In theatre, presence is discussed, and director and actor Phillip Zarrilli shows how he and Stanislavski are both inspired by Asian martial arts and meditation techniques to activate the bodymind. Body and mind work together as one in the moment ((Zarrilli, P. B., & Hulton, P. (2009). Psychophysical acting : an intercultural approach after Stanislavski. London: Routledge)). Konstantin Stanislavski (1863-1938) is a well-known theatre theoretician and instructor who has become famous because of his writings on method. Some would say his texts have become the acting Bible of the modern theatre. I am not looking at his methods with the intent of creating a role, but I see several aspects of his method of creating presence that are relevant to my work with developing my performance ((ibid)). They call it the psychophysical performer, manifested in the quality of an embodied awareness.

Zarilli asks the performer to be: “In practicing – as if performing – always in search of the magical moment” ((ibid, p. 16)). He also describes the “[…] energy lying within to be awakened and released through every action in which I engage. Acting is reacting – keep being spontaneous” ((ibid, p. 16)).

Acting a constant re-education of body and mind, a unity with no separation between body and soul. To have “[…] attention to the breath to stay inside the doing” ((ibid, p. 26)) and work on centering and balance, being attentive in each moment. For an actor, these methods help cultivate a “[…] constant inner improvisation, using whatever exercises to help awaken the psychophysical body and stimulate the actor’s active imagination […] Standing still yet not standing still” ((ibid, p. 22)). Even though I seem to be calm, I am filled with contained energy.

As already mentioned, the concept of embodied presence opens up space for new perspectives with other theories and numerous ways to develop and sharpen the proprioceptive sense (the body`s ability to sense itself) through what is often called somatic19 practices, for example: tai chi, qui gong, Timani, yoga and Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Biomechanics, Pilates, and mind- fulness. Alexander Technique was developed by the actor Frederick Matthias Alexander (1869 – 1955) in the 1890s and intends to develop your use of self to avoid unnecessary tension in movement. I have worked for quite a while with Alexander Technique, first with lessons every week from 1997-99 at the Royal College of Music, where I also met and played for the cellist and Alexander teacher Pedro de Alcantara ((Alcantara, P. d., & Alexander, F. M. (1997). Indirect procedures: a musician’s guide to the Alexander technique. Oxford; New York: Clarendon Press))((de Alcantara, P. (2010). Integrated Practice : Coordination, Rhythm & Sound. Oxford: Oxford University Press)) in 1999. Back in Trondheim, I have had lessons with Rita Abrahamsen for several years. I have also briefly tried Feldenkrais, yoga, tai chi, qui gong and Timani.

Cellist Vivian Mackie, who was a student of Pablo Casals in the 1950s, and later studied to be an Alexander teacher, has written a book explaining how the Alexander technique is related to Casals’ principles ((Mackie, V. (2002). Just play naturally. Boston, London: Duende editions)). Her book Just Play Naturally inspired me so much that I went to Glasgow to see her and have a lesson with her – a very fulfilling combined cello and Alexander lesson. In Alexander Technique, I work on obtaining a release of tension through a better balancing of the body. Mackie describes it as: “[…] a method for transmitting through a teacher’s hands the experience of an integrated working of a person’s postural mechanisms in relation to gravity” ((ibid, p. xiii)). Particularly when I have regular lessons, I can feel how it helps the performing work I am doing with my supervisor Stanislaw Kulhawczuk. But to have an effect on my playing I also need to address these issues directly in my work with the instrument. When my proprioception is better I can change my bad habits more easily.

This is also important for me in my practice from the view point of being a black belt martial artist myself. I am an ITF Tae kwon do practitioner. This is considered a “hard” form of martial art and not one that focuses so much on chi, unlike tai chi, yoga, qui gong, which are considered to be more internal martial arts. I still find that my search for chi and presence is relevant in my martial art practice aa well as my musical practice. I actually use ways that I work with my body and instrument and transfer this to tae kwon do, and the other way around. For example, the feeling of the head balancing on top of the spine, and always seeing ahead to the next movement – as I do to maintain the lines in music. I sometimes get instructions on my tae kwon do patterns from Kulhawczuk.

More and more practices and musicians are concerned with the ”natural” way of playing to create a freer playing. Nevertheless, I think there is a risk of getting stuck in muscular consciousness, and not searching towards the core of the music. It is interesting to read an interview from 2004 with my teacher in London, Leonid Gorokhov, now professor at the Hannover Hochschule für Music:

There are many schools of thought about every technical aspect of playing: posture, positioning, bow grip, shifting, vibrato and so on. But over and above these issues, my main objective is to achieve complete detachment from the many muscular and mental functions required of a cellist during a perfor- mance. In other words, I want to make the playing so physically natural that the conscious mind doesn’t have to be involved in any way. Of course, this kind of reflex action is impossible without correct balance and a very solid technique.

The Russian cellist Daniil Shafran was totally uncon- scious of the cello. I saw him in rehearsal playing
the most devilishly difficult music and talking at the same time! He no longer had to control his body. He was free to sense real, powerful emotion not just text. When your mind is liberated you can become creative. You can begin thinking of more expressive musical possibilities. Your whole being can open to ‘divine’ interpretation. I don’t believe that I have enough in me to create real ‘truth’ in interpretation but if I free my mind and body I can hope to be inspired by the actual origins of the music ((Gorokhov, L. (2004). Performing entirely by reflex. The Strad (3)).

Gorokhov was extremely good at helping me understand how to make technical demands easier through positioning or focusing on how I used the arms. This focus on the technical side of playing helped me a lot, but at the same time it felt like it created a limit to my abilities. I could not let go of the consciousness and focus. To reach the level he is describing, I turned around my understanding of focus and concentration and gave up the cognitive control I had learned through his guidance.

Further reading…