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Art of acting

COMMITTED COUPLE: Swiss theatre director Heinz Gubler and his writer wife Christine Finderknecht in Madurai. Photo: R. Ashok  

“Like mudra in traditional Indian dance performance, Noh is integral to Japanese dance art. It is more theatrical,” says popular Swiss theatre director and filmmaker Heinz Gubler, who uses this technique in teaching and producing theatre performances for youngsters. “It is also a kind of meditation,” he adds.

“It is very difficult to make youngsters understand traditional techniques,” says Gubler, a pioneer in interactive theatre who integrates live performance with video projection on stage. He got trained as a theatre director at the Chelsea Art School and was a directorial assistant to Edward Bond. He met Peter Brook while working as co-director of the Theatre Upstairs in London.

An ardent follower of 14th century Japanese Noh art form, he feels the technique through its repeated routines helps to mellow a person. “After getting trained in Japan, when I first introduced it in Germany, actors did not understand initially. Many got bored and said the technique would not work for them as they expected something new each time they came for training. People were confused whether it was a dance form or theatre form. It takes time to comprehend Noh,” he says.

Initially Gubler wanted to become a filmmaker and landed in Prague to join a film institute but he was not comfortable with the Czech language and had to return to his home town Zurich. Then he decided to join a theatre school in London. Luckily for him he could also study filmmaking in London.

He says many theatre practitioners have drawn inspiration from Noh for its contained and forceful energy and also because learning it completes an actor. “As the art form takes its root from Buddhism, there are only male performers and cross-dressing is prevalent. Men have to play the role of woman, child, and old person. Wearing masks is really a challenge for the actor as he has to convince the audience of the character he is playing. There is no green room concept either. All dressing and redressing happens on stage and it is also considered to be a part of the performance. Once you are on stage you have to stay on for the entire duration of the play. You need stamina to do that,” explains Gubler.

Noh is all about dialogues between the body and the mask, feels Gubler. The performer in Noh portrays a myriad of emotions but must be able to pull back. It is an art form of stillness and stylisation that is haunting and mesmerising, he adds.

He has been working on this method for a long time. “It’s more about potential space. It’s about a space, pause, interval or gap that allows the imagination of the viewer to fill something in and complete it. It is intense and makes me work hard to find out the secrets on my own. See, there is nothing called secret. It is left to your imagination. It is a conversation between the actor and the wall. Don’t ever try to break the wall to see what lies ahead. There ends your world of fantasy,” he says.

Gubler has also been involved in numerous independent theatre projects, produced various short films. Once he met celebrity actor Sotigui Kouyate of Burkina Faso who guided him to set up a film laboratory and do a film on the issues of Burkinabes. “His wife is a good friend of us and Sotigui was also part of Peter Brook’s popular theatre production on Mahabharata. He donned the role of Bheeshma,” says Gubler.

He is ably assisted by his wife Christine Rinderknecht, who writes scripts for Gubler’s theatre productions. Both started Gub Company to promote the Noh method of acting. “It is a professional theatre group for young people, where we keep experimenting. The interactive performance is one such venture. It is not easy though, as coordination has to be perfect between the performers on stage and actors on the screen,” he says.

Now, the couple travel worldwide to understand different cultures and propagate the Noh method through theatre workshops.

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Printable version | Dec 4, 2020 10:37:20 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Art-of-acting/article16091722.ece

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