- The Dancing Word: An Embodied Approach to the Preparation of Performers and the Composition of Performances
This work starts (chapters 1 and 2) with the author’s personal reflection on the nature of his artistic tools, including his early introduction to the Suzuki piano technique and, later, martial arts, which he shares with directors, actors, and dancers in creating performances. Wushu (“martial method” in Mandarin) [End Page 577] and qigong (breath work) are his major concerns: he is trained in Shaolin Hongsheng cailifoquan (a southern Chinese martial art), wu shi tang peng taijiquan (a northern Chinese martial art), zhi neng qigong (contemporary movement system to develop health and longevity), and chan taiji shiyong quanfa (an old form of taijiquan).
Master Chen Zhonghou, Mroz’s teacher, sees his work as providing “a thorough systematic description of the Chinese martial arts, and an innovation and comprehensive application of this particular knowledge to the training of actors and dancers” (p. 13). This book will give scholars and theorists a detailed understanding of the role taijiquan and qigong can play in preparing the performer and creating theatre.
Mroz has acted with European avant-garde theatre director Eugenio Barba of Odin Teatret and apprenticed himself to Barba’s disciple Richard Fowler, founder of Winnipeg’s Primus Theatre. It was Fowler who suggested that Mroz develop his investigation of martial arts. Mroz has pursued his research through embodied practice for seventeen years, traveling to India, China, the United States, and Canada to study with master practitioners and teach. This book articulates the principles derived from kinesthetic, somatic, and analytical exploration of taijiquan and related arts for actor training and performance creation.
In the introduction Mroz notes that he was especially interested in Chinese traditional body technologies in conjunction with conceptual tools. Mroz’s work is a continuation of theatre training practices begun by Jerzy Grotowski (Polish Lab Theatre), modified by Barba in Odin, and taught to him by Richard Fowler at Primus. Mroz’s theatre is one of ontological research— an artistic practice that investigates the experience of being, as proposed by Peter Ralston, a martial artist and teacher (p. 19). In his discussion, Mroz uses the term “Unitive Experience,” introduced by Jordan Paper, to refer to the moment of self-awareness (p. 20). Mroz notes that “Pre-Arranged Movement Patterns” (PMP) are used by Grotowski, Barba, and Fowler in their performance practice and notes the Asian influences on all three directors.
The book will have some appeal to those seeking methods for creating their own original performance aesthetics, actors and directors who are seeking to develop their expressive creation in a more conventional style, as well as artists from dance, music, circus, and performance art. But to fully understand Mroz’s approach, one has to have at least a basic knowledge of the Chinese martial arts.
In chapter 1 Mroz notes that seeing a performance of Primus Theatre led him to attend a three-week course with Fowler, who had left Odin to form this group with students from the National Theatre School of Canada. Fowler exerted a profound influence on Mroz: “He [Fowler] was the first person that I met who actually embodied the aesthetic and ethical principles he proclaimed” (p. 40). Fowler’s practice ensured that the performer created a structured and personal daily training, and developed fragments of material that would later become a full performance with others under a director. The working method encouraged tolerance, social growth, and change. Fowler [End Page 578] urged Mroz toward martial arts, to see how the specialized body use could be sustainable in training a performer.
Chapter 2 deals with Chinese martial arts in greater detail. Mroz talks about his study of cailifoquan. He gives a comprehensive historical and systemetic description of the Chinese martial arts through topics such as characteristics of combative behaviour and wushu’s conceptual structure. He presents general priciples of qigong exercises, and discusses specific styles of wushu and qigong learned from his masters such as Wong Sui Meng and Chen Zhenghua...