PeTRI, Physical Theater Research Initiative, Kent Alexander (theater, Social Justice), Mary Ramsay (Authentic Movement), and I (improvisation practices), is exploring embodied aspects of text. I am inspired by the work of Toshiki Okada, Japanese experimental choreographer/playwrite, which I discovered on a flyer from the Japan Society in my inbox at work. Below is a video clip of some early research, an “embodied close reading” of the epigraph of Roland Barthes’s Empire of Signs.

This photo is from Part One: Hot Pepper by Toshiki Okada at the Holland Festival, one of our items of research.



ArtSpoken: Post-structuralists suffer from the limited tools of their dead white ancestors. What if Roland Barthes had been a dancer? In Body/Face/Writing, I develop and apply methods of embodied close reading to the opening epigraph of Barthes’s The Empire of Signs. We allow signs to retreat at our own peril. Time to occupy text.

“Text does not “gloss” the images, which do not “illustrate” the text. For me, each has been no more than the onset of a kind of visual uncertainty, analogous perhaps to that loss of meaning zen calls a satori. Text and image, interlacing, seek to ensure the circulation and exchange of these signifiers: body, face, writing; and in them to read the retreat of signs.” Roland Barthes

Blog: After a year of studying Chinese language, I made the Red Shoes, an investigation of movement as a support in the learning of a second language. Due to scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to continue daily Chinese language classes, so I decided to sit in on a grad dance class, Dance History and Literature, taught by Lester Tomé, the Smith College dance scholar. Physical theater was mentioned as one of the grad’s research topics and I suddenly remembered seeing Toshiki Okada’s flyer in my inbox. My research topic became Japanese aesthetics at work in Okada’s choreographed plays. (Japanese aesthetics don’t seem to be listed anywhere as a major influence of his.) I was about to write my paper when I thought, hmmm, better perform that research first, and PeTRI was born.

This semester, thanks to Smith College’s employee benefits, I am continuing my research in Sabina Knight’s Contemporary Chinese Women’s Literature, in which we are learning (literary) close reading skills. There are some performative opportunities in the class, watch out!

This video clip is a pilot project, an “embodied close reading” of the epigraph of Roland Barthes’s Empire of Signs I made in December 2012. We are continuing the research on Barthes in PeTRI.

Body Face Writing from Melinda Buckwalter on Vimeo.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s