In April 2018, I’m hosted in Odin Teatret Archives in order to gather material for my master’s thesis at Open University of Cyprus (OUC) on the barters of Odin Teatret. I’m studying and recording the songs of birds from the bright window of the library. I’m staying in the room of Jens Bjørneboe, the Norwegian writer and activist, who granted to Eugenio Barba the play “Fugleelskerne” (The bird lovers) for his first show called “Ornitofilene”. I think of the bird lovers: perishable shadows who instantiate the inhuman war insensitivity and the market transaction thuggery, nevertheless they love listening to the songs of nightingales at night, they become acquainted with their musical spectrums, in order to be redeemed from the cruelty of their morals and obsessively, but hopelessly, recall humanity and innocence.
It is commonly accepted that bird singing is an exclusive privilege of birds. Julia Varley, however, rises above of what is traditionally permitted and universally established. Therefore, she can sing like a bird. Furthermore, she roars, whispers, murmurs, repeats the same phrase with a different accent, rhythm, tone, intensity and importance, hushes in her own silence, moves around shifting the body in different directions, incorporating positions, jumps and stances, changing intentions, strengthening or absorbing impulses. Julia rehearses and trains, collects text and music material, discovers herself as an active subject and living object of research experimentation, improvises and composes sequences of actions, presents work demonstrations, participates in performances in Denmark and on tours with Odin Teatret and Theatrum Mundi Ensemble. At the same time, she writes articles in scientific journals and books, translates, promotes intercultural and interdisciplinary research of the International School of Theatre Anthropology. She attends and makes comments on theater groups’ performances, teaches in schools and universities, directs, runs theatrical workshops, organizes festivals, symposiums, meetings, celebrations and conferences. Julia weaves and develops a large international network of women working in theater, channels dynamic functions and activates multimodal correlations of sociopolitical and cultural diversity under Odin Teatret actions.
Odin Teatret is founded by Eugenio Barba on October 1, 1964 in Oslo, Norway, and in June 1966 it is relocated to Holstebro, Denmark, inaugurating Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium. The primary core of the theater actors, Else Marie Laukvik, Torgeir Wethal and Anne-Trine Grimnes, have been rejected by Oslo National Academy of the Arts and do not have adequate technical training. As there are no financial resources to cover teachers' fees, theatrical education is invented and structured by the actors themselves. In the context of this theatrical laboratory Julia Varley enters in 1976. Technical practice constitutes a vehicle for the actors’ self-research, an acknowledgment that signifies their limits and potential, an orchestration tool for protype theatrical skills and a steppingstone in order to rise above the traditional representational techniques. Thus, theatrical training and education claims conscious isolation, exclusive engagement, absolute control of actors’ mental and physical skills. Furthermore, groundwork of a theatrical production requires daily, extensive rehearsals with an annual or two-year duration. With the guidance of Eugenio Barba, actors progress in thematic improvisations and compounds, put in practice contraction and expansion in physical and vocal actions, accumulate mnemonic corporeal variations and shades, dispose and entrench corporal lexemes, embed fermentations of personal experiences. Thence, distinct dissonances of their performance material are integrated and accorded with the director’s montage, specifically in a new significations’ system that extends conceptional deviances and connotations beyond exegetical literal or immediately obvious meaning. It is reasonable to say that the requirements of professional devotion and daily long-term cohabitation permeate and are imposed on the theatrical and daily life of the group, entrench a common memory, a common model of behavior, consolidate an established micro-community identity, a micro-culture. The theatrical group’s established character is not, however, homogenized, as it is consolidated in the uniqueness and individuality of its members. Thus, it uses asymmetry to open a field of encounter with the Other, construes idem-hetero dipole in extroversion and conciliation, is invested in the sociopolitical and cultural context.
Julia Varley is a part of this process for structuring a modus operandi, identical and interactive with a modus vivendi, reflecting it in the writing of her book “Notes from an Odin Actress: Stones of Water”. It is a book written on the borderline of poetic autobiography, historical evidence of disparate cultural and sociopolitical interpenetrations, academic analytical research and approach of theatrical methods, techniques and practices. This is why it reaches a large audience, actors, students, academics or even the reader searching for enthrallment with the sensibility, strength and persistence of an actress and a woman who articulates her voice and has built her professional and personal identity. On the basis of the historical background in the early days of Odin Teatret, this book reflects both the genetic and sociological dimension, the ideology and emancipation of “Third Theater” during the middle and late twentieth century until the present days. Varley delves into Odin Teatret’s peculiar technical terminology descriptively and in great detail, in matters concerning the actresses’ dramaturgy, the improvisation and composition of performance material, contrasts’ importance, the exactitude and decisiveness of an “integral” body. She offers a variety of details on her training, by eliminating theoretical stereotypes and emphasizing research significance and applicability of a personal “homeopathic” working method for each individual actor. The author renders in a poetic and thorough way the issues of building a character, giving prominence to her two archetypical characters, Mr. Peanut and Doña Musica. Finally, she mentions the creative impetus, which is released during the [juxta]position -[re]action between the actor and the director. Julia Varley uses theater as a vehicle and starts from the non-trivial, the unfamiliar, the unexpected, enters the borders of strangeness, overrides spatial and temporal commitment, pierces social stereotypical paradigm and classes, irritates the dimension and interaction of a world-renowned collectively uttered speech.
Once you open Julia Varley’s book, “Notes from an Odin Actress: Stones of Water”, you enter a word landscape of experiences and relations, a charted idiolect of actions and reactions, a polyvalent and fragile web of voices, gestures, breaths and silences: you enter a secret bird garden. Somewhere in between this intangible and fluid, mutually exclusive and complementary polyphony, you may discover your own voice.
Kaisariani, June 2019
Translated from Greek by Aphrodite Vrahopoulou
Ανοίγοντας το βιβλίο της Julia Varley Πέτρες από Νερό: σημειώσεις μιας ηθοποιού του Θεάτρου Οντίν.
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Korina Apostolopoulou studied at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (BA in Archaeology and History of Art) and the Open University of Cyprus (MA in Theatre Studies, Acting and Directing). She completed her master’s thesis “Odin Teatret, Eugenio Barba: Barter and Theatre in the Community. Exploring a Perspective of Artistic and Sociocultural Synergy” with honours and she is a PhD candidate of the Open University of Cyprus (PhD program in Theatre Studies, Acting and Directing). Her doctoral dissertation focuses on the interaction between Odin Teatret and society, examining Nordisk Teaterlaboratorium and its multiple actions as a navigation from a theatrical facet to a sociopolitical interface, from a utopia or dystopia to a floating topography. She is an actress and singer performing in Greece and abroad since 1994, participating in performances, workshops, festivals, congresses and European programs in Greece and abroad. She translated in Greek Julia Varley’s book Stones of Water Notes from an Odin Actress, Dodoni Publications (cover photo left/above).