anywhere festival’s biodrama day11 – grotowski laboratory



(Mobile Active Recreation and Creative Community Art Space)

Preparing for La Andariega: Ancient Memories

from notes taken during #biodramadharma day11: Grotowski Laboratory


by Xanthe Coward

Sunday May 16 2016




MARACCAS’ 17-day Intensive


Read Part 2 here


Read Part 1 here


Sunday morning is another gorgeous sunny day, typical at this time of year on the Sunshine Coast. Days like this are why we live here. I wonder if we will work outside again but no, the morning promises an intense physical workshop requiring a flat floor and as little clothing as possible. That’s right. The focus today is the body’s physical form and it’s limitless potential for movement, or at least…exploring risk-taking to get as close as possible to understanding what our limits are. 

Alex is a Colombian born and trained actor. His Laboratory process is influenced by Jerzy Grotowski; Alex worked for 4 years with Fernando Muñoz, who trained with Grotowski. In terms of the legacy and the concept of the Laboratory, he makes it a personal journey, it’s about the inner self; the person who is inside is observing ourselves. It’s a journey and it’s an investigation. It’s important to be able to commit: it’s the commitment as an investigator. For example, if we’re going to explore an elbow movement the commitment is to focus on finding the meaning of one movement for two hours. It’s kind of a meditation…exploring and trying to understand (ourselves). 

What is the theatre giving us? What is important? It’s helping us with the drama of existence. It’s not about the play, the performance, the costumes, the makeup; it’s helping us to connect with an essence of who we are, why we are. And how the movement is connected to ritual…

– Alex


In the Sacred Circle today, Linda is acknowledged. What have we learned form Linda? Denise offers, “Curiosity and the energy you bring.” Lilly continues, “Your wonderful sense of eternal youth – your beautiful innocence and purity and joy – a real willingness to give everything a go even though you’ve never done this before… Your sense of questioning, integral to this process and the ultimate outcome of the show, because of that questioning; bringing the inner child (asking why?).”

“Your sense of play and jokes,” adds Dan. Olga tells Linda, “There is room for laughter” and “Those who seek, find.” Mary thanks Linda for the laughter, which brings a new perspective to things (the totems). “The laughter and acknowledgment… You are a light in the black, beauty in the darkness…serenity in dealing with very heavy emotions.” Jonas has had to find the right English words to express this. There is laughter…it’s kind, connected laughter.

Linda thinks and tells the group that what she has learned from herself is that it’s okay to step into the unknown. “Trust and take that step. I just have to breathe. The most valuable thing I’ve learnt about myself is about the self awareness and knowing who that being is, which relates to breath. My aspiration is to be aware of every breath. To know myself with every breath. The most amazing thing I’ve learned about myself is that that is possible.”

Lilly invites everyone to speak their Sacred Name and hands over to Alex. He jumps to his feet and says, “Let’s try to wear as less clothing as possible.”

This is going to be hardcore, exploring the plasticity of the body and the centre, the core. I’m glad I’m watching and not doing again. I’m a little bit scared for everyone…

This is how the Grotowski Laboratory goes. I’m going to give you a heap of what Alex actually says. Don’t imagine there are too many pauses between instructions and actions and the following instruction…there is barely time for the actors to pause, to take a breath. This is the most intense acting training I’ve seen to date.

let’s embrace this space and start walking. be aware of the space. we can start having some eye contact as well. let’s be aware how our spine is, our shoulders. we’re going to go in a bit more of a rhythm. let’s try to be aware of our weight, how we place the feet on the ground, faster…and faster…and faster. try to get into all the empty spaces.

we’re going to create a little bit of risk. add more speed and play with levels. vocalise if you feel (“let the voice coming out”)

add more speed, more risk. try not to touch anybody, be very aware of the space. how close can you get without touching the person? how much risk can you create?

Alex claps and everyone freezes.

start to lift one of your feet, very slowly, then transport the weight to the other side.

run again. try to eliminate the sound on the ground. don’t forget to breathe.

freeze. repeat the weight transfer, slowly, slowly.

he claps. keep running. too much sound on the ground.

form a circle. knees bent and core strong. create a rhythm, a simple beat, which we can keep for a while. lighter on the feet. arms reaching, stretching above head, one hand holding the other, change arms. increase the speed. stretch the arms across the chest one by one to stretch out the shoulders.

Mary and Lilly keep their torsos so still – they have in common their Zen Zen Zo training. And Denise, the dancer, so controlled, elegant, her upper body still.

Alex is strong and grounded and relaxed at the same time. He is picking up his feet, not shuffling, lifting them, keeping the upper body relaxed and strong. Such simple, focused movement, full of control and power.

keep the rhythm and moving in the circle, bending forward into tabletop with hands clasped behind backs, stepping more and more slowly, then rising upright and increasing the speed. faster, faster, change direction.

find a wall, step away from the wall facing away from it. lean back to let your head rest against wall, and curl the spine down against wall, vertebrae by vertebrae to a seated position – a strong core – and roll up again.

Alex claps. Everyone goes back to running in the space, creating risk and aware of where everybody is in the space.

Alex claps. return to the wall. lean your head back and roll your head back against it, roll down to seated position and roll up again to push away from wall, dropping into plank position on the floor and rolling up from the floor through downward dog.

Alex claps. back to the risk!

Alex claps. back to the wall!

next time, drop to the floor in plank position and lift right leg, shift back and forward to change legs through three-legged dog, shift back and forward, to smell the floor rolling back up through downward dog to the wall.

Alex claps. back to the risk!

His little baby, Gabby is here. She is 17 months old and too beautiful for words; an old soul with the calm, quiet, bright-eyed spirit of a cheeky old lady who’s seen it all before. She stays aside, out of the way with Billie. She is sitting on a chair, watching, at times rubbing sleepy eyes, just like Poppy has done since she was the same age, always interested, always watching, absorbing, always there, inadvertently learning so much more than most adults know, about humanity, making connections, communication… At times she needs acknowledgement from Alex, or from Lilly, and she accepts a smile or a kiss on the top of her head before returning to the edge of the space.

Alex claps. back to the wall! you know what to do.

back to the risk! keep your eyes wide open. eye contact. more risk. get to your limit. very, very fast, as fast as you can.

back to the wall! let your voice go out if you need it to.

back to the risk! (There are exultant, exhaustion defying voices now, whooping and shouting). less sound on the ground, more voice exploration now. faster, faster, lots of controlled risk.


Everyone is either pale, almost sickly white, or flushed pink with effort and exhaustion. But there is only a moment to take a breath and a sip of water, if you can be sure you won’t throw up yet (another’s voice in my head tells me, “Throw up after!” and I say it aloud to Mary, who laughs, exhausted and exhilarated). Alex demonstrates Diagonals and Jonas follows his lead. Jonas is just as strong and lithe and quick (and sweaty!). Amazing. And this is just an introduction, without further investigation or application…


They move from one corner of the room to the other, stepping on hands and feet facing the ceiling, lifting one hand in front of their faces for each step and breathing, “hah!”. The core stays up, it’s like reverse table top before going into a backbend. They repeat this, raising the opposite hand and leg for each step. The core is strong and stays lifted.

Olga does a variation. Is it supposed to be the gentler version? She is squat-stepping with hands clasped in front of chest. This movement too is ridiculously demanding.

Now they are jumping forward with hands stirring in front of the pelvis, the pelvis rotating, feet staying hip width apart. The core stays strong. Then stepping left to right, archers arms to match. Then open arms, wide legs, and round-kicks stepping widely forward. “keep the rhythm!” Alex says, not a bit out of breath.

Next, they are “climbing” across the floor (scrambling but not, because the movement is slower than that, and so controlled, and so, “climbing”), keeping the torso off the floor whilst keeping as close to the ground as possible, moving forward on forearms and feet only, commando style. There are groans now, the effort too much. Still, only Linda and Billie, and much later, Mary, take any time out.

Alex asks, “How comfortable is everyone with rolls?”

The yoga mats come out. Everyone is shiny with sweat. Nice. Alex checks that necks are supported as individuals roll. Jonas continues to do everything Alex does in the same relaxed, controlled manner. Little Gabby checks in with Alex; she gets a kiss and in one swoop she is lifted off the yoga mat and up onto a seat, with a drink of water and a snack.

Now they are rolling and coming out of each roll, reaching arms out, and reaching one arm back between the legs before rolling forward. Slowly, slowly. And now rolling backwards. Jonas glances behind him before each roll. He almost flips and he is ready to leap into the rolls to get some height and distance and momentum. There is no formal check in or checking to see if everyone is okay, but still, no one is throwing up yet, so they continue.

Next is a shoulder stand going into each roll – keep a strong core – balance – control (control the coming out of it and finish with a roll). There is laughter. And the breath. And intense focus. Everyone is testing their limits.

Now there is a check in. “How is everybody feeling?” More laughter. “Tired!” “Awesome!”

let’s raise the energy a little bit again. let’s create some risk. when I say “uno” bring the knees to the chest (jump!), and “dos” we do the front (forward) roll and “tres” we do the backwards roll.

As Olga hears this she laughs, “My god!” and runs again, smiling and laughing and trying to catch her breath. She might be going crazy.

faster, faster, now maximum speed!



find a partner. face your partner, feet wide and knees bent. the partner will touch you with their foot – it’s not a kick – and you receive it. apply pressure with your foot and the partner will move back in response to the pressure. “if you are the person receiving the touch you have to be strong but mobile.” try to go higher. “I think we think it hurts but it doesn’t hurt” – Lilly

be flexible and strong to hold it, and then go backwards with the touch.

deliver a little bit more pressure and you take the hit and use the pressure to take you into a backward roll. controlled. you basically sit and roll backwards to get out of it.

Next, the partner jumps up, pushing up with his/her hands, onto the receiver’s shoulders, and as the receiver responds to the pressure, they simply drop down to lie on the floor. It’s not a push, and you land over the receiver, feet either side of his/her chest. The next level is to then end this move with a forward roll over the receiver, who follows with a backwards roll to get out of the position.


The body has to adapt to the floor. “It could take a year of bruises.” A Russian teacher once told Mary, “It’s just a body. What’s wrong with you? You’re so precious!” Alex says, “Once you develop that relationship with the floor you can do so much.”

Then, “Let’s put everything together to create one sole choreography:

start still, make eye contact, both find centre, both eagle kick and then jump and drop and roll out of it.” Denise says, “Maybe you think it’s not possible to slow it down but to me it’s possible.” Denise and Alex work on the slower, more controlled version of the movement. They are completely in tune with one another and they pull off the movement several times.




The session wraps with a small circle, tight; the close connection between these guys about to become even more apparent. Lilly starts in the middle and Alex introduces a familiar trust game. “Build a little bit of trust, allowing yourself to fall and your friends will catch you. Take her all the way to the ground. Friends, take a limb and massage her. Lilly, just enjoy it”. The group works together to roll Lilly ever so gently onto her belly to continue the massage. Gently, gently… “Put her back to standing position without allowing her to do any of it. Lift her all the way up (slowly, raise her up), with straight arms, and walk around the space with her. Place her back to standing and give her a big hug.”

It’s someone else’s turn. I take my leave and head to another rehearsal.

The weekend, indeed the entire creative process leading up to the show, is about learning to communicate story and emotion; discovering ourselves (our fears, our perceived limitations and our potential), and discovering what our bodies and minds are capable of; building trust, and building connections through the intimacy of touch and the acknowledgement of each individual existing in the same space, to tell the same story. This ensemble is learning the value of bringing focus and energy and skill to the space, embracing vulnerability, and drawing on ancestral knowledge and the energies of the elements and the earth to feed back to the world something we don’t stop often enough to consider…

This ensemble is unravelling our human experiences and opening up, preparing to connect with us, to share with us, La Andariega: Ancient Memories.


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