Animating Chinese Graphs in Devising a Solo Performance: An Exploration of Movement as an Ideographic Language and Intercultural Medium

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Chung, Karen
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University of Guelph

Can movement function as an ideographic language to convey complex ideas and affects without relying on speech or dialogue? This thesis project set out to investigate Artaud’s quest for a pure theatrical language with an ideographic value in an effort to develop a medium to explore and express the unspeakable affects and knowledges I embodied as a Chinese diasporic subject struggling to understand the self-inflicted atrocities I witnessed in my country, China. As studio research to investigate my questions, I went into a three-week devising process to create a solo performance on the theme of national and cultural shame in the Chinese context with Toronto-based theatre artist Karin Randoja, who was trained in the Eugenio Barba method. Chinese graphs (written characters) were animated as I responded to the composition of the graphs with my body in the process to produce movements as the basic units of the physical ideographic language and to examine meaning production through body movements by drawing on the non-phonetic Chinese language. This written component of the thesis is a critical analysis of the studio process: it interrogates the implications of the universalist principles of the Barba method on the exploration of the intercultural theme; it theorizes the tension between the Barba method and my ideographic embodiment of the graphs by drawing on both the western, phonetic languages-based semiotics and Chinese ideographic epistemology; and it articulates my vision of a movement-based, theatrical ideographic language whose expressivity is integral, i.e. a physical ideographic language that can provide real vocabulary to concretely express ideas and affects.

Devising theatre, Intercultural theatre, Eugenio Barba, Movement (theatre), Experimental theatre