Physical Theatre – tracing its roots

Physisches Theater · Physical Theatre · Teatro Fisico · Théâtre physique · Bewegungstheater · Bewegungsschauspiel · Movement theatre · Teatro di movimento · Théâtre du mouvement · Theatre of gesture · Teatro Gestuale · Théâtre du geste · Gestisches Theater

The origins of contemporary Physical Theatre can be found both in the Greek theater of antiquity and in Italian commedia dell’arte, which, within a context of folk culture and popular presentation, developed Europe’s first independently organized theatre companies.

As a visual and universal form of theatre, commedia dell’arte forms the basis for the slapstick and silent movies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and many others, as well as  for the French mime and director Jacques Tati, the master of the “sonorous gesture” in the 1960s and 70s. Those who have dipped into its treasure chest include Shakespeare, Moliere, Goldoni, the Marx Brothers and Dario Fo. Or in today’s context: Monty Python, Tim Burton, Sacha Cohen.

In the early 20th century the rediscovery and further development of a theatre focusing scenic action on the body, on movement, rhythm and space, can be seen in the work of Jacques Copeau, who, like Stanislawski was one of the founders of the contemporary theatre pedagogy and of Etienne Decroux, the creator of “mime corporel”. During this same period Vsevolod Meyerhold developed the principle of biomechanics. In Germany, Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, the founder of musical rhythmic training, and the architect and scenic designer Adolphe Appia played significant roles while working at the Hellerau Institute near Dresden, where Copeau also taught.

Following World War II a new decade opened with the work of Giorgio Strehler, who revitalized commedia dell’arte, of Amleto Sartori, who redesigned commedia dell’arte masks and created the neutral mask, of Dario Fo. Giorgio Strehler founded a theatrical school as part of the Piccolo Teatro di Milano, where both Jacques Lecoq and Etienne Decroux taught. In 1956 Jacques Lecoq, working out of a background of theatre experience in Italy and using the theories of Copeau, Decroux and others, founded the Ecole Mime Mouvement Théâtre in Paris, where he expanded the substantive and methodological concepts of Physical Theatre.

The Atelier for Physical Theater – International School for Movement Acting Berlin – was founded in 1995 by Mina Tinaburri and Ulrich Ernitz, who put curious, inquisitive people at its centre and still lead it as a place where Physical Theatre can be further explored and developed. The APT promotes the talent of each individual, with the goal of training independent actors capable of developing their own theatre style at a professional level.

Mina Tinaburri, the artistic director of the Atelier for Physical Theatre, is widely regarded as a path­breaking instructor and director in a new generation of Physical Theatre.

As they continue to develop the art of physical theatre, countless theatre companies tour the world with extraordinary productions, including: Royal de Luxe, Jo Bithume, Ariane Mnouchkine, Complicité,  La Fura dels Baus, Theater Titanick, Compagnie Kumulus, Antagon Theater, Ondadurto Teatro, Ton und Kirschen Wandertheater, Zinneke Kabuki, Les Alama’s Givrés...

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