the body as theatre


 
Performing nowadays is made so cumbersome with big buildings filled with lots of equipment. Once only your voice and your feet were needed, and you moved around according to patterns you had seen and internalised. A cassette recorder might be aided ...  as by this Amazon indian, but it remains still minimal and portable. Sometimes such patterns were drawn in the sand to be better understood, like the mirroring figures from Vanuatu, Polynesia.   But there are other cultures which fixed things in written scores ...  and built theatres full of machinery, reproducing 'almost' the same thing, over and over again -often after a lot of study.   Thus music and dance became more the knowledge of specialists, actors, dancers, singers, musicians, and their directors; less property of the community itself.   Western culture has also non-score musical forms ...  like improvised jazz, and free, less-choreographed, public dancing ...  exists all over the world, whether by happy drunks, ...  folkloristic dance groups ...  Dutch Girl Scouts, or Papua Mud Man.   One can be performer and public at the same time.   Such popular forms of dancing and ceremonies are forms of traceless art - like this Dragon Dance in Singapore.   But of course, it's not just Western versus non-western cultures, fixation and specialisation versus free and spontaneous, reproductive versus creative.   For example, the gestures in classic Indian dance culture are since long fixed in writing and this art form is very much reproductive, similar to score-based Western art.   Light makes us see movement, and light and movement together created one of the oldest forms of theatre, ...  the shadow theatre. Fixed and moving shadows cast by sunlight, shadows of moving clouds over the landscape, subtle play of sunlight and wind through the leaves of a tree must have cached the human eye. Men made light has been another inspiration source: ...  dancing shadows, enlarged and deformed, of man moving and gesturing around a fire at night or in a cave. All this must have been observed from early on. There are many different forms of shadow theatre in the world, ...  like Wajang Kulit in Indonesia, Kargoez in Turkey and Greece, Nang Talung in Thailand, Pi-Ying-Xi in China. In Europe this form of theatre was introduced through early contacts with Asia, especially by French Jesuit priests in the 17th century living in China, so it is often known as "Ombres Chinoises".   These shadow theatres were mostly small and mobile, performed by travelling artists, and consisted of improvisations based on some general score elements, leaving a lot of freedom to reflect local circumstances and politics, and allow for direct interaction with the public, making jokes, having spontaneous comments from the public; ...  making each performance a unique experience. It is court culture that changed these popular forms of improvisation, not just formalising content and design but often also increasing its scale, as can be seen in this royal form of shadow theatre in Thailand, with a gigantic screen and many performers.   Some forms of court culture started relatively small, like this 17th century opera performance on a temporary stage in the gardens of the French king Louis XIV in Versailles.   But theatres for Royals, and those close to them, became bigger and bigger ending with the late 19th century Grand Opera in Paris, ...  with its Grand Escalier where the bourgeoisie could parade as the new kings. A building which became a model for opera houses all over the world.   Such special buildings for the arts became very imposing and often the layout of the surrounding parts of the city were adapted to new theatre or museum buildings.   Big buildings let to commissions for big size art, like Verdi's opera Aida, to be performed for the first time in the new opera house in Cairo, celebrating the opening of the new Suez Canal - instrument and symbol of colonial expansion.   There is a kind of logic in the fact that particularly this opera is still performed, and, in bigger and more spectacular settings, like in the Verona arena in the North of Italy, an inheritance of Imperial Rome.