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Mimodynamique Training: Movement Beyond the Self

The movement doesn’t mean something, it is something.

Mimodynamique training is a type of theatre training that is grounded in one key principle: observe the world then imitate it. It is a pillar of the Lecoq pedagogy of Mask, Mime and Movement Theatre and can create a really liberating state of inquiry within the student or artist. A boon of the work is that it decentralises the student; it isn't about them coming up with new, original ideas. As anyone who’s been in devised theatre practice for a while knows, the harder we try to be original the more the work seems to want for something. So Mimodynamique work says - let’s start with mimesis.

The word comes to us via France and its originator Jacques Lecoq. He coined the term to mean this : “mimo” is imitate and “dynamique” refers to the energetic force something contains AKA its movement. So in Mimodynamiques we are concerned entirely with imitated movement. When speaking of the creative process and art making, the poet Mary Oliver said, ‘Pay attention. Be astonished, tell about it.’ In movement theatre training we would change Mary’s quote to say, ‘Pay attention. Be astonished, move about it.'

Mimodynamique training turns the student into an avid watcher of the world. It locates the student in this world right now, not in some liminal, arty non-place. They are not above or outside of the society they live in. It requires them to increase their contact with the world and go beyond their personal taste, beyond their typical way of being. It asks them to be a very active observer. A citizen of this world in movement.

The teacher frames and shapes the Mimodynamique journey in a specific order - and by golly it is a journey. This work is weeks and months and years long depending on what school you go to. Usually the teacher will initiate the study by way of the four elements: fire, water, earth, air. These are the first steps into mimesis and rhythm. I’ll use them as examples. The physical rhythm of fire is different to the physical rhythm of water. Fire is quick to start, has a fast tempo and moves unpredictably. Whereas water contains undulations, curves, rising and falling never the same way twice. So on and so forth with the other elements. We study them and catch their essential (and primal) movement patterns. This is called movement analysis. It is a specific study of patterns of movement. It’s incredibly useful because as any theatre maker would agree, rhythm is key to maintaining the audience's attention for a prolonged amount of time. These studies of distinct rhythmic variations are not abstract concepts. We hunt for undeniable movement truths that are then refined through student improvisations and feedback. We watch and learn that rhythm is witnessable in real space and real time on the studio floor.

If you learn how to move as fire, earth, water and air you already have the potential to make hundreds of characters. You have the potential to direct a multitude of scenes. If you continue on the journey of Mimodynamique training a student will find even more to play. The typical Lecoqian program moves through the natural world (elements, nature, animals, plants, minerals) and into poetic fields (colours, artworks, language, poetry, emotions, human pathologies). As Jacques Lecoq said, we are training the artist to have a universal poetic awareness.

The Mimodynamique training is a deep cataloguing of options for the student to draw on for the rest of their career. Mimodynamiques makes theatre making - in my experience - a whole lot simpler. Because movement is undeniable. If the character I am playing is a dog, then that dog will move in a particular way. If the dog is happy, it will move a particular way. If the dog is sad it will move a particular way. We are on the hunt for ‘particular ways’. I can learn all this by watching a dog. Mimodynamique hunting is both complete and complex so the play is usually surprising and bold.

But hey, what if I am playing a waitress and not a dog? This is where the process of transposition is introduced. To transpose is to transform or render into a new context. So I could experiment with transposing the dog dynamic into the character context of the waitress. I buoyantly bound toward guests as they arrive. I sulk away when a customer is rude to me. The kitchen is loud and noisy so I bark my text to the chef. Or perhaps a cat dynamic would be better? Do you notice your imagination start to fire off? Could it really be that simple? Or I could go to a cafe and watch the waitstaff and notice their particular patterns of moving. I would need to study them very closely and recreate their movement patterns. Trusting the process of Mimodynamiques is one of the most satisfying frameworks that I have in my practice. I would ask any performing artist, do you know what it is that you are imitating? We have an interest in presenting very well-observed characters and scenes. The Mimodynamique inquiry will always have the answers therefore the answers are outside of us.

This really begs the question: Do we move ‘it’? Or does ‘it’ move us? In the Lecoq tradition we would say that we are moved, for example, by the Mimodynamique of water. As Medea wails in grief over her murdered children, is she crying? Or is she being moved by the dynamic of water? Is it a seastorm? Thundering rain? Slashing hail? The students are continually encountering a collective consensus of poetry. The entire student body cultivates poetic reference points. It’s clear to everyone whether or not that human’s body is moving like fire or water. As the study both expands and deepens we get to further refine the poetic details. For example, is it the fire of a candle? The fire of a bonfire? A raging bushfire? Underneath all the categories we have the scope for extremely nuanced movement work.

Mimodynamique training is incredibly non-psychological. It is not about people achieving an emotional state or drawing on something from within. It is certainly not about coming up with something profound to say. In fact part of this pedagogic design is to hold students in a pre-verbal state where the attention is given to the body. We are focused on the external body in space. Once the student has cultivated an awareness of and trusts the embodied practice they usually end up creating work that is less reliant on text. Any text generated is usually generated from a state of very heightened play so the body-in-action is crucial to the script-devising process. The student learns a big lesson in Mimodynamique training, as my teacher Giovanni Fusetti says, we learn that action upstages text. This is Physical Theatre. It is not brain-centric work, it is body-centric. It has the ability to short-circuit verbal reasoning and rationality with action. Even Shakespeare, the guy with all the words, said ‘Art is a mirror held up to nature.’ Mimesis starts with the mirroring of nature.

Mimodynamique training calls the wilderness back into the theatre. It gives us the potential to make a living, thrashing embodied theatre. The theatre performer who is practiced in Mimodynamiques becomes a shapeshifter with infinite potential. They are liberated from rational trappings of intellect because they now have embodied, archetypal understanding of how the cosmos moves. Here we have a type of movement training that is steeped in biodiversity and poetic equality. Quite literally it is about diversifying the play of the student. The movement patterns of both the tiny ant and the volcanic eruption are of equal curiosity. In my opinion this is a core of Physical Theatre. The theatre artist engaged in Mimodynamique play will recognise that their personal view is limited but nature is abundant. They will become a devout and faithful servant to the primordial wilderness of movement.