As an actor, one is taught to model oneself on "types" and learn old world techniques from practical, modern intellectuals whose ideals have long since died. We live in an age of indulgence, stroking the ego to gain status through fame and recognition rather than delving deep under the skin to access and challenge the nature of what urges us to create in the first place.
In the nineteenth century, realism and naturalism in the arts led playwrights like Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg, and Heiner Müller to move theater away from the body and into the mind. The Group Theater took it even further by emphasizing the individual actor, sparking the repertoire of emotional and intellectual techniques we are now conditioned to. Our senses have been dulled; we are trained in the recycled forms of previous generations instead of being pushed into finding and realizing our own vision. We yearn for a new, stronger approach to our physical body, our active minds, and our most natural, instrumental life-force, the secret behind perfect art. While the questions continue to be relentless, the answers may begin in Bali, Indonesia.
My curiosity was jump-started at STUDIO 5, a small acting studio located in Brooklyn, several stops down the G train at Classon Avenue and Lexington. They specialize in experimental training, notably that which comes from Balinese mask, dance, and theater. The studio was founded in part by Danish painter and theater director Per Brahe, who spent almost twenty years traveling back and forth from the island, his profound interest in the Balinese leading him to create his own form of work inspired by Michael Chekhov. Most of the time, his direction in class is nothing more than "move," and you are left to your own devices to play and dance with your imagination.
His curiosity was fueled by the French playwright Antonin Artaud, who was equally mesmerized by a Balinese dance performance in Paris in 1931. Artaud saw a divine relationship between performer and atmosphere, as he described in The Theater and Its Double:
In a spectacle like that of Balinese theater there is something that has nothing to do with entertainment, the notion of useless, artificial amusement, of an evening's pastime which is the characteristic of our theater. The Balinese productions take shape at the very heart of matter, life, reality... We are watching a mental alchemy which makes a gesture of a state of mind--the dry, naked, linear gesture all our acts could have if they sought the absolute.
In Bali, they call this perfectly attuned state of listening TAKSU. Artaud found himself caught before a tumult of energy, and his rationalist frame of mind denied the awareness of what he felt. Regardless, this physical and spiritual form of theater challenged Artaud's intellectualism. It was a relationship he had never before been in contact with, or aware of.
The work in STUDIO 5 revolves around this "new" understanding of physical expression. Traditional Balinese Mask work, combined with Per's succinct guidance, holds the form necessary to transmit and focus TAKSU energy. However, the training makes up only a small piece of the puzzle. In the end, all of the commitment has to be given by the participant. Mask, movement, the Balinese philosophy, the broad range of techniques simply nudge you in the right direction.
Half the time, the Balinese are unaware they even tap into this source. They are so joyous and humble with each other, so attuned with ancient ritual that this energy becomes a simple fact of life. Somehow, thousands of years ago, the Balinese discovered ways to physically energize the body, creating a divine moment. Our Western curiosity of placement and power seems greatly overindulgent when compared to their utterly simple, physical relationship with the earth and universe.
To perfect this form, the actor must be in supreme balance. In the Balinese tradition, the body is split into three states: Thinking, Feeling, and Will, corresponding to the head, mid-section, and legs. When you see a true Balinese dance, you see a basic harmony between these three essences. Added is a strong awareness of legato and staccato motion. Jolting back and forth between fierce, direct, sharp and long, fluid, and flowing movement builds the energy inside the performer, charging the body like a static ball of friction. When one is able to fully let go, focusing on a centered path of form, one is (perhaps) presented with the window of TAKSU. Politely, you allow the wave of inspiration to carry you further and deeper along an endless sea of imaginative power, the body in heightened awareness, fully expressing the joys of being alive, or more importantly, just being the body.
As much as this technique is perfected and utilized with the utmost precision in one's art and theater work, TAKSU can just as much come without warning, during any activity. Think of TAKSU as a gift that comes and goes in fleeting moments without recognition or worship. It simply is. This is the key to understanding where inspiration comes from, and how imagination plays, running rampant and chaotic throughout possibility.
The understanding of TAKSU invokes parallels to Gnostic philosophy. John Lash's Not In His Image recalls initiation into the Pagan Mysteries an "illuminist path of direct experience," encountering Organic Light "with your entire body, standing upright... without hallucinations or introspective distractions." This divine, physically attained element of Organic Light is eerily similar to the ideal expression of TAKSU. Among countless others, these two systems have both seemed to "acquire the source," having no more at their disposal than the human body.
Unfortunately, this piercing experience has been repressed in the evolution of modern, intellectual theater, and we have lost the sense of ritual within the arts. Theater in Bali used to last for days, but has now been significantly shortened so modern tourists may consume what they see. In the West, we have left the necessity of expression behind us, dropping pure emotional release for empty, mass market sensations. The majority of theater in Bali has become equally corrupt by high-end tourism and the acquisitions of modern times. Art will inevitably struggle when it is associated with an industry.
Per Brahe reiterates, "Just understand what we're doing on stage is a ritual--that it could lift us a little bit further--and if the actors stay connected through their will force, they may reach this special place the Balinese call TAKSU."
STUDIO 5 is a safe haven where one may play and naturally come to know this Organic Light or TAKSU. There is no head-in-the-clouds propaganda. The work comes directly from us--the ensemble, our bodies, minus any heady, self-righteous, new age philosophy that bolsters ego-identified existence over others.
From June 1st to June 15th of 2008, STUDIO 5 and Bali Purnati Center For the Arts are hosting the first International Antonin Artaud Festival in Bali, Indonesia. We currently have the original instruments Artaud heard, and the sons of the original dancers are also involved. A great deal of our purpose is to re-educate the new generation of modern-economically influenced Balinese in the sacred art of their people, to recreate an awareness of TAKSU, showing that in its most basic form it is nothing more than an ascent of imagination. The festival is open to artists and visionaries of every nature.
The manifestation of TAKSU exists innately through all of us, to return to our presence within the divine through physical manifestation of the spirit. This window is strongly connected to the balance between our physical and spiritual selves. We are approaching a new awareness in the expression of art, a change of perspective, and it is our duty to prepare our bodies for that change. The answers can be vast and fragmented, pertaining more to each one's specific quest than a massive global solution. However, if there is a key to freedom, it lies in our beautiful, aspiring, joyous imagination.