Phillip Zarrilli’s Circus

Posted: July 24th, 2010 | Author: A.D. | Filed under: ANTHROPOLOGIE — réflexions croisées sur un monde qui bouge, PERFORMANCE — théories et pratiques | No Comments »

directing actors

Horse, elephant, lion… Phillip Zarrilli’s training summer course sounds like a wild animal Circus show. These animal names are in fact basic poses in kalarippayattu  — the ancient and traditional martial art of Kerala, South India. Here in Tyn-y-parc, Wales (UK), Phillip trains performers who come from all over the world to receive his tuitions on body-mind training techniques.

Inspired by Grotowski’s research on Asian performing arts, Phillip did an intensive research on fieldwork basis about South Indian traditional theatre (The Kathakali Complex : Actor, Performance, Structure, 1984) and martial arts body techniques (When The Body Becomes all Eyes : Paradigms, Practices and Discourses of Power in Kalarippayattu, 2000).

When I Ask him : How did you get to train in Kathakali ? Phillips says with a smile :

« well, I showed up in Shoranur Junction and said : do you know where is the Kalamandalam ? »

Phillip trained for about six months in Kathakali at Kalamandalam, waking up at 5 in the morning as all the other students for the traditional teaching of the eye exercise

« That was amazing, I mean, a really intense and uncommon experience… I was one of the earlier westerner there and I had to train with 9 to 12 year old boys!… »

Phillip then obtained several scholarships to come back to Kerala to study Kalarippayattu. He lived there for  about 7 years between 1976 and 1989. He trained with several masters from Kannur to Trivandrum, but did most of his initiation at CVN Kalari (Trivandrum), with Sri C.V. Govindankutty Nayar.

When Phillip moved to India, he wondered about how he could introduce an Indian exercise to create an intensive training to direct western actors. After six months of training at Kalamandalam, Phillip soon realised that Kathakali training exercises were technically based on kalarippayattu exercises. This is how Phillip shifted the focus of his training from Kathakali to Kalarippayattu, and decided to train intensively for more than 6 to 7 hours a day. After 7 years of intense trainnig, Govindankutty Nayar Conferred on Zarrilli the Pitham symbolising mastery.

Phillip Zarrilli, as Richard Schechner, is a pioneer in his domain: performance studies. Looking for ancient techniques for the purpose of creating new methods in drama production, performance, enacting, embodying ideas, etc… Phillip’s research constitutes at first, a very rich and precisely documented corpus on two basic roots of the performance culture in Kerala, and creates secondly, the basis for a serious acting method. The strength of his works find its root in a deep knowledge of the body structure and consciousness taught in the gurukkala (traditional master’s house) in South India.

This point is crucial in the constitution of the scene of “performing arts”, as a growing knowledge or science looking for its methods of analysis. Phillip’s research helped to analyse in depth other kind of theatres than western ones. It considered theatre as a performance and not only as a text. And it recognized all kinds of performance as constitutive as a concept of dramaturgy, we can observe, analyse and constitute in a corpus of cognition and production.

After teaching in Madison at the University of Wisconsin from 1976 to 1998 in the Theatre, Folklore and South Asian Studies, Phillip moved to Europe to teach in London and Exeter Universities. Now based in Wales, Phillip tends to offer an alternative to academic knowledge to all the students he receives in his home-centre. In Tyn-y-Parc, performers from Japan, Brasil, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Spain come to get a sense of what Phillip calls « residual awareness », « inner eye », « powerful awareness », through an intensive training taught 6 hours a day.

There, Phillip develops a hybrid technique with Western and Asian conception of the body. In a very limited frame of action at the beginning, which is mainly based on the concepts of focus and awareness, Phillip lets the actors move freely in the frame. The sharper the actor behaves, the wider the frame becomes.



toshi yoga

tai-chi on the beach


les chaises

residual focus

mise en scène

la porte du Kalari