Tom Leabhart Residency

Feature in Issue 7-3 | Autumn 1995

In May this year, in a beautiful ex-church in Lewes, East Sussex, Bodily Functions (in particular Phil Gunderson) and SEAB Dance and Mime Officer, Maureen Salmon brought together a two-day residency for professional practitioners with Tom Leabhart on the work of Étienne Decroux.

Exercises in opening up the spine, balance, and Decroux’s etudes developed into a ‘luminous verticality’ and were all complimented with his philosophical sayings. Over the two days we created a ‘theatrical piece’ through improvisation with the mundane (i.e. putting on a jumper), changing plane and level with each new action, examining contrasts, the music behind the movement, and playing with three dramatic pauses. We then worked on a ‘cinematic version’ using the same rules, but subtly reflecting through the primary movement (i.e. the dressing), the actor’s emotional state. Spoken text was used to compliment or counter the movement as a link between the two versions which were finally performed back to back.

Emotions, we were told, came from the centre below the naval: ‘The arms and legs promise, the body pays the bill.’ The knowledge of the physical and the counterpoint (weight) provides the actor with essential metaphysical knowledge.

The one-day Sunday workshop had us working in groups of 4-5, using text from a newspaper, personal writing and songs to devise a piece which we performed that afternoon.

In a lecture demonstration Tom spoke about Decroux – his use of the spine, and his belief that as a life becomes more computerised people will go to the theatre to watch manual work. He also gave an explanation of Decroux’s famous The Washerwoman, each movement a work of art in itself. ‘Mime is immobility transported.’

Finally Tom performed his latest work, A Simple Life, a beautiful, lyrical, muscular piece, visually stunning and intellectually stimulating.

The organisers are to be congratulated for bringing it all together. Proposals for a longer residency next year were keenly supported by Maureen Salmon, so fingers crossed.

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Issue 7-3
p. 16