Blue Raincoat Theatre Academy

“I think physical theatre is much more visceral
and audiences are affected much more viscerally than intellectually.

The foundation of theater is a live, human experience,
which is different from any other form of art that I know of.
Live theatre, where real human beings are standing in front of real human beings,
is about the fact that we have all set aside this hour;

the sharing goes in both directions.
The fact that it is a very physical, visceral form makes it a very different
experience from almost anything else that we partake of in our lives.
I don’t think we could do it the same way if we were doing literary-based theatre”

Daniel Stein


Blue Raincoat Theatre Academy is a training initiative run every year in Sligo by the Blue Raincoat Theatre Company,  known in Ireland as one of the best physical theatres. The two-week workshop we did involved training in Corporeal Mime – a physical theatre discipline developed by Etienne Decroux. Its objective, as described in most sources, is to place drama inside the moving human body, rather than to substitute gesture for speech as in pantomime. It applies the key drama principles of pause, hesitation, weight, resistance and surprise to physical movement. This method was created in order to devise a new style of theatre “making the invisible visible’’.

This year the workshop was taught by Jorge Correa Bethencourt as a guest tutor and Sandra O’Malley from the company itself.

I went to the course with a goal of learning how to ‘do less’. The art of simple, almost unconscious but meaningful minimalistic movement that Butoh and some contemporary dance pieces are known for is probably the opposite how my dance style works. Tribal fusion is flavoured with Indian, Flamenco and Oriental complexity; we focus on isolations and multi-layering, often combining two or three different body rhythms at once, adding zills, heavy costuming and jewellery. We also work with small muscle groups that are never used in normal life. So, for me the challenge was in learning to leave ‘breathing space’ between movement, allowing pauses and silence to happen,  simply going against the developed habits and ‘not dance’.

We spend the two weeks training with Jorge in the morning, working on the various elements of Decroux’s system, practising our body scales, triple designs, five dynamic rhythms, different walks with funny names like ‘Liverpool walk’ and ‘Shakespeare walk,’ all of it peppered with French words and Jorge’s own inventive slang, so that in the end we are not sure what terms to use. Afternoons we work on repertoire with Sandra – improvisations and our first attempt at creating a piece with a chair and a coat.


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The shot below sort of ‘happens’ in the camera; while I half-see it in reality, it is in post-editing that I see the teacher versus student metaphor.

The space is divided in half by the stage light. The student is lit and struggles to see the teacher; she is in the darkness, barely visible, yet sees all of him.

It reminds me of the time when I was doing ballroom classes in Moscow, struggling with the notion of moving your core first, not the legs. My teacher tried to explain the technique by comparing it to falling, to a push in the back, to a stone thrown in the water sending ripples to the edges. Shuffling my feet I thought – being a student feels like coming into a pitch black room from the light. He’s been there long enough and his eyes have adjusted. I’m still blind and feeling my way.


Blue Raincoat Theatre


As I observe my classmates through the lens it becomes more and more obvious how our background colours even the simplest movements. It is so easy to tell who studied clowning, who did miming, who comes from a classical acting background, who danced, who did circus training and so on. Through posture, walk, hand gestures, mimics, choice of pose, the body hides nothing and probably reveals more than we would prefer to share. I catch myself slipping into the habit of curved, complex, contorted movements – exactly the opposite of what I intended to do.

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The second week is tougher. We are tired, bruised and stuffed with a lot of information, even for such a long workshop. From talking to others I learn that I am not the only one having a mild emotional breakdown and self-doubt. The work, however, gets better. Shapes of chairs and coats become familiar, people open up and become braver.

I make small discoveries: mistakes that the audience sees as the best moments, starting small and allowing the space for growth, learning to pay more attention to the others on stage, giving up your own movement for the sake of silence, varying rhythm and connecting to both the audience and people on stage with you, exploring repetition of one movement or sticking with just one simple idea to explore it fully.

Of course the more I learn, the more complicated and desperately unreachable this art form seems to become. Doing less or doing simple things turns out to be not to simple at all. At the final showcase we all go a bit crazy, like the overenthusiastic hungry students at a buffet, and try to pile everything we’ve learnt into one piece. In return we get a long comprehensive talk with the tutors.

Afterwards, when editing the shots from the course, I have a visual confirmation on what ‘doing less’ means. The more details I delete from a shot the clearer, brighter and more striking its main object becomes.


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The last three or four days we try working with veils – a square stretchy pieces of white cloth that are tied around the head to erase any facial features. Acting as a sort of ‘neutral mask,’ it shifts the point of expression from the face into the body. Working with veils reminded me of dancing with closed eyes – those type of exercises were part of the dance therapy sessions and some contract improvisational jams. Scary and uncomfortable initially, they were also very liberating and relaxing. Having nothing and nobody to look at or hold on to, movement seems to flow more naturally. Space, people and your own body become something new and interesting to discover.


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The Mad (Rhinoceros’) Tea Party was a quick cake consuming and bonding break between classes, generously provided by the ‘biscuit manager’ John Carty. As usual I hid behind the camera and went spying.  Reflections are great to shoot, this time in the big, framed company photos on the wall. There is a whole other meaning to photographing actors reflecting in the photographs of actors… The bust of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros sticking his head through the wall was so adorable we couldn’t resist patting it (the restriction sign next to it told me we were not the first).

These are different, behind-the-scenes, relaxed and animated faces. There is warmth and sharing, not only of coffee and treats. I am once again reminded that acting, for better or for worse, is very much a collaborative art form.


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To finish off, here is a video of what corporeal mime looks like in motion – a 1994 first reconstruction of Decroux’s major pieces.

Back for more next year, this time with kneepads!


2 responses to “Blue Raincoat Theatre Academy”

  1. Isabel Claffey says:

    Well done Nadia. Really refreshed my memory. Interesting to hear the personal observations too

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