Monday, July 26, 2010

Topeng Tua Dance Performance at Ubud Royal Palace, Bali

Topeng Tua Dance is part of a group of mask dance-dramas in Bali named Topeng, which literally means "to close or press against the face"(in reference to the use of a mask, of course). Covarrubias depicts these dances as "masked actors playing local historical plays (babad); mostly pantomime, but with dialogue by the comic characters"(1) 

According to I Wayan Dibia and Rucina Ballinger "Topeng is done for Odalan (temple festivals) and a myriad of other rituals. In a traditional performance, five men play all the roles (called Topeng Panca, meaning "five dancers") simply by changing masks and headdresses. The drama begins with the panglembar or introductory characters who pave the way for the entrance of the king. The dancer show off his virtuosity through pure dance movements. The three most popular masks are Topeng Keras, a strong primer minister character with red or brown face denoting strength and courage; Topeng Keras Bues, strong yet goofy with bulbous eyes and large, humorous movements; and the beloved Topeng Tua, an old man who remembers his youth. He stumbles, wipes the sweat off his brow, breathes heavily with exertion and blows his nose"(2) It is a long ritual dance-drama festivity where these three characters, the king and clowns interact with the people in a rather comic way.

That evening at Ubud Royal Palace's stage, in July 2009, I only had the opportunity to see the Topeng Tua Dance, the dance of the old men remembering his youth, a short choreography (6 minutes) among the 9 other dance performances, so it was only a small bite of the Topeng dances. From my point of view it wasn't the best choreography of that night, especially after have seen the Legong Kraton and the Baris Tunggal dances, but it kept my attention very well and I enjoyed it.

You will see in the video I recorded how the old character, Topen Tua, as they said (I Wayan Dibia and Rucina Ballinger) "stumbles, wipes the sweat of his brow, breathes heavily with exertion and blows his nose", but also how he picks up a head lice from his white long hair, kills it with his finger nails and then shakes it off his fingers only to come back to his hair and pick another one. I have no information about weather this was a change of the original dance or simply our writers didn't want to embarrass anyone mentioning it as a part of the choreography. I can remember the same kind of actions missing in narrations of Chinese Theatre by Chinese writers in reference to spitting. 

What it is remarkable in the technique of this dance is the continuous use of codified movements and series of physical actions with a minimum of improvisation, what it seems to be one of the secrets of its every night success.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Stanislavski during a Rehearsal of Tartuffe (Original film)

Stanislavski in Rehearsals

Searching about the Moscow Art Theatre golden era I found an original Soviet film, now digitized, showing an old Constantin Stanislavski directing Tartuffe. The film is interesting because it also has the voices recorded. For many of you, I am sure, it will be the first time to listen to the master and his way he  used to answer some questions from his actors.

It is a pity I can not translate this into English. I found a very kind Spanish girl who translated into Spanish (you can found that video in my Blog in Spanish) if that works.


Monday, July 12, 2010

The Hitler's Technique of Saying a Political Speech

Reading "The Coming of The Third Reich" by Richard J. Evans I found a very curious paragraph dedicated to Hitler's technique of saying a speech during his early years as a politician (that means, the technique which brought him to success). Even if this short historical analysis is important to understand how Hitler influenced through his speech some millions of Germans and many other millions around the world in that moment of history, it is also an interesting example of speech technique as simple as that, and more, it is written in a very practical way by Evans, so, very functional for actors and orators as well (if you don't have some moral and political issues from past decades, of course):

"While conventional right-wing politicians delivered lectures, or spoke in a style that was orotund and pompous, flat and dull, or rough and brutish, Hitler followed the model of Social Democratic orators such as Eisner, or the left-wing agitators from whom he later claimed to have learned in Vienna. And he gained much of his oratorical success by telling his audiences what they wanted to hear. He used simple, straightforward language that ordinary people could understand, short sentences, powerful, emotive slogans. Often beginning a speech quietly, to capture his audience's attention, he would gradually build to a climax, his deep, rather hoarse voice would rise in pitch, climbing in a crescendo to a ranting and screaming finale, accompanied by carefully rehearsed dramatic gestures, his face glistening with sweat, his lank, dark hair falling forward over his face as he worked his audience into a frenzy emotion. There were no qualifications in what he said; everything was absolute, uncompromising, irrevocable, undeviating, unalterable, final. He seemed, as many who listened to hi early speeches testified, to speak straight from the heart, and to express their own deepest fears and desires. Increasingly, too, he exuded self-confidence, aggression, belief in the ultimate triumph of his party, even a sense of destiny. (...)" (Page 172.)

Of course today that "school" of speech technique is absolutely recognizable and very bad received if used in similar way, it was the summit and the final of its kind (as powerful as it was), but it is still a theatrical technique, a way to produce some reactions from spectators through voice and gestures. A colorfoul analysis should be done it that sense, but not by me, I only wanted to share this curiosity.

As many have said before me, theatre and their techniques can be used to transform real life over and over again, but remember that they are theatre techniques at the end.

Note: I'm not embedding any video of Hitler speeches because all of them are propaganda edited by the Nazi government or by actual followers, so it wouldn't show the technical line Evans wrote about. 


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"Atmósfera de lugar." Antonio González Caballero's apartment in 1996.

ATMóSFERA DE LUGAR. El departamento de Antonio González Caballero en 1996 on Vimeo by Gustavo Thomas

On Wednesday February 11th 2009 I received an email from Ángeles León, a student at Antonio González Caballero's workshop during the nineties, in response to my post of February 10th 2009 about the apartment where González Caballero had lived for over 50 years and its mural paintings inside. This is the Ángeles León's mail (with the Spanish  original):

"Hi Gustavo,


I'm Ángeles León. I studied under González Caballero from 1992-1996. I experienced the teacher's moving from Pino Suárez Avenue to 20 de Noviembre Avenue. I have a video with all the murals of the apartment at Pino Suárez.

I do not know if someone's already written to you about this, but the murals were destroyed by the building's owner. He even told that to the teacher personally, his words were "it gave us so much pleasure to destroy them, we threw paint, crap and more on them." Whether this is true or not, we were with our teacher in those days and we took it for true that the murals were destroyed. The teacher was depressed for several days. Then he started painting black and white pictures, where some of the faces were similar to those in the murals and the teacher himself said that they represented the suffering of the murals at the time of being destroyed. They were very expressive faces, grotesque and large. He made several paintings in that style.

The building was being renovated inside to turn it into a place to rent offices. Even the master used to greet the workers, until the turn to remodel his apartment arrived and that was when they took him out. After that, everything stopped, as you can imagine.

That's it. I send you a big hug.


Ángeles León

And it was not until a few weeks ago, nearly a year and a half later, that I received a new email from her announcing the digitization of the video she had mentioned before, and with that news the possibility to edit it and publish it on the Internet.

Why do I think this video is so important?

First of all it is a personal matter: González Caballero was my teacher and friend, and in many ways he also was a father to me. Furthermore, his apartment at 36th Pino Suárez Avenue was where I was educated in theatre for 9 years, it was the place where I learned acting, and the place where I decided to start writing and then to develop my own concepts of stage direction and my interest in researching about performing arts. What is impressive, I am sure, is that I was not the only one that experienced big changes there: generations of actors, playwrights and directors who passed by his acting workshop did, as well as friends and strangers seeking help in their professional work.

González Caballero's apartment was as peculiar as a place where an artist, a painter, a writer and a teacher has lived can be: a place that becomes home, meeting room, rehearsal room, painting and sculpture studio, art school, etc. Its rooms were galleries of paintings by González Caballero as well of paintings by his mother, who in the last 20 odd  years of her life was entirely devoted to painting; he also had a small collection of original prehispanic pieces and paintings by other artists of his generation. In his dinning room there was a mural painting on two entire walls showing images that would be identified with the best of the so-called Mexican school of painting (Escuela mexicana de pintura), of which he was an heir. Other paintings had been done on the wall of the main hall too.

As it was explained in the mail from Ángeles León, those murals were destroyed; once González Caballero left that place, all that remained of them was scattered memories and some photographs.

For several years I have tried to gather visual information on all of Gonzalez Caballero's paintings, including those lost murals, and I have been able to publish a series of photographs in some sites like Picasa and Flickr, and I wrote a post in this Blog about the murals with photos by Lis Valadés, also a student at the acting workshop during the 90s.

So far there had been no more, till now.

"Atmósfera de lugar. El departamento de Antonio González Caballero en 1996" (Atmosphere of a place. Antonio González Caballero's apartment in 1996) is the name I have given to the edited version I made from the original video (digitized from a VHS) that Ángeles León gave to me. "Atmósfera de lugar" is also the name of one of the  acting technique "Apoyos" that was taught in that apartment, and anyone that knows about it recognizes that there exists a world with the physical space we live or work in, as well as a history with the place that changes depending on the experiences with the place itself. The video, from my point of view, seeks to recreate the feeling the apartment left in all of those who were educated there, that somehow lived there, and that maintain an inner atmosphere of the place that made it so special.

In the eyes of a stranger unrelated to the work or to the person of González Caballero, this is a curious-eye walk through a unique place, and certainly an aid to those who want to venture into the knowledge of the life and work of this Mexican artist .

The music I used for editing the video is the work of "Bosques de mi mente" (, who very kindly accepted the invitation for his music inclusion. His musical pieces really fit into my idea of that atmosphere that is created in our physical and mental recall, and in conjunction with the video the images acquired great strength and depth.

If you are interested in using any text, image or video from this Blog, please contact the author writing your e-mail and information in comments. (comments are private)
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