Psyche on Stage:
Enrique Pardo's work is revolutionary

by Cliff Bostock
(Originally published in the "Paradigms" column of Creative Loafing)

I didn't know exactly what to expect when I attended the Seventh Biennial Myth and Theatre Festival in New Orleans last week. This festival, heretofore held in Provence, has become popular among people interested in the way psychology, myth and art can interact.

The festival is under the direction of Enrique Pardo, a 53-year-old Peruvian-born, European-educated painter who discovered the stage in the late '60s. At that time he began working with the legendary Roy Hart Theatre, an avant-garde group that explored the range of the human voice and continues to exert an enormous influence on theater.

In the '70s, after teaching voice for some years, Pardo says he became disenchanted with certain aspects of teaching that duplicate the interactions in psychotherapy. Indeed, he began to question the way art is "psychologized" by therapists and he quit teaching for a while.

He entered a dialogue with James Hillman and others engaged in archetypal psychology, which attempts to restore aesthetic concepts like soul and beauty to psychology and draws heavily on myth. The eventual outcome was Pardo's Pantheatre, based on a performance piece, "Calling for Pan," a ritualistic evocation of Pan, the god who is half-human, half-animal. This in turn gave rise to the Myth and Theatre Festival and workshop collaboration with people like Hillman and Kristin Linklater, chair of theater at Columbia University (and a presenter at this year's festival).

Although, I went to the festival expecting to hear the most interesting material from lecturers in archetypal psychology (like authors Ginette Paris, Nor Hall and Charles Boer), it was Pardo's work that was most stimulating. While people in archetypal psychology urge therapists to explore new aesthetic-based forms of psychology, Pardo actually pushes dramatic aesthetics - through the use of movement, voice and mythological fantasy - into what looked to me like an entirely new psychological practice as much as radical theater. In other words, his work goes much farther and much deeper than psychotherapy.

Although I cannot pretend to understand all of Pardo's theories - much of his work is clearly intuitive - it seems to me that a lot of it bears much in common with a notion in poetics that one <I>must <P> do battle with whatever is needing expression. Federico Garcia Lorca, in his essay "Play and Theory of the Duende," speaks of how the poet must fight the "duende," the dark source of inspiration. The poet Rilke likewise said that every angel is "terrible" and must, like Jacob's, be battled. Out of this battle, they maintain, meaning and beauty arise in the poem, in life.

Thus Pardo tells participants in his workshops, as they are about to enact a scene or improvise, that they must take "a homeopathic dose of hate." Then, the participants engage in a battle of sorts. For example, one person presents a text. Pardo may play music at a keyboard (or even have street performers come in, as he did in New Orleans) in order to force the person to expand the range of voice. Others on stage are in movement. One person is the movement leader and the others follow. As the text is recited, the others move - not in a classic interpretive way, but just the opposite. They fight the text with their bodies, moving in front of the person reciting, their gestures a counterpoint to the spoken word. Moreover, they do not mirror one another in their movement. They "follow" the leader, but, as the scene develops, their movements become more idiosyncratic too.

What emerges out of this is astonishing images, often by synchronicity. For no apparent reason, you suddenly see eight people with no familiarity with the text simulating eating and the next words of the text are about eating. Seven people are crawling across the floor while "the voice," which has moved off-stage, recites a monologue on death and, for no reason at all, a "rebellious" follower is left behind on stage, just as the voice begins talking about the notion of resurrection. In other words, meaning arises in the form of beauty. Images convey, without interpretation, significances prior to language or in battle with it.

People working inside these exercises often report feeling deep in the unconscious, totally in the body. But this is not an anti-intellectual experience. Indeed, Pardo is giving body and voice a place to confront the most profound questions of existence - not just personal ones, but those questions that address our lives as part of large communities (just as the Greeks did in their own theater). And this is done without therapy's endless ruminations of a question's origins and without the fantasy of a cure. Instead it offers beauty and appreciation…after the engagement in battle. (And in that it departs from psychodrama.)

In short, Pardo's work represents, I believe, a completely new way of approaching psychological growth - an entirely aesthetic one -- in which patients become "actors" in present-time dramas. In columns during the next few months I will report other developments out of the Myth and Theatre Festival.

Visit Enrique Pardo's web site at www.pantheatre.com.

Copyright 1999 by Creative Loafing

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