As rehearsals for The Provoked Wife reach their halfway point, Movement Director Ayse Tashkiran thinks about the history of movement at the RSC.
Movement directors work on the physical life of a show – that might include character work, big ensemble pieces or choreographed moments. There are no dances in The Provoked Wife – lots of song and music, so the movement is character led and chorus led – but I wanted us as a company to learn two dances early in rehearsal with my brilliant colleague and historical dance specialist Ian Brener.
There is so much movement information available through the way people of a certain era chose to dance. The pattern of the country dance Picking of Sticks gives each couple the possibility of pairing up with other partners and offers circles within circles, and a line of women weaving in and out of a line of men, and then vice versa – suggesting deeper rituals of observing, testing, rejecting, accepting, settling on a mate.
Or the pattern of the duo dance of the Minuet, with its S-shape floor pattern that starts with distance (time to observe, strategise, play, test) then moves the couple close to each other, with time to feel body heat and breath and detail of facial expression and then apart again. Dances encode an era very deeply and give me lots of usable information about the body. My 15 years of learning Renaissance dances with Ian has been invaluable in my reading and decoding of Shakespeare’s work. The period of this play, however, feels completely different – more ornate and indirect, and those two qualities have become part of our movement vocabulary as a company.
Movement at the RSC
Movement by its nature is always ephemeral and bodies live and depart, meaning the lineage of movement direction is a bit like measuring the ocean or trying to remember a cloud’s form. But there is a lineage and for me that is woven into the fabric of the RSC. It was in the early ‘90s that I briefly met movement director Sue Lefton. I was home for the holidays from training at Jacques Lecoq’s physical theatre school in Paris. It was the first time I had formally heard of a ‘movement director’ and that brief meeting planted the seed that movement directors were working on plays with actors at the RSC… Sue Lefton had been taught by the seminal movement teacher and movement director Litz Pisk in the 1960s, whose classic book on actor movement had been in my hands since I was 16. That chance meeting in a corridor is very vivid in my memory as from that moment onwards I started to notice the work of movement people more and more. I didn’t dream I would one day be movement directing myself at the RSC.
Movement directing AS YOU LIKE IT
Wind forward to 2013 when I am movement directing Maria Aberg’s As You Like it in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and imagine my complete delight to discover that Litz movement directed the RSC 1961 production of the play with Vanessa Redgrave. Redgrave recalls, “When Litz began to move, I saw in her, alive, the amazing spectrum of history, philosophy and rhythms from the ancient Greeks to our times” (1997 Obituary in the Guardian). Composer George Hall recalls a complex set of phases to the marriage dance at the end of the play that started with a circle of the four couples (in a Galliard tempo) that gave way to a Jewish dance in a minor key with a slow beginning that became livelier in an endless, skipping chain that continued as the lights came down.
Forward again to 2019 when I am movement directing Kimberley Sykes’ As You Like It – and whilst the styles are completely different, Litz and I are whispering to each other across time about how you create a ritual and then a pattern that honours the four couples, and propels them forward into marriage and union, that doesn’t last too long, that has love at is core, that suits all of the actors, that resonates with union, complexity and community… and emerges effortlessly from the Duke Senior’s lines “Proceed, proceed: we will begin these rites, / As we do trust they'll end, in true delights” and is clearly revelry of the 21st century in movement terms.
Levels of movement
While As You was opening, The Provoked Wife was starting rehearsals - an interesting overlap that helped me think carefully about creating movement for the different spaces and audience perspectives. Movement dynamics have to have an impact for the audiences at ground level and then using the power of the pattern of movement sequences for the audiences on the raised levels, the power of the circle that establishes and breaks up quickly into other formations in a three-sided space. So I find myself in The Provoked Wife rehearsal watching our work from seated low, standing high, trying to see that the movement choices work from many different angles, ready for the Swan.