Peter Brook told me that if you watch any cat, it isn't just that his body is so relaxed and expressive. It's something more important than that. A cat actually thinks visibly. If you watch him jump on a shelf, the wish to jump and the action of jumping are one and the same thing. There's no division. A thought animates his whole body. It's exactly the same way that all Brook's exercises try to train the actor. The actor is trained to become so organically related within himself, he thinks completely with his body. He becomes one sensitive responding whole, like the cat.From Conference of the Birds, John Heilpern's masterly account of the 1972 expedition that took the director Peter Brook and an international troupe of actors from their Paris base through Africa. Brook was in search of the miraculous and his experiments in Africa led to some of his most influential work including Conference of the Birds, Carmen and The Mahabharata. The collection of poems titled Conference of the Birds is by the Persian poet Farid ud-Din Attar. It uses a journey by a group of birds in search of the great Simorgh as an allegory of a Sufi master leading his pupils to enlightenment. As well as being adapted as a play by Peter Brook, Conference of the Birds has received treatments that include a work for piano and electronics by Ezequiel Viñao, an album by experimental rock band Om , an opera by Johan Othman and an ECM album by the Dave Holland Quartet.
An ultimate example of this is revealed in a film of Picasso at work [see above]. In one lightning stroke you can see how the tip of Picasso's brush captures his entire imagination. His brushwork can actually be seen as his thought process. The same is true of the great orchestra conductor. After years and years of work, he thinks and transmits in one gesture. The whole of him is one.
After recording my recent interview with Jonathan Harvey I mentioned to the composer, whose three operas include the acclaimed Wagner Dream, that I was taking John Heilpern's book to re-read on my forthcoming travels. He told me that in the past a commission for an opera by him based on Conference of the Birds had fallen through - what a pity. The podcast of the Jonathan Harvey interview is available here. Peter Brook's 1989 film The Mahabharata features here while his earlier screen adaption of William Golding's Lord of the Flies (which had music composed by Raymond Leppard) features here. Finally a link to take this post full circle: thinking with the body is central to the Alexander Technique, which is practised by many musicians. My post on the subject contains some familar themes.
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