This week we’ve had our first encounter with masks, neutral masks to be precise, although we’re not supposed to call them “neutral”, a word which apparently doesn’t have the correct connotations for our purposes. They looked slightly like these although those look rather too wide-eyed and smiley compared with what we used.
I enjoyed the mask work I’ve done before and having not used them for a few months it was a pleasure to put one on again. There’s something freeing about them, in the way you no longer worry about your expression but about your body. Our only task so far was to wake up, as if in a cave that we’ve been sleeping in for thousands of years, make our way to the cave mouth and look out over a landscape.
I can fight the literal part of me and avoid thinking about the impracticalities of sleeping for a thousand years, but I still found it a slightly annoying exercise. I think it was the unwarranted air of reverence that some people seemed to have. The masks and the silence did create an interesting and calm atmosphere, but it often went too far as if this was some kind of miraculous spiritual awakening and we were looking out upon a realistic but epiphanic vision of an untouched world. Oh please. They’re just masks and we’re just acting.
Another class had a better effect on me. We began looking at the “Seven Levels of Tension”. Level 1 has the body completely relaxed, heavy, uncommunicative, lying down or shuffling slowly around (although when I saw the levels covered in a Complicite workshop earlier in the year, the first level only involved lying on the floor). Level 2 was apparently described by Lecoq as “Americans on the beach” — walking with relaxed hips and shoulders, loose with little tension, more communicative but mostly vowels. Taking it easy.
Level 3, the Economic, was what I found most interesting. There’s enough tension to keep the body controlled, but movement is careful, simple, restrained. It’s very typically British or Japanese; polite, with a possible undercurrent of something else happening beneath. Still no conflict. It’s some Beckett or Pinter, men in suits calmly saying absurd things to one another. I loved this and really want to look at it more. Further levels to come next week.
Finally, acrobatics. I’m just not built to be upside down. Today I tried the beginnings of headstands (keeping legs tucked in, rather than pointing straight up) and the backward rolls that most people mastered last week. I guess it’s just practice, but if I’m upside down (in a headstand or part-way through a roll) I have no idea what my body is doing. If I need to shift my weight or move some limbs in a particular fashion I have no conception of how to do it. All my body wants to do, while upside down, is collapse and get upright again as soon as possible.
I managed a few backward rolls, on a slope to make it easier but they felt, and probably looked, painfully clunky. Then it all went pear-shaped and I couldn’t get anywhere. I can’t describe the frustration. I want to do it but it feels so wrong. Practice, practice.