritualistic behaviours, traditional materials and performativity as it examines how work with traditional chants may affect the practitioner's mode of presence. It specifically draws from observations on the performances of Singaporean actor Ang Gey Pin in the Workcenter's One Breath Left and Polish theatre company Teatr ZAR's Gospels of Childhood. Each brings chants from very distinct cultural cradles – the Chinese diaspora and isolated Eastern European regions around the Black Sea, respectively. The study also traces a parallel between this vein of research and older artistic forms intended for the oral transmission of knowledge and traditions, such as Islamic philosopher Avicenna's recitals.

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2 Grotowski, Jerzy, ‘From the Theatre Company to Art as Vehicle,’ in Thomas Richards, At Work with Grotowski on Physical Actions (London and New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 113–35, here p. 126. (Emphasis in original C.T.N.)

3 With regard to theatre, Stanislavsky searched for an approach that would invite work on oneself – which in part explains Grotowski's interest in the Russian director.

4 The Workcenter of Grotowski, Jerzy and Richards, Thomas, ed., Tracing Roads Across (Vienna: Rema Print, 2003), p. 10. Mario Biagini was One Breath Left's principal director, though Thomas Richards also contributed as an adviser to the piece.

5 Rozik, Eli, The Roots of Theatre: Rethinking Ritual and Other Theories of Origin (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2002), p. ix.

6 The written form of Art as vehicle has varied since English director Peter Brook coined the term. For this reason, both ‘Art as vehicle’ and ‘art as vehicle’ appear in this article. In my own writings I choose to use the former, employed by Grotowski himself.

7 Grotowski, ‘From the Theatre Company to Art as Vehicle,’ pp. 124–6.

8 Liu participated in Grotowski's Objective Drama research. In 1998 she founded U-Theatre, which explores traditional Asian percussion, chanting, martial arts and Buddhist meditation techniques. In October 2003 the company presented the piece The Sound of Ocean at the Next Wave Festival of the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

9 I apply the term psychophysical action as explained in Stanislavsky's late writings.

10 One Breath Left, programme notes, 2000.

11 Tracing Roads Across, p. 10

12 Ibid.

13 Ibid.

14 Here I refer to the first version I saw, in 2000.

15 E-mail correspondence with the author, 26 January 2006.

16 Ibid.

17 In late 2007 Teatr ZAR performed Gospels of Childhood at the UCLA Live, University of California, Los Angeles.

18 Teatr ZAR, information materials.

19 Ibid.

20 Presently Przemysław Błaszczak plays the role.

21 In the performance, Berkeley speaks English while the other actors speak Polish.

22 The Gospel of Mark (Mark 14:51–2) is this sequence's point of departure. In it, a group of soldiers arrests Jesus, and when a young man passes by the soldiers cannot touch him. For Rudolf Steiner, the young man represents Jesus' soul. In Gospels of Childhood's montage, there is a juxtaposition of meanings that combines this narrative, the rape after the wedding party and the imagination of Maria seeking for Lazarus' soul. For mew, the moment creates a kind of violent version of the Immaculate Conception.

23 For Fret, the flames symbolize the presence of all spirits who have been resurrected.

24 Later, in Apocalypsis cum figuris, Zygmunt Molik played a part similar to Komorowska's in her scene with Mirecka. See Kumiega, Jennifer, The Theatre of Grotowski (London: Methuen, 1987), pp. 87105.

25 Pavis, Patrice, The Intercultural Performance Reader (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), p. 6.

26 Eliade, Mircea, The Sacred and the Profane (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1959), p. 20.

27 Ibid., p. 21. (emphasis in original C.T.N.)

28 Ibid., p. 45. (emphasis in original C.T.N.)

29 Ibid., p. 68. (emphasis in original C.T.N.)

30 Ibid., p. 90.

31 Grotowski, ‘From the Theatre Company to Art as Vehicle,’ p. 132.

32 Corbin, Henry, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960), p. 259.

33 Ibid., p. 4.

34 Ibid., p. 16. (emphasis in original C.T.N.)

35 Rozik, The Roots of Theatre, p. 295; citations omitted.

36 Quoted in Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 29.

37 Ibid., p. 4.

38 Daniel, Yvonne, Dancing Wisdom: Embodied Knowledge in Haitian Vodou, Cuban Yoruba, and Bahian Candomblé (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press), p. 1.

39 Richards, Thomas, ‘The Edge Point of Performance (Fragments), Interviewer: Lisa Wolford’, in Schechner, Richard and Worlford, Lisa, eds., The Grotowski Sourcebook (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), pp. 432–59, here p. 441.

40 Ibid.

41 Daniel, Dancing Wisdom, p. 16.

42 Corbin, Avicenna and the Visionary Recital, p. 10. (emphasis in original, C.T.N.)

1 At Wesleyan University, I would like to thank the Center for Faculty Career Development and the Center for the Humanities for supporting this research. I am also indebted to Jean Graham-Jones, Tatiana Motta Lima, Eli Rozik, Jeremy Zwelling and Alden Ferro for their invaluable input in earlier drafts of this article.

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Theatre Research International
  • ISSN: 0307-8833
  • EISSN: 1474-0672
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