Basic improvisation skills must be acquired – to learn and practise how to recall, to react on inner (memory, experience) and outer (from the partner(s) stimuli; to develop a theme.

Chinese fights – impulse training from paidia to ludus[146]

This is a series of very complex exercises that are useful for various purposes. They are important for the development of isolation of body parts, but especially for keeping up energy, for precision of movement and communication with a partner (partners). Each time the teacher must decide on a specific focus – but not all the time (such as using body parts precisely, working with clear otkas, communicating, keeping energy levels up, etc). The teacher should focus on a specific aspect at a time.

Important: In this exercise it is a question of precise communication – to understand the partner and to serve him.

As in jingju fights, partners never touch. Different body parts function as ‘weapons’:

  • Shoulder(s) moving (forwards, backwards, up)
  • Elbow(s) (upwards, downwards, sideways)
  • Chest (forwards, backwards)
  • Hips (sideways)
  • Pelvis (forwards, backwards)
  • Knee(s), (upwards, downwards, forwards with impulse from behind)
  • Foot kicks (forwards, downwards, backwards)
  • Head (downwards, upwards, brush)
  • Hair (forwards, downwards and upwards), brush right and left)
  • Finger(s) forwards, downwards, upwards)
  • ‘Peppered’ glance (forwards)

For each movement, the otkas, the movement of preparation, in the opposite direction must been shown clearly. The ending point is called stoika.

Chinese fights exercises 1.328–1.341

Exercise 1.328: Chinese fights: ‘Shoulder as a weapon’. A and B face each other at a distance of about 2 metres. A decides to use his right shoulder as his ‘weapon’. He is searching for a point on B’s body, where B can react physically (having articulations, as the shoulder(s), the chest, the hip, the pelvis, the knee(s) (from behind only) the feet, the head, the hand). B chooses a point – let’s say on the partner’s shoulder. He executes a clear otkas (a shoulder-movement in the opposite direction, ‘sats’, and sends the movement, from a distance, to B’s shoulder. All of A’s focus now lies on the chosen point. Has he reached it? Has the partner understood? If B has understood, he reacts as if he had been hit there physically! That means he will move his shoulder backwards! If he reacts in another way, he has not understood. A lifts his right palm as a sign of repetition and repeats his intended movement with even more precision. If he is more focused and precise with his intention and his movement, then perhaps B will react on the right spot this time. After that, its B’s turn to ‘attack’.

Exercise 1.329: Other body parts (having articulations!) used as weapons: after the shoulder(s) the knee(s), elbow(s), chest, hip(s), head, hair, finger(s) on B’s body. Work on these basics.

Exercise 1.330: With voice impulse. The actor A rabbles a text, and the voice reflects his energy and his impulses.

Exercise 1.331: Avoid an attack: If an actor wants to avoid being attacked, he throws himself quickly on the back on the floor before the partner can attack.

Exercise 1.332: Several couples work simultaneously in the space. Take care of the space.

Exercise 1.333: Change the distance to the partner. Work sometimes close, sometimes far away.

Exercise 1.334: Falling by impulse: Clear reactions with otkas, and prolongation of B’s trajectory to the floor. When B is hit, he reacts and prolongates the movement to the floor, falling, and finally lying on his back. A arrives quickly, offering a hand to help him up.

Exercise 1.335: Rise from the floor with a backwards somersault, land on the knees and jump up (or any other acrobatic movement).

Exercise 1.336: Speed changes: The teacher orders: ‘Stop!’ The actors freeze their movement. ‘Slow motion! Continue!’ The actors continue in absolute slow motion, to the next order, to move with a sportive tempo, or with quick movements, etc. Slow motion/normal/quick.

Exercise 1.337: The teacher orders: Search for a new partner. The attention is opened to the surroundings. Continue quickly with a new partner, without slackening your energy and focus.

Exercise 1.338: All fight against all. Attention: Before you can attack, you need eye contact.

Exercise 1.339: All fight one person.

Exercise 1.340: Keep the collective energy in the circle. Sitting in a big circle, at equal distance. A and B fight. After some time – or if one of the fighters seems to get tired or lose energy – somebody from the circle rises, runs to the fighters, and takes A or B as a partner. The third person, now without partner, leaves the centre (with energy) and sits in the circle in the free space.

Exercise 1.341: Ha; hee and hay can be used as alteration. Instead of the stick, the arm at its full length is used (same movement, same otkas as with the stick exercises!). The actors must stand relatively close to reach with arms.

Breathing together 1.342–1.344

Exercise 1.342:[147] A and B stand close and observe their breathing, and try to breathe together in the same rhythm.

Exercise 1.343: A and B walk together in the space, breathing together, and start to separate, while keeping their common breath-rhythm.

Exercise 1.344: A group of people observe their breathing and try to adapt, slowly, to breathe as one body.

Communication on the long carpet exercises 1.345–1.346

Exercise 1.345: Immediate reaction. A and B stand, turning their backs to each other, at a distance of 5–6 metres either side of the acrobatic mat. They concentrate, clap together, turn round at the same time, perform a somersault, and rise towards the partner. A immediately takes a pose (he has an aim: he wants something from B!) B must react immediately and spontaneously with a short reaction, a gesture, or he freezes. A reacts. A and B look at each other, clap their hand simultaneously, jump round and perform a somersault. Important: To start and end together. When one freezes, the other must move immediately. The somersaults are very important, because they change the focus for a short time onto movement.

Exercise 1.346: Same exercise as above, B answers A, who reacts to B who reacts to A…They may go on, as long they understand, and the reactions come spontaneously. The reactions need to make sense: there must be an understanding between A and B!

Mirrors[148] (observation, imitation, collaboration, communication)

They can be practised both with the attitude of paidia and ludus. Beside observation, precise movement is practised as well as social competence – to adapt to others, and to make oneself clear as well.

Mirrors exercises 1.347–1.358

Exercise 1.347: Follow a partner through space and mirror his walk (without any interpretation).

Exercise 1.348: B mirrors A. Two people stand opposite each other at a distance of 2 metres. B observes A and mirrors him, and copies A’s movement. The original should move very clearly, show otkas, traject and stoika in his movements and give his partner time to understand and follow.

Exercise 1.349: A acts out a short movement sequence, B mirrors at the same time. Development: the sequence to imitate is sometimes longer, or the distance from the partner is longer.

Exercise 1.350: A couple shows an entire small concrete action, a second couple functions as mirror(s).

Exercise 1.351: A shows emotions, with body and face, B mirrors him.

Exercise 1.352: One original, several mirrors, placed out in a space.

Exercise 1.353: Group mirror. Some actors mirror the mirrors as well. The original must give time so as to make sure that everybody can follow.

Exercise 1.354: Mirror gallery. Several actors are potential mirrors, standing still in any pose. The walker looks in the mirror. In that movement, it mirrors him. The actor can move slowly or quickly, making abrupt turns. The mirrors are always ready to react.

Exercise 1.355: Mirror exercise with sound and movement. Short melodies or rhythms from the partner can be mirrored, together with movement.

Exercise 1.356: Blind mirror in pairs. A pair of quants, always connected: A and B are opposite each other, working slowly with the mirror exercise. Order from outside: ‘Close your eyes!’ A and B continue to work for a short time. (Advanced exercise).

Exercise 1.357: Blind mirror in group. All try to mirror A with closed eyes (Advanced exercise).

Exercise 1.358: Distorted mirror[149]. A is the original. B (C and D) distorts A’s actions.

To ‘complete’ open forms exercises 1.359–1.361

These exercises develop besides observing the feeling for form[150].

Exercise 1.359: To adapt. A shows a clear pose. Actor B fills the physical image, and adds the inside or the outside lines. Example: A shows a rounded back. B answers with the movement of a rounded arm, etc. No psychology allowed! Can be done standing very close or at a distance. There should not be any long reflection about what to do!

Exercise 1.360: Actor A stands in a position. Actor B answers through the physical opposite. If A is high, B is low. (high-low, small-big, open-closed, etc).

Exercise 1.361: Same exercise as above but change the distance in space each time, working closely or further away.

To ‘complete’ open actions exercises 1.362–1.364


Exercise 1.362: The factory. 3 to x participants. A starts with a movement as part of a machine. B joins in as another machine part working together with A’s movement, C joins in, etc.


Guardian angels foresee actions, black angels produce obstacles.

Exercise 1.363: His white angel B helps A to do movements, actions, and clears obstacles. B must anticipate A’s intentions and wishes.

Exercise 1.364: Black angels create obstacles. A moving, his black angel B tries to make him fall, puts obstacles in his way. Also here, anticipation is POC.

How other beings move[151] exercises 1.365–1.375

Exercise 1.365: To observe actions, emotions and aims (motives) of others. Observe a tree, a flower, water, or an animal and become aware of movement, rhythm and energy. Repeat, demonstrate, document it, and show it with your own body.

Exercise 1.366: Observe the walk or an action of a person in the street and present the outcome to the group.

Exercise 1.367: Zeus and Hera: A is Zeus, pursuing B, Hera, who does not want to be caught and says: ‘I become…a cat!’ and she moves as a cat and escapes. Zeus answers: ‘If you have become a cat, I become a fox…!’ In this way, the game goes on, until the stronger one has caught the weaker one (mouse – cat, antelope – lion, bottle – cork, prison – door, street – car, etc).

To react to memory images and experiences as stimulus

Exercise 1.368: Plants and trees. First, a plant or a tree must be observed closely. Imitate its forms and movements.

Exercise 1.369: (Daphne, pursued by Apollo, transforms into a laurel). Focus is placed on the transformation of form and dynamics.

Exercise 1.370: By identification, remembering to watch or touch the tree slowly.

Exercise 1.371: Study and improvisation of elements: how the movements and the energies of fire (candle, campfire, house in flames, jungle burning) or water: (water dripping from the tap, creek, river, stream, lake, ocean, wave and tsunami, rain, hail, ice, snow, water) show specific aspects, processes, and transformations of it, (as transformation from water to ice or to steam…) or air (fresh air, spring breeze, storm, tornado), or earth (earthquake, dry earth, ploughed field, morass).

Exercise 1.372: As above. Animals. Study an animal and imitate its movements, energy and rhythms.

Exercise 1.373: As above. Materials and processes: observe objects and materials moving: a banana ripens and then rots, egg and/or bacon in a frying pan, a flower blooms and withers, a piece of paper is crinkled, etc.

Exercise 1.374: Weapons[152]. A particular weapon suggests physical and vocal behaviour. A machine gun, a pistol, a knife, a cannonball, a bazooka, etc. is given movement and sounds. (Example: a rapier suggests thrusting movements). Attention! It is not a question about naturalistic movement and sounds, but what these weapons suggest.

Exercise 1.375: Man turns into machine[153]: The participants choose each a machine they use in daily life – a coffee machine, a computer, a kitchen aid, a tractor, a car. A problem arises. They try to repair the machine. Step by step, by osmosis, the participant turns themself into the machine.

Note! These observation and recreation exercises are central to the movement-based actor.

Stimulation of physical fantasy by memory-stimuli

To move in different ‘imagined’ and remembered milieus: exercises 1.376–1.382

Exercise 1.376: Imagine: the floor gives way like a swamp, you walk on catapults, on needles, on a hot roof, etc.

Exercise 1.377: Move with pressure: make marks and imprints.

Exercise 1.378: Bounce (on an imaginary rubber mat).

Exercise 1.379: Falling, or to be pushed down, in softness.

Exercise 1.380: Walk in imaginary milieus, in groups. The instructor proposes one milieu after the other: ‘Walk on a soft floor, slimy, wet, wading in water, rocky place, a place with glass-shards, cacti, oil, marmalade, rubber, (re-bonds!) ice, wind blowing from one side, hot coals on the floor, bullets flying at knee height, the air is filled with invisible pillows, ice cream falling from the sky, snow, etc. moving through clouds, through the universe, move as if in a greenhouse, climb on stones on the riverbank, a sandy beach, climb a mountain, swim through a river, on the sea, fly through air, through a storm, move in a cathedral, in a cave, on an ice floe, on lava…’

Exercise 1.381: Observe and imitate moving animals or objects. In a specific place you find popcorn, quicksilver, oil, rubber bands, a dirty handkerchief, a diamond, a syringe, a kitten, a moving snake, etc.

Exercise 1.382: Solo or in pairs, try to catch a hen, a hedgehog, a cat, to push a cow etc. Catching a living fish in a pond, a beetle, a wasp, a newborn baby, a dirty handkerchief. Play with a kitten.

Action improvisations

Exercises 1.383–1.384

Exercise 1.383: Actor A is occupied by doing something (props may be used). B observes from the ‘outside’ and joins in after a moment. No speaking!

Exercise 1.384: (Continuation of the exercise above). A and B have a common action or occupation. C observes A and B for a while, joins, A and B react.

Note! After each physical work, stretching is necessary. There is specific literature about it.

With the last exercises of level I we have arrived at observation, collaboration between human beings and characters.