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  • Etienne Decroux and His Theatre Laboratory by Marco De Marinis
  • Sally Leabhart (bio) and Thomas Leabhart (bio)
Etienne Decroux and His Theatre Laboratory. By Marco De Marinis. Translated by John Dean and Bianca Mastrominico. Edited by Frank Camilleri. Holstebro, Malta, Wrocław, London and New York: Icarus Publishing Enterprise and Routledge, 2015; 258 pp. $29.95 paper.

Marco De Marinis's Etienne Decroux and His Theatre Laboratory elucidates this French actor's work as innovator of corporeal mime, while situating it within a context of other better-known 20th-century theatre experiments: those of Edward Gordon Craig, Jacques Copeau, Konstantin Stanislavski, and Jerzy Grotowski, to name a few. Additionally, it helps address the stark imbalance, pointed out by the publisher, of plentiful translations of works from English compared to precious few into English. The present translation of De Marinis's 1993 Mimo e teatro nel novecento—widely known among Italian readers—constitutes an important contribution to the Routledge Icarus Series (sponsored by the Odin Teatret, the Grotowski Institute, and Theatre Arts Researching the Foundations), a project whose aim is to render into English books on the theatre as laboratory.

As a member of the scientific staff of the International School of Theatre Anthropology (ISTA), De Marinis collaborates closely with other Italian academics who periodically present [End Page 186] and discuss their findings at ISTA sessions and elsewhere, following the model of a scientific research team. These scholars' thoughts often figure in each other's writing. Thus, the participation of Eugenio Barba, founder and director of both ISTA and Odin Teatret, and researcher Nicola Savarese weaves throughout De Marinis's Decroux volume as they do in other works of the series, such as Mirella Schino's admirable Alchemists of the Stage: Theatre Laboratories in Europe (2013).

In his preface, Frank Camilleri describes De Marinis's academic methodology as "multi-disciplinary, fieldwork-based, and [with] a focus on process" (xi); he also tells us that De Marinis's text responds to prompts provided by Barba for the participants in the 2004 40th-anniversary celebration of the Odin Teatret, marked by a three-day symposium entitled "Why a Theatre Laboratory?" (xv).

De Marinis celebrates the virtues of long-term collaboration and conversation, not just with other ISTA scholars but also with practicing artists such as Steven Wasson and Corinne Soum who have generously shared their first-hand knowledge of Decroux's work with De Marinis over many years. Marshaling an impressive array of information from original and often difficult-to-access public and private archives, and unpublished manuscripts and correspondence, all supported by a detailed chronology and bibliography, the book unfolds like a lively discussion. This way of working provides a worthy optic through which to view Decroux's oeuvre and multilayered collaborative career. Indeed, Decroux led a group effort with students and apprentices, tailoring his pedagogy to their strengths and weaknesses as well as his own interests. He did not, as some might imagine, attempt a mono-maniacal solo turn through the decades; he needed idealistic minds and willing bodies to help develop his dramaturgy.

This book's argument, which calls for a reassessment of Decroux's importance in contrast to the benign neglect he has often received, spills over into footnotes that sometimes take up entire pages but ultimately reveal that very thesis. One admires this informative volume's dance of sources and ideas (Paris was, after all, a center of modernism during Decroux's lifetime) as it courageously attempts to make sense of one of the 20th century's most abstruse and paradoxical theatre geniuses.

De Marinis's description of Decroux's mission positions Decroux as a theatre revolutionary rather than a theatre reformer, and highlights his antinaturalist aesthetic, which produces its own reality rather than imitating another. He also suggests various ways to understand Decroux's mime as "abstract,"—e.g., as the defamiliarization of the body, creating extraquotidian movement through rigorously fashioned articulations and privileging a now expressive trunk vs. reliance on hands and face. Thus, Decroux developed and delivered the poetry of the body rather than assigning to a prosaic body the task of acting out a poetic subject. In this poetic approach to acting...


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