Presentation of the 10 lessons in theatre anthropology in video format


Learning to learn
The kinaesthetic sense

Eugenio Barba narrates the genesis of ISTA, International School of Theatre Anthropology, as a school where you learn to learn, to develop the ability to see and understand the technical principles of actors and dancers.

Through the work demonstrations of Sanjukta Panigrahi (odissi dance, India), Toni Cots (Odin Teatret, Denmark) and I Made Pasek Tempo (theatre and dance, Bali) Eugenio Barba analyses the principles of stage presence in different traditions: the principle of alteration of balance, the principle of oppositions that dilate the tensions of the body in an antagonistic way, the principle of consistent inconsistency: behaving according to criteria that do not respect those of everyday life.

Eugenio Barba analyses visual documents on the actor’s and dancer’s apprenticeship, a process based on kinaesthesia, where action is the fundamental factor in learning. For actors or dancers – the process of transforming their private behaviour – their spontaneity – has the aim of stimulating the perception and inner energies of the spectators, their kinaesthetic sense, their memory and imagination. In a kinaesthetic didactic process, knowledge is absorbed by associating it with action.

Kinaesthesia is the ability to perceive and recognise the position of one’s body and the state of contraction of one’s muscles without the support of sight. Actors and dancers play with the spectators’ kinaesthetic sense, preventing them from predicting their next movement and thus be surprised.


The pre-expressive level

In the ISTA sessions, Eugenio Barba asks dance and theatre masters questions about their positions or sequence of movements, having them explain in a practical, technical way. He puts what he sees and hears into relation with his experience with Odin Teatret’s actors and with actors and dancers of other theatrical forms. It is a comparative questioning on technique, on how it is transmitted, on metaphors and terms used during the apprenticeship, on the mental and anatomical logics that determine the process and lead to artistic effectiveness.

In the film we see the demonstrations by Katsuko Azuma (kabuki dance, Japan), Keiin Yoshimura (noh dance, Japan) and Torgeir Wethal (Odin Teatret, Denmark).

When we see an actor or a dancer in a performance we are faced with the fusion of three aspects that refer to three distinct levels of organisation: the actors’ personality, their sensitivity, their artistic intelligence and their social person who make them unique and unrepeatable; the particularity of the traditions and the historical-cultural context through which the unrepeatable personality of an actor/dancer manifests itself; and the physical anatomy that all the actors and dancers share and model according to extra-daily body techniques. The principles of these techniques are recurrent and cross-cultural, fundamental at a pre-expressive level when the actor and the dancer dedicate themselves to enhancing their stage presence.

The altered muscular tone of the actors and dancers estranges the body and its dynamics, making it unusual, “decisive”, “alive”, attracting the attention of the spectator before any personal expression takes over. Hence the term pre-expressiveness.

The pre-expressive level is included in the level of global expression perceived by the spectator. It cannot be separated from expression. It is a pragmatic, operational category. During the work process, the actors can intervene on the pre-expressive level as if, in this phase, the main objective was the energy, the presence, the bios – life – of their actions, and not the meaning.



In the third film we see demonstrations by Sanjukta Panigrahi (odissi dance, India), Katsuko Azuma (kabuki dance, Japan), Swasthi Bandem and I Wayan Tempo (theatre and dance, Bali), Lin Chun Hui (Beijing opera, China), Stina Ekblad (western contemporary theatre, Sweden), Lydia Koniordou (Greek classical theatre, Greece), and Tom Leabhart (corporeal mime by Etienne Decroux, USA). The transition from daily behaviour to extra-daily behaviour is analysed in the demonstrations. The balance is altered, oppositions and new tensions are created, and what was previously familiar and static becomes dynamic, suggestive and dramatic. The search for the technical principles that cause these transformations is one of the tasks of theatre anthropology.

The daily techniques try to save energy while obtaining the best results. On the contrary, in the situation of representation, the actor and the dancer use extra-daily techniques that require a greater use of energy. In extra-daily techniques, the actor recreates the equivalent of daily acting, but expands, intensifies and strangles it, thus stimulating the perception and kinaesthetic sense of the spectator.

However, this multiplicity of styles and forms respects only two conventions: the convention of formalisation, that is, a stylised and estranged way of behaving that is not similar to the usual behaviour in private and social life; and the convention of verisimilitude in which the actor and the dancer are related to daily behaviour and recreate it in its variety.

The transition from a daily technique to an extra-daily one implies a particular kinaesthetic apprenticeship. The third film presents some examples of extra-daily technique apprenticeship from the Indian kathakali, from the clown apprenticeship with Carlo Colombaioni and Alberto Vitali, from the Japanese kabuki dance with Katsuko and Kahno Azuma, from the apprenticeship of gotipuas, children who learn female dances to be performed in temples in India.


Alteration of balance, oppositions, consistent inconsistency

When we strip the actor and the dancer of the costume, the mask and the music, elements that are intertwined in a total expression that affects the perception of the spectator, we notice the level of stage anatomy with the three technical principles outlined by theatre anthropology: alteration of balance, oppositions and consistent inconsistency.

The human being is unable to always maintain a “fresh” vision of what s/he sees or hears many times. The more familiar something is, the less we notice it. Every artistic technique aims to break the automatism in the perception of those who see, hear or read.

In poetry, one of the techniques to break the automatism of words is the oxymoron, the coupling of two concepts of opposite meaning. For painting Picasso says: “My purpose is to set things in movement, to provoke this movement by contradictory tension, opposing forces.”

In theatre and dance, whatever style and culture, the principle of altering balance, the principle of oppositions and the principle of consistent inconsistency are incorporated by actors and dancers during their apprenticeship.

The film presents examples of apprenticeships from classical ballet, from Indian kathakali, from the technique of Tadashi Suzuki, from Odin Teatret with Else Marie Laukvik. Actors and dancers do not think according to abstract principles. They follow models, apply rules, use their imagination, above all they consciously or unknowingly copy and modify. They are inspired by other artistic forms whose principles enhance presence and transform daily behaviour into extra-daily behaviour. For actors and dancers, it is essential to achieve the effectiveness of a behaviour that has a sensorially persuasive power and that transports the spectator into the reality of stage fiction. We see examples of actors and dancers who were inspired by sculpture, martial arts, and puppets with a demonstration at the ISTA session in Holstebro in 1986 with Kanichi Hanayagi (as a puppeteer) and Kanho Azuma (as a puppet).


Apprenticeship as acculturation

For the trained actor and dancer, stage behaviour becomes just as “spontaneous” as everyday behaviour. It is the result of a re-elaborated spontaneity. The goal of this “re-elaboration of spontaneity” is the ability to decisively execute actions that are alive and effective to the senses and experience of the spectator (organic effect). Re-elaborated spontaneity is the culmination of an apprenticeship that reconstructs a dynamic equivalent to that which presides over daily action: as a starting point to “re-elaborate spontaneity” actors use a process of acculturation, which imposes new models on behaviour.

In the fifth film we see some examples of apprenticeships that re-elaborate individual spontaneity: with Manzo Nomura who teaches Kosuke Nomura, his three-year-old grandson, in Japanese kyogen; in classical ballet; with I Made Djimat who teaches his daughter Ketut in Balinese dance; with Sankaran Namboodiri demonstrating how he prepares a pupil K.N. Vijayakumar in Indian kathakali. Then we see the plastic exercises led by Rena Mirecka with the Teatr Laboratorium of the 13 Rows in Poland in 1963 and we see how the same exercises were transformed into dynamic schemes involving the whole body with Ryszard Cieslak who in 1973 introduced to this kind of training two Odin Teatret actors, Malou Ilmoni and Tage Larsen. Odin Teatret actress Julia Varley explains the exercises of her apprenticeship with terms such as principles, oppositions and actions that change the tonicity of the whole body.

The apprenticeship of the actor and the dancer consists in assimilating a know-how through an action that involves the whole body / mind. It is an active kinaesthetic process which incorporates the way of thinking and the rules of the theatre or dance genre to which one has chosen to belong. In this apprenticeship we find the principles of altering balance, oppositions and consistent inconsistency that develop a kinaesthetically effective presence for the spectator.

All the principles are hidden, but well present, in the detailed re-elaboration of the daily technique into an extra-daily technique demonstrated by Sanjukta Panigrahi in the odissi dance.



The actor/dancer’s “energy” is not something indescribable and mysterious. It is something precise, which everyone can recognise: energy is the ability to model the muscular and nervous potential in a situation of organised representation. The question that the actor and dancer must ask is not “what is energy?” but “how to effectively model the different temperatures of energy”. The task of an actor and dancer is to discover the individual propensities of their energy and protect their uniqueness.

During the apprenticeship, individual differentiation passes through the negation of the differentiation of the genders. The field of energy complementarity expands; it can be seen when the work on the pre-expressive level does not consider the masculine or the feminine; or when the actor indifferently explores male or female roles. The two-faced character of his peculiar energy then emerges with greater clarity. The balance between the two poles, the strong energy (Animus) and the gentle energy (Anima), is preserved.

Theatre anthropology is interested in the way in which actors and dancers shape energy. Studying the actor’s energy means asking questions about the principles on which actors base the moulding of their muscular and nervous capacity in a way that is distinct from what happens in daily life. For example, in Bali actors and dancers speak of keras (vigorous) and manis (soft) and in India of tandava (strong) and lasya (soft).

Energy modelling demonstrations in film 6 include Julia Varley (Odin Teatret, Denmark), Katsuko Azuma, Kanichi Hanayagi and Kanho Azuma (kabuki dance, Japan), Pei Yan-Ling and Mei Bao-Jiu (Beijing opera, China), Sonja Kehler (western contemporary theatre, Germany), Kelucharan Mahapatra and Sanjukta Panigrahi (odissi dance, India), MP Sankaran Namboodiri and KN Vijayakumar (kathakali, India), Augusto Omolu (dance of the orixa, Brazil).


Sats, resistance, absorption

Two fundamental principles of theatre anthropology are resistance and equivalence. The ensuing dance of tensions takes place according to a series of broken lines and curves that turn the body of the actor and dancer into a disconcerting and serpentine hieroglyph.

“Art is the equivalent of nature” said Picasso and by this he meant that art must have the same value but be completely different. How is this paradox achieved? Each art is a process of transposition through equivalents, a true process of trans-formation. Art does not reproduce reality but expresses it with equivalences. A painter has to transpose a landscape or a human figure, which in reality is three-dimensional, into another reality which is two-dimensional.

Having energy for actors means knowing how to shape it. To feel and experience it, they have to artificially modify the routes, inventing locks, dams, canals. It is the resistances against which the intention – conscious or intuitive – presses which allow them to express themselves. The whole body thinks/acts with a different quality of energy. A body-mind in freedom faces necessity, carefully prepared obstacles, submitting to a discipline that becomes discovery.

Life always manifests itself as a rhythm, a flow that is always present in the alive human being. The stage presence of an actor or dancer always manifests itself as rhythm. Stillness is also a dynamic dance of tensions perceived by the spectator. To live means to be in motion, yet many processes within us create different rhythms: the rhythm of breathing follows binary movements, the heartbeats vary if we are calm or nervous, if we are in a hurry and accelerate our speech.

In the demonstrations of Japanese jo-ha-kyu with Keiin Yoshimura, of the rhythm in Peking opera and traditional Greek dance, in Meyerhold’s biomechanics exercises with Gennadi Bogdanov, and in the out-of-balance exercises by Iben Nagel Rasmussen (Odin Teatret, Denmark) we see the application of the ternary rhythm used to recreate an equivalent of the dynamism of reality. All traditional forms of apprenticeship present this transition at a rhythm that does not follow the “spontaneity” (conditioning) of everyday life.

In the seventh film there are demonstrations from the session of Albino’s ISTA in 2016 with I Wayan Bawa (theatre and dance, Bali), Keiin Yoshimura (noh dance, Japan), the Teatro tascabile di Bergamo (Italy) and Odin Teatret (Denmark). The position of the tribhangi of the odissi dance is examined through the demonstrations of Sanjukta Panigrahi (India) compared with the paintings of El Greco. The tre-tre exercise is presented by the different traditions present at the ISTA session in Montemor-o-novo, Portugal.


Action and the effect of organicity

There is a narrative dramaturgy that consists of a succession of events and facts communicated through words. Narrative dramaturgy is specific to the playwright and writer. But there is also an organic dramaturgy – that is, a succession of kinaesthetic events and facts, communicated through tensions, postures, immobility and movements. This is what characterises the dramaturgy of the actor and the dancer – their presence.

The actor’s dramaturgy, that is the construction of complexity through different layers of composition of presence, is evident in the demonstrations that present the different ways of being upright and walking, of using hands and fingers, body postures, the relationship with music, with text and space.

We try to identify a proto-element of creativity, as Vassili Kandinski called it, and to identify common principles. If the proto-element in music is a note, in painting a brushstroke, in poetry a word, for the actor and dancer it is the smallest action: the tension, the impulse (sats) that manifests itself as active and reactive energy.

We analyse Vassili Kandinski’s need to find a science in painting. Nothing remains immobile, nothing remains in its fixity and stability. Everything flows, everything changes, transmutes, without rest and without exception. In painting, a pencil collides with a flat surface and creates a dot. Life is created when you draw other points that become lines and change space.

The eighth film explores the artistic field of sculpture to introduce the effect of organicity, which is fundamental for the actor/dancer technique. Rodin said that sculpture does not need to be original, it needs life: movement, action. Movement is not simply a transition from one attitude to another, but a transition from one tension to another, the act and modification of an object or body in space. According to Rodin, sculpture is the art of animating marble. Sculpture is a science that involves knowledge of anatomy and an interpretation of movements. A real know-how of the body. We see how we can apply this definition to theatre as a science that implies knowledge of stage anatomy and the effects of kinaesthesia, and as an art that composes movements, tensions and forms to stimulate the kinaesthetic sense, the nervous system and the imagination of the spectator.


Theatrum Mundi

With the term Eurasian Theatre, we mean that technical and theoretical dimension which allows us to consider as a unity, performances traditionally divided into the two cultural hemispheres called East and West. In reality, they are connected not only by exchanges and intersections, but above all by a common professional identity.

Theatre can be thought of in terms of ethnic, national, group or even individual traditions. But if one tries to understand one’s own identity, the opposite and complementary attitude is also essential: thinking of one’s own theatre in a transcultural dimension, in the flow of a tradition of traditions.

Eurasian Theatre does not indicate theatres of a particular geographical space. It suggests a mental dimension, an active idea in modern theatre culture. The profession is also a country to which we belong, an elective homeland, without geographical borders.

The ninth film presents scenes from the performances of the Theatrum Mundi from 1987 to 2009. These scenes testify to the dialogue of impulses between actors belonging to different theatre traditions.


Artificiality and transparency

In theatre and dance, the term organic is used as a synonym for being alive or believable. The organicity is closely connected to presence and scenic bios.

It happens that actors experience their actions as “organic”, which are not felt as such by the director and/or the spectators. It also happens that the director and/or spectators perceive as “organic” actions that the actor experiences instead as “inorganic”, hard or artificial to perform. The effectiveness depends on the organic effect that the actor obtains towards the spectator. Effect of organicity means the ability to let the spectator experience a body-in-life. The main task of an actor is not to be organic, but to create the perception of organicity in the eyes and senses of the spectator.

In the tenth film, Eugenio Barba compares the organic effect created in Pablo Picasso’s painting Les demoiselles d’Avignon with Meyerhold’s biomechanics exercises shown by Gennadi Bogdanov.

Picasso’s painting changed the aim that all European painters have pursued for centuries. The claim, or pretence, of being faithful to life. The bodies are contorted, two of the women have faces that are masks, and the five figures appear to be painted in different styles. Here, ordinary people no longer look human. The painting upsets the notions of beauty, decorum and verisimilitude in western art.

Finally, painting achieves what theatre had technically done for centuries: working with artificiality to combat the plausible and achieve an emotional impact that revitalises the spectators’ perception of being alive, their senses and memory and image of the universal.

The creative principles of bending, breaking and blending are analysed in the different levels of the theatre process, from apprenticeship to performance. The lessons end with strong image of body memory.

See more here.


Barba-Varley Foundation ISTΑ “Learning to see”