To be honest, I was a little scared of Suzuki, when I first approached it. David Smukler, a colleague at York, had travelled to Toga, Japan to work with Suzuki's company and described the intensity of the training. They train in the mountains and David said he would often soak his lower legs in one of the mountain streams that ran through the complex. I was worried. When I was still dancing I had severe stress fractures in my shin and was not looking forward to the stomping, which I heard was integral to the work. Maybe I could "fake" stomp or do it at half the speed. I'd figure it out once I got to New York and started the training with Leon, Akiko and Ellen and the other teachers at SITI.
Mid-way through the first class, covered in sweat, my thighs shaking uncontrollably, my breath labouring in the sweltering July heat, I realized there was more to it than stomping. It was an internal practice. And it energized me as much as I gave to it. By the end of the first class, my body felt like it was alive for the first time in years. It was strange. I trained as a classical ballet dancer and, for those who have done it, there's a place you get to at the end of class where your body is completely warm, ready to try anything. Fast forward, not having taken a dance class is 10 years, I found that same feeling at the end of the Suzuki session. My body was on fire, my senses were taut, and I was exhilarated to be so connected to my body and breath. I wanted to feel like that all day. For the first time in my life, I had found a physical practice that made me feel the way I felt as a young professional dancer. And in that class was literally every body type, every training background - dancers, actors, designers, writers, musicians - and we all felt the same way. You could see it in our eyes.
When I returned to Canada, I wrote David immediately to tell him of my experiences. He wrote back, "Ahhh, another convert!" He was right. I had found a new practice, one that combined my need for physical truth with an intellectual focus upon acting and performance. And the stomping? After the first stomp, I realized that it wasn't painful - in fact, it connected me to the ground in a profound way. With every stomp I became more powerful, more connected. And I haven't stopped since.
Suzuki Actor Training
Allied with other body-centered acting practices (Grotowski, as a foremost example), visionary director Tadeshi Suzuki realized that 20th century theatre must reclaim the physical power of the performer. My friend and former colleague, David Rotenberg, talked about duende, a Spanish term describing a flamenco dancer's innate performance quality. Duende is something you either have or you don't; it comes from the inside. Suzuki is the only practice I know that seeks to challenge the actor's core, dragging out those innate qualities that make an actor great: courage, discipline and, above all, a greater sense of their own power.