A case for theatre without language

by Simon Bell | 1 January 2017

movement as the answer to experiences beyond our verbal expression

It is a slight misnomer to say that this article is about theatre without language. In fact it is quite the opposite. It is about the most powerful language of all in theatre: movement. There is a cross cultural expression available in movement which is unrivalled in any other form of communication. Movement obliterates notions of class, gender and race, unless one chooses to highlight them, in a way that text cannot.

When you remove verbal language and let the body alone speak, you begin on a level playing field and as a teacher the opportunities that allows in a diverse environment are really exciting.

Practitioners through the ages have understood the importance of nonverbal communication. Certainly when we look at Eastern theatre traditions, we see how, for example, gesture becomes a codified language in Indonesian and Indian traditions. Theorists such as Artaud spoke of using symbolic language to transcend the limitations of the spoken word. But beyond finding a way for movement to merely replace spoken word, the use of the body as a communicative tool also provides another angle for the creator and performer; the body as subject.

In the work of Pina Bausch the audience is addressed through our first instinctive language, the language of emotional response, transcending any learnt notion of language. It needs no translation from culture to culture and relies solely on the audiences’ instinctive response.

Interestingly, in her work the performer’s body is not just the vessel for narrative, theme and character but it is the subject itself.

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