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     Volume 4 Issue 28 | January 7, 2005 |

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A Pioneer of Total Theatre

Sabira Manir

One of the characteristic elements of European Theatre is the sheer physicality of performance that incorporates various aspects of performing arts along with the essential component of dialogue. Swedish director Eric Norlin has taken this form of theatre to extreme limits mersmerising audiences with his electric productions. He is the director who found an art full of physical movement, dance and acrobatics, music and song; who has included magic, mystery and rituals, living texts in what can be termed 'total theatre'.

A joint workshop Production of Theatre Slava (Sweden) and Rupantar (Bangladesh) was held in Khulna a couple of weeks ago conducted by Norlin.

In the field of European theatre Slava is to be located among those pioneers who during the twentieth century have sought new potential paths for the dramatic art--from Antonin Artaud's burning manifesto to OdinTheatre's anthropological methodology. Disgusted with the one-sided illustrative realism and text-dependency of the traditional theatre, they left the gilded salons to seek other impulses for dramatic creativity, drew theatrical forms from the well of popular culture and travelled to foreign countries in search of living theatre traditions.

The group was born in 1992 out of an education project at a Steiner upper school in Jarna. The name Slava was taken, or rather acquired, from a noted production of the same name which was a part of this project. The group has its home in Jarna, a small town situated in the Sodertalje area just south of Stockholm. Threads of many colours make up the tapestry, which is Slava's repertoire. Slava performs indoors and outdoors, in venues both profane and sacred.

"We want to tell stories about our own lives….. the 'now' is always at the root of Slava's performances", says Norin. "But we have to be far enough away from Cleopatra's nose to be able to see it; to make the story life-like of the period we want to capture. The Greeks knew this. When Euripides in The Trojan Women told the story of the Athenian democracy's collapse into despotism and brutality he chose the story of the women of Troy, defeated eight hundred years earlier. And no Athenian who saw the drama performed in the fifth century could have any doubt about the inner story which was really being told. So I would maintain that the art which does not depict the present has no justification"

The group has performed sixteen plays so far. Slava's notable works are Eld & Vragor, Misteria,, Millennium, Myths That Roams, Cassandra Now and recently they have performed Exile. It is an adaptation of Greek playwright Euripides's Medea. They also have some productions for children and also with the children like Children(For children), In Lap of Gods, Dramatic Games and Eoaming Myth(With children).

The chorus in ancient Greek drama gave a voice to the shared experience of the people. It was the voice of women, slaves, warriors and the aged. In the meeting between the individual and the chorus lies the focal point of Greek dramas. But the function of the chorus is not only what it says, but how it is said; through voice and dance, mime and the speech of silence. Thus it provides a challengingly rich palette. There is a great temptation to create, with many voices, modulations of sound, tone and noise, woven together with the unexpected, dynamic meetings of bodies.

The effect sometimes precedes the cause, explains Norin. "There is no doubt that Slava refers back to the ideas of Grotowski" he says. "But I have never seen a rehearsal of Theatre Laboratorium. Slava's famous flickering candles , for example, originate from an educational experiment in Nibble School in the seventies. We cut off the electricity because we wanted the children to experience the school day in terms of the diurnal rhythms."

"We threw out the desks and chairs, and danced and sang instead", says Norin talking about the group's emphasis on open space. Slavas's performances dispense with sets in the strict sense of the word. Only what is used is there. A few props, some instruments--the rest is an empty performance area which the actor masters with his skills. "I developed the idea of this empty space so that children and young people could have room to live and work, long before I read Peter Brook's The Empty Space. At that point it was easy to agree with him. Grotowski, Artaud and Brook taught me to formulate What I had already done. Their practical experience and theoretical conclusions have taught me a lot."

There is a network for the kind of dramatic art which Slava represents. But with a few exceptions the network does not exist in our country--it is international. Says Norin "We all have to seek out our 'business partners' abroad, hold workshops, confer and exchange ideas. Without an interactive flow of ideas and artistic experience the search stagnates."

Norin adds that he is searching for a dramatic art beyond the one-sided text- dependency which has been, and still is, dominant in Western theatre. "I want speech, song, music and acrobatics to carry equal weight and to converse with each other during a performance. This kind of fusion of dramatic expression is neither old nor new, nor it is something forgotten that must be reawaken. What I am looking for is total theatre made manifest--something that does not yet exist, but is beginning to make itself felt."

There are two important guiding principles in Slava's training--developing skills and removing limitations. And there is an important connection between the two explains the group's remarkable director. In this particular dialogue between the removing process and the development, Slava he says has created a method, which has proved successful in the development of both voice and body. "The training is a path, a journey of discovery into ourselves. I set out a journey where the lines between art and life had been erased. I am still on that journey."

Erik Norlin and Slava refuse to be categorised. Perhaps it is unnecessary. Slava exists and continues, indefatigably, through its work.


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