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ISTA XIV. Krzyzowa & Wroclaw, Poland, 1st -15th April 2005. Improvisation. Memory, Repetition, Discontinuity

Organisers: The Centre for Study of Jerzy Grotowski’s Work and for Cultural and Theatrical Research

Supported by City Council of Wroclaw, Polish Ministry of Culture, Polish Ministry of Education and Sport, Krzyzowa Foundation for Mutual Understanding and Culture 2000

Collaborators The Institue of Polish Culture, Warsaw University and The Department of Theory of Culture and Performing Arts, Wroclaw University

In the different traditions, the term ‘improvisation’ or its equivalent encompasses legends, mirrors and performing techniques. The legend of a theatre that suddenly gushes out reveals the need to oppose the irrevocability of a profession which is based on the demand to fix and repeat words and actions. The more the forms have been sharpened and refined, ready to be repeated, the more they must be animated by an opposing breath. The legends about improvised theatre represent this breath. It is not important to establish to what extent these legends correspond to historical facts; or whether the commedia dell’arte or the jugglers, the goddess Amateratsu or the mythical Baubos from Eleusis really did improvise. The legends respond to a warning that is a double imperative: remember to improvise; make sure that something emerges unexpectedly from within the forms you have fixed. This double imperative acts as a creative safety valve when theatrical practice is in danger of being colonised by organization, habit and dependence on dominant models. Literally, ‘improvisation’ indicates the ability to compose at the same moment in which we perform. In other words, it consists in reducing to a minimum, or even abolishing, the time to prepare, try out and correct. It has to do with the speed of production. What we appreciate in an improvisation, when it is exhibited, is the immediate quality of the result. This means that the many ways of improvising, the ‘games’ of improvised dramaturgies (dramaturgy of the actor and the whole performance; of the text and the action; of the blending of narrative elements and digressions, of action, music and words, etc.) Can be a goal in themselves, but they can also be a means to become acquainted with the basic rules and the elementary principles that preside over scenic composition. In this sense the practices of improvisation may become mirrors that reflect the range of the craft. Doing an improvisation shows off the mastery of a technical patrimony. Improvisation involves knowing, defining and revitalising a baggage of personal or collective information so deeply incorporated that it may be used without thinking. It is the same baggage of procedures and knowledge that also serve for the planned work.

In the different working languages, the term ‘improvisation’ or its equivalent is applied to very different procedures: from the fast elaboration of material for composition, to the possible variations of a same score; from a performer’s individual contribution, to the whole dramaturgy, or to the emergence of an unforeseen event; from the skill to surprise the spectator with sudden detours, to the ability to do the same with colleagues changing the rules of the established game. And most important of all: the intelligence to surprise oneself within a stable and repeated form. Therefore innumerable improvisation techniques exist, on different levels and in different directions. What unites them is the recurrent comparison with a complementary knowledge which in the theatrical craft seems to point out an opposing field: memory, fixed actions, repetition of scores – the deliberate dimension of work that, at times, becomes art. Improvisation techniques cannot be separated from techniques of memory and premeditation because the former constitute the other face of the latter. From the more superficial levels of organization to those more intimate, the dialectic of improvisation and premeditation is the basis of stage life. It isits discontinuous breath. The whole theatrical profession, in its totality and in all its detail, can be analysed in the light of this discontinuity. Can this discontinuous breath be isolated experimentally and examined by itself? Can it help us to see with fresh eyes problems and knowledge that risk collapsing into obviousness? Can it divert the pragmatic search within Theatre Anthropology, disorienting our attention and bringing it back to a beginner’s state?
Eugenio Barba

Scientific Staff
Ferdinando Taviani, L’Aquila University
Franco Ruffini, Roma Tre University
Lluís Masgrau, Institut del Teatre, Barcelona
Mirella Schino, L’Aquila University
Nicola Savarese, Roma Tre University

Special guests
Vincent Audat
Brigitte Cirla
Zygmunt Molik
Natascha Nikeprelevic
Michael Vetter

Bali: Topeng
Brazil: Orô de Otelo
Odin Teatret: Andersen’s Dream, Inside the
Skeleton of the Whale
USA: Bonjour, Monsieur Decroux
Antologia – A Bunch of Flowers:
Akira Matsui -Noh
Augusto Omolú – Avania
Ileana Citaristi – Odissi Dance
Odin Teatret – Itsi Bitsi
Pura Desa Ensemble – Topeng and Two Clowns
Without Music
Tom Leabhart – Bonjour, Monsieur Decroux