Degrees of Abstraction

Thursday evening I attended the lecture/demonstration about Decroux and his methodology, known as Corporeal Mime. It turned out to be a meticulously choreographed show that was kind of like watching a PBS documentary on stage. The first part covered Decroux’s history and influences, following him through two world wars, his early acting career, and his sojourn in the US. Part two, the explanation of how the technique developed and its different categories, has helped me to finally articulate what I love about Corporeal Mime, as well as why it sometimes loses me.

Decroux began by looking at the muscular effort required to fight gravity. Starting with the simple act of standing upright, and then taking various physical actions: pulling, pushing, lifting. These are things we are all familiar with and they constitute the fundamental magic of mime when the entire body is engaged. But it is in the application of that same technique in a metaphoric sense, to the emotional journey of a person, to relationships between people or between a character and an object, that Corporeal Mime really captures my heart and soul. The Theatre de L’Ange Fou company members demonstrated the power and subtlety that this technique is capable of in a beautiful and heart wrenching scene around a simple table and the opening of a letter. You could see clearly the relationship of each character to the letter and to each other, even when dropped into the middle of this situation without any back story or context.

The category called l’homme de reverie, or the dreaming man, is closely related to the metaphoric, and leads to the final category identified during the show. In Mobile Statuary the actor uses the body to represent thought itself. This is the point where, as an audience member, I sometimes lose the thread of a Corporeal Mime performance. It is very abstract, and as with all abstract art it is difficult to do in a way that connects with a wide audience. If MoMa is your favorite art museum, you will probably love Mobile Statuary. And as a student, it is a fascinating line of research from which I learn many things applicable in less abstract ways. As an audience member, I think the representation of pure thought in this manner is a delicate thing that requires an expert touch to sufficiently establish the subject, while still maintaining the freedom of interpretation that is the hallmark and glory of the abstract. Because if I don’t understand the subject, it quickly becomes a choreography of beautiful and impressive physicality, but without any decipherable meaning. On the other hand, if the subject is over-defined, the abstraction loses its raison d’être. I actually enjoy when a performance leaves things open to interpretation, suggesting rather than telling. As long as I have enough recognizable points to be able to form an interpretation. And therein lies both the difficulty and the potential.

There is, however, nothing abstract about the pain in my thigh muscles from working on descents in class. Apparently if getting down on your knees isn’t a Herculean effort that looks effortless, you’re doing it wrong.


Leave a Reply