Biomechanics is a system of physical actor training developed by Vsevelod Meyerhold in Moscow, Russia in the 1920’s.

In a recent work demonstration at Stage@Leeds (05/12/12) I showed the four stages that make up any movement in Biomechanics: Otkaz, Posil, Tormos and Tochke (Tochke is also known as Stoika). This is embodied knowledge I learned directly from Gennadi Bogdanov at GITIS Academy ,  Moscow

Otkaz means refusal or the denial. It is a ‘set-up’ or preparation for the main movement of the sequence, enacted by a movement in the opposite direction, like dancer bending their knees in preparation for a jump. For me, in the unfocussed environment of the outdoors, the Otkaz is key.  It is a visual signal to the audience that an action is about to happen.  It is also a visual cue for the ensemble. Without such a visual clue an important action could be easily missed. By playing with the length of Otkaz, or strengthening its impact through ensemble, Otkaz, the refusal can help focus action in the outdoors in the same way that an indoor director may make use of lighting.

Posil means the sending out.  It is the main action of the sequence and the execution of the movement set up by the Otkaz. I often refer to this as “Play”.  Posil gives the actor freedom to play, improvise and build in the unexpected. In the street, car horns hoot, babies cry, people walk across the space, props blow away. By using play, all of this material can be incorporated into the Posil. I therefore encourage the actor to play with and for the audience.  In the street, the actors are literally “playing” in the audiences’ space and I encourage actors to be generous with and sensitive to this.

Tochke means the full stop, or, if Stoika is used, it means the stance.  It is the completion of the movement – a stop-motion pose that serves both as the closure of the Posil and as the starting point for the next stage of the action.  For the audience, this is a moment of realisation and assimilation of information or, in the Brechtian sense, a moment of alienation, of recognition of the act or actor. It can also be a moment of shared emotion – a gasp, a laugh – or a moment of applause.

Tormos means the brake or resistance.  It is the element underlying the other three parts of the movement sequence and the physical control which allows fluid, precise completion of the action.  I also teach this as a gathering in of focus and energy and encourage the actors to use it as thinking time for the next action, so that when the Tochke is complete, the actor knows precisely what their next intention or action will be.  Tormos for me is vital.  Without Tormos, the actors will become tired and pacing of the production will feel relentless. Tormos prepares the way for the completion of action whilst drawing the audience in for the moment of realization mentioned above.

I argue that a heightened understanding of these 4 basic stages of biomechanical movement can provide rhythm and phrasing of any action, piece of text, entire script or even production.  When working with them as actor’s training, I ask actors to exaggerate the stages at first to increase awareness and imbed them in their movement vocabulary, just like a biomechanical actor would do through the learning and execution of an etude.  In performance, the stages are still present, but less visible.

Functions of Biomechanics in Ensemble outdoor performance

  • Training: developing physical, playful expressiveness
  • Communication: an unspoken visual language of intention and non-verbal cues
  • Clarity of action: for the actor and audience
  • Improvisation: aiding opportunities to interact with the unexpected, then return with ease to the score/script/action
  • Phrasing, rhythm and musicality:  for a line, script, action or entire production

As an director of outdoor arts productions, Biomechanics provides for me  a technique for training actors, a means of creating movement for performance; and a non verbal signalling language for an ensemble.