The Five Continents of Theatre: Facts and Legends about the Material Culture
of the Actor.
By Eugenio Barba and Nicola Savarese
In English. Brill Sense, Leiden, The Netherlands, 2019, 411 pages
Buy the book here
Review by Rachel Karafistan, actor, teacher and director based in Berlin. She is the founder of Cosmino Productions www.cosmino.org, member of faculty at Arthaus.berlin Centre for Devised Theatre & Performance and External Examiner on the BA Physical Theatre at East 15 Acting School.
Published in Dance and Performance Training, 12:1, 129-131.
The Five Continents of Theatre: Facts and Legends about the Material Culture of the Actor is the latest collaboration between the founding director of Odin Teatret Eugenio Barba and theatre scholar Nicola Savarese. Described by the authors as ‘two gardeners dedicated to Theatre, Dance and Performance Training 129 cultivating this book-garden’ (6), the text is the culmination of twenty years of collaborative
research. Furthermore, it compliments their earlier publication A Dictionary of Theatre Anthropology: The Secret Art of the Performer, which has become an undergraduate stalwart classifying codified principles supported by the body of the actor and techniques of the body-mind. Following in its path almost three
decades later, The Five Continents continues this research, but this time takes it in the direction
of the transglobal material culture of the actor and is an attempt to fill the gaps created by their first publication which has been criticised for decontextualising culturally specific acting techniques.
An elaborate and exhaustive resource that features over 1400 images intertwined with text, the book can be characterized as a modern grimoire (as it is by author Tatiana Chemi in the opening Foreword), a tradition with its origins in annotating the practice and experiments of the occult. This extensive dramaturgical encyclopaedia is an attempt to compensate for the deficiencies of text-based histories of the theatre and open the reader up to the so-called auxiliary techniques of the actor that repeat across time and cultures. The diverse political, economic, social and cultural contexts of how theatre develops
globally are extensively interrogated and brought to life by a carefully cultivated ‘garden’ (6) of image, anecdote, debate and fact.