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11.2.08

Enter your code

"Enter your code" é o texto que Tiago Rodrigues escreveu para o livro que celebra e documenta os 10 anos actividade da escola de dança contemporânea P.A.R.T.S., em Bruxelas, dirigida por Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. O livro, lançado recentemente, intitula-se "P.A.R.TS. - Documenting ten years of contemporary dance education" e é composto por textos de coreógrafos, bailarinos, programadores, críticos, professores, alunos e ex-alunos de diversas nacionalidades que celebram e recordam uma década de vida de uma escola que mudou a face da dança contemporânea europeia. À venda em diversos teatros e centros culturais belgas e holandeses, o livro, editado em inglês, pode ser encomendado directamente à escola P.A.R.T.S. através do e-mail martine.lange@parts.be.





ENTER YOUR CODE


We pass by the lawn dominated by an ancient tree and find ourselves in front of a building which looks like a converted factory. To enter the school you need to know a code and punch it in a small metal box to the right of the main door. This is merely the first of many codes which students and teachers must deal with on a daily basis in PARTS. After this one there are the codes of the dance repertoires, the language codes of a place where so many different languages are spoken, the classroom or refectory codes, the codes established between teachers and students, the codes of sociology, history of art, philosophy and theatre.
If we punch in the code in the metal box and enter the school we soon understand that communication is not only an essential work instrument but also a form of survival. All these codes are communication tools which the students assimilate and to which they resort to create their own artistic vocabulary. This is the ultimate utopia: each student inventing his/her own code.
In my opinion teaching theatre at PARTS fulfils two fundamental objectives. Firstly, it contributes to expanding the students’ capacity for communication. Primarily the theatre allows students to experience new ways of dealing with each other and with the audience. But it is not just the acquisition of a technique which will enable them to respond to some challenge which might arise in their future professional lives. It is also about enriching their imagination. That, in my opinion, is the second essential objective of teaching theatre in this school: permitting access to the specific codes of dramaturgy, of the character, of the word. This exploration of the universe of theatre will, ultimately, inscribe itself in the creative spirit of these future dancers and choreographers. Whether prominently or more subtly, the theatre shall be part of the artistic codes which the PARTS students shall invent. In one way or another theirs will be richer codes, more conscious of the potential of the stage than the codes of those who have not been touched by theatre.


One toad is not enough

We live in an age in which education suffers increasingly from the plague of specialisation. For example, someone who has studied animal life is condemned to select his/her animal of choice – lets say a toad – and to study the toad for years. They will take master’s and post-graduate degrees about toads and then they will discover some toad which only exists on the Iberian Peninsular. And they will dedicate five years of their life to writing a doctorate thesis on this particular toad. But perhaps a whole toad is too much and they will end up specialising in the gastroenterology of this very rare toad. They will be the world “authority” on the subject, the greatest and most eminent scholar of the Iberian toad’s stomach.
This caricature is merely an example of the “specialist” fervour of our times which contaminates not only education but all of society. If we think of a specialist as someone whose knowledge is as vast in one area as it is limited in others, then this is an individual programmed for the employment market and not for society. He/she is a competent and profitable production unit, paying the price for being someone who is less connected to the community and to the different aspects of life and the world.
In artistic education, specialisation is an even more fatal illness since it is increasingly difficult to consider the different arts in isolation. Being open to the world around him/her and allowing him/herself to be contaminated by other artistic disciplines are essential ingredients for an artist who seeks to create something live and communicative.
Teaching theatre at PARTS responds to that need for “generalisation” as an alternative to “specialisation”. According to this principal, a dancer or choreographer who studies at PARTS shall tend towards complementing his creativity with a global vision of society and the arts. In this universe the theatre plays an important role because it has many aspects in common with dance. In essence, they share the “here and now”.
It is only on stage, before an audience, that theatre or dance can be consummated. As arts, they depend on the “here and now” of the moment of the performance. The teachers of theatre who work at PARTS, of which I am privileged to be one, are primarily actors whose work process is centred on the “here and now” as opposed to those who dedicate themselves to creations which are more hermetic and completely “closed” before being presented to the public. This is an important point since it is in the “here and now” of the stage that we find the most likenesses between theatre and dance - more than in any creative process prior to the presentation of the work when it is easier to find the differences between these two arts. In this respect we could say that the essential role of the teacher of theatre is to put the student in his natural habitat, the stage, and then tell him/her that this place can be inhabited in a completely different way: the same house, but different ways of living in it.


Learning is not knowing

Students have ambiguous feelings when confronted with the challenge of theatre. On the one hand, they are excited by the challenge of the unknown. On the other, they are frightened by their lack of tools with which to face this challenge. Apart from this, they are asked to utter words and to accept a completely new geography of the stage which, for them, is almost something contra natura.
However, it is precisely this moment of confrontation with a world turned upside-down that will be key to the whole workshop which follows. The already familiar stage now presents them with a whole universe of possibilities. It is as if when we step outside, into the road where we have always lived, all the rules have changed. Suddenly cars are driving on the wrong side of the road, like in England; people do not shake hands but feet and in the parks the trees reveal their roots and bury their branches and leaves in the ground. I imagine that this is a little like what a PARTS student feels when confronted with a theatre class for the first time.
It is this unfamiliarity, this fascination, which permits effective learning. It is impossible to learn what we already know. We can only learn what is beyond our limitations. It is even better if we learn what we did not even suspect was possible. Every year, in every theatre workshop, students are challenged to go further in their exploration of these other countries, beyond the boundaries which also become theirs. And the languages, codes and rules of these countries are taken by storm by each student and reinvented in their own way. At the end the stage should seem bigger than before.


Aristotle does it worse

Before beginning each workshop I am assaulted by angst. As a teacher I shall say nothing about theatre to any student that has not already been said or written better years, centuries and even millennia before. Just think of Aristotle. What can I add? What could I add to Aristotle?
Before beginning the workshop I find the answer. It is always the same: contrary to Aristotle I am alive. The brilliance of the evidence obscures the vision. I am alive and he is not. Aristotle cannot watch the students and witness their mistakes, these magnificent mistakes. Although Aristotle provides many answers he cannot reply to the students’ specific questions. Not to the easy questions or to the questions which make the teacher “hmmmmm” for five minutes before uttering a word.
I do not deny that in some cases the best kind of teacher is the dead teacher. But in the case of theatre, as in dance, the sharing of the experience, this live process of sharing is fundamental. Only a teacher who is alive can react to the constant stimuli of a group of students, speak of the problems and solutions he himself has experienced in creating theatre and adapt his language to the specific needs of each individual. Only a teacher who is alive can witness the learning which is based on the observation of another and on the moment of communication. Someone who is dead, however brilliant he may have been, cannot be present. And being present is the quintessence of teaching theatre.
In the case of PARTS, this assumption of the living teacher, which is as much a metaphor as a reality, is even more important. Teaching a theatre course for dance students who speak English instead of their various mother languages means understanding that each word can give rise to ambiguity. Codes must be treated carefully. Furthermore, the teacher is obliged to invent a vocabulary which straddles the bridge (and however small it is, it exists) that connects dance to theatre.
On the other hand, PARTS students combine their unfamiliarity with theatre with a great capacity for reflection on its artistic proposals. This implies a fascinating exercise for any teacher: expressing the basic fundamentals of theatre without relinquishing subtlety and complexity in the process. The teacher must speak of that which he considers simple and, at the same time, satisfy the students’ high level of requirements. This obliges teachers to rethink and question that which they consider given facts and that which they had already filed away under dogma. It is almost like dealing with a child who is at the age of asking “why”. So often do they ask us why, we reach the conclusion that we do not know the answer to all the questions. “Why is the sky blue?”
Obviously the ideal teacher would be Aristotle resurrected. He would know how to explain the blue of the sky. Unfortunately the PARTS students will have to be content with those who are really alive. With whoever is capable of deciphering codes after codes until the stage says: enter your code.

TIAGO RODRIGUES

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