- Theatre of Movement and Gesture
Unlike many other "master teachers" of performance in the 20th century, Jacques Lecoq did not leave behind an extensive written record of his work and theories. While Russian and United States teachers seemed to pump out books at regular intervals, the French (and Polish) theatre pedagogues kept relatively silent. The paucity of published material by and about Lecoq means that the abridgment and translation of his 1987 edited volume Le Théâtre du Geste provides non-French-reading scholars with an important opportunity to continue learning about this seminal teacher.
In four essays and an interview with scholar and playwright Jean Perret, Lecoq sketches his understanding of gestural theatre's development in France, his own approach to mime, and the evolution of his pedagogy, focusing on his physical therapy work with war veterans and pedagogy, focusing on his physical therapy work with war veterans and his experiences in Italy between 1948 and 1956. His account of mime's waxing and waning, [End Page 187] "From Pantomime to Modern Mime," remains sensitive to developments outside of theatre while tracing a performance and apprenticeship genealogy from Jean-Gaspard Deburau in the mid-19th century through mime's isolation by the virtuosity of Étienne Decroux and Marcel Marceau. Lecoq himself belongs in this line, and in his a brief but rich history of Jacques Copeau and Les Copiaus (the company founded with Michel Saint-Denis), he cites his debt to earlier visionaries in French theatre.
Indeed, as Lecoq details his own development in his interview with Perret, "The Explosion of Mime," he talks of his work with Jean Dasté, Copeau's son-in-law, Jean-Louis Barrault, and virtually every other French theatre luminary of the time, illustrating the intimacy of the French theatre in the first half of the century. In 1948 Lecoq left France for a three-month stay in Italy that turned into an eight-year sojourn. There, he worked with the likes of Dario Fo and Giorgio Strehler while coming to know the commedia dell'arte traditions and developing his work with masks. Lecoq speaks movingly about his collaboration with the sculptor Amleto Sartori, transforming the "noble mask" of Copeau into the neutral mask now at the heart of Lecoq's pedagogy.
Another of his many epiphanies in Italy involved demonstrating the classic walking in place mime. One of his students leapt up crying, "'Che bello! Che Bello! Ma dove va?' ('Beautiful! Beautiful! But where's it going?') […] I was suddenly aware," Lecoq writes, "that an isolated mime didn't actually go anywhere" (99). Experiences such as this helped convince Lecoq that imitation did not end with form but involved adapting rhythm and space that could open up and propose to an audience the interior meaning of a movement or moment. This episode also reveals Lecoq's incessant attention to his students and the deep respect he held for the creative discoveries each of them promised.
With his reflections on movement, silence, and training in "The Gestures of Life," and "Mime, the Art of Movement," Lecoq appears as he so often presented himself in class: passionate, allusive, and determined, calmly identifying paradoxes while making claims about universal emotions and movements based on human physiognomy. Lecoq loved paradoxes, and the keen understanding of movement he lays out in these chapters highlights them again and again: the call to movement that rocks us backwards before we walk forwards, the fixed point without which we could not recognize or give meaning to movement, the rigor that breeds surprise, the universal movement of the sea embodied in a wholly personalized expression of rhythm. When considering Lecoq's claims of universality it is important to remember that he held the universal to be an ideal we each learn (through contact with our environment) to carry within us and yet never attain in practice. Approaching this ideal in each student was one aspect of Lecoq's work, which is in no small part the reason it has translated so well across...