Jonathan Pitches

Jonathan Pitches

I'm an academic and a Professor of Theatre and Performance at the University of Leeds in the UK. I am lead educator for the Physical Theatre online course.



  • Hi Everyone. I'm Jonathan and I'm head of the School of performance and cultural industries at the University of Leeds. I have led courses on future learn in the past, but here I'm interested in more general principles of arts fundraising. There is a definite push in the University to look in targeted ways at philanthropy and giftgiving. And although I know...

  • I'm a theatre academic and Head of School at a University in the UK. My research has moved towards climate crisis and its relationship to live art and performance. And my school leadership has sustainability as a core principle. Looking for a wider understanding of the science and for suggestions for positive action.

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  • Yes - I agree about the need for a blend of documentation Isabella. Thank you very much for sharing yours. Annotating the images with the biomechanical terms is very helpful. But as you say you lose something of the overall form and its rhythm. Really nice work.

  • This is excellent Emelia: a really inventive and striking approach to documentation. One rah eyes I have been teaching this course students have pushed the boundaries of the documentation finding new ways of emphasising the form and feeling of the etude. You have done precisely that. Great work!

  • Thanks Amy. This is all very clear. And yes weight balance is absolutely crucial.

  • Many thanks Fenella. Great to see this, and particularly to hear you dictate the tripartite rhythm of the etude. There is a nice physical form here and a clear rhythmic clarity. One area of development would be to emphasise the difference between the posil and the tochka, so that the latter is definitively the moment of pause. At the moment the two elements...

  • Great work Nutcha. I particular like the observation that you make: "Since these two moves have the opposite directions, the former action emphasizes the latter one." This is exactly right, and explains a lot about biomechanics' purpose. These opposite actions heighten emphasis and engage our curiosity as spectators.

  • @RobynW Very clear documentation Robyn. Sorry to miss your photos in the PDF but this will be useful in the long run if and when you return to the training. Many thanks for sharing.

  • Yes - Mark. That's exactly right. Meyerhold even wrote about Chaplin and set him up as a model of biomechanical acting. Look up M's essay: Chaplin on Chaplinism....

  • Yes - it is Yvonne. But if you get the working solo part sorted now, you can work with a partner later to move the etude on further. Keep trying!

  • Only if you want to Diba. But it's a good idea to do so if you want to go on further with the training.

  • Nice work Charlotte. And thanks so much for sharing. Have look at your first move which I think is using your left hand not the right. But after that the Slap itself is nicely executed. Well done!

  • Lovely work Mirza. I particularly like your body shape at the end of the the 'Shake' move. I would encourage you to be more expansive with your gestures, particularly as your arm goes back in the Preparation to Shake move. Great to see this work!

  • Thanks for your great documentation @PaigeLyons . I like the 'attack' you bring to the action. Have another look at the beginning of the action Preparation to Slap - you go down with your body at the moment and the action is more directly backwards. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is excellent Ho Ting Chim. I really like the confident stance and smooth action of the etude. Try now to emphasise the distinction between otkaz, posil and tochka a little more to give your movements definition. Great work!

  • Hi Pourandokht. I think the answer is practice in moderation. If your feet are trembling it might be to do with the new ways you are asking them to work. Parallel feet is a strange stance after all. Take each day slowly and allow your body to adjust to the etude.

  • Yes - thanks Fenella. I would agree that warming the hips is a good step for etude work. They are used quite extensively in most etudes.

  • @ElaheRahmani Yes! That sense of surprise is a dramaturgical keynote to the etudes I think. It's there in the Throwing the Stone etude too and Shooting the Bow - and it's a model for how action on stage can incite reactions in an audience.

  • Thanks Ronja - that mix of violence and comedy is unsettling isn't it? In the Slap that mix is explored in the one etude, with tap-dancing juxtaposed with aggression (an aggression which is equal across both partners).

  • Yes Bex - these are very much the sources from which Meyerhold was drawing inspiration. An etude is a melodrama in microcosm!

  • Yes - nice point Vita. We can't put all naturalistic theatre in the same basket and there are countless examples of thought provoking naturalistic plays.

  • @JessH This is great! Thank you so much for sharing your training with us. We can't see all of it, as the video cuts you off a bit, but the angular shapes of your arms and the general rhythm are very nicely performed. One question: it looks like you're losing your left hand not your right hand for the slap. Both sides, either passive or active, slap with the...

  • This is really thoughtful documentation Sarah. I particularly liked your point that:

    "the othkaz was important in generating the feelings attached to the posil, where the tochka provided a consolidatory moment – I could reflect-in-action on the impact of each move with the space that surrounded me".

    Reflection in action is at the heart of...

  • Excellent work Katie. The links to Mnouchkine are very interesting I think and these are good research sources. I've become fascinated in trying to trace how ideas such as biomechanics cross boundaries and cultural contexts. It's often very difficult to do that tracing and one must be careful not to assume links. The other important thing is to share that...

  • Good questions here Nicole. To answer one of them (5): yes, well observed, the Étude is led by the right side. Other etudes are left-leaning (as it were) and all the preparatory exercises shift from left to right, ensuring that there is a balance. The key thing here is that you noticed! A biomechanical sensibility does precisely that: notice things that might...

  • Thanks @ValeriaGadetskya . I recognise some of that resistance to change and overt traditionalism you indicate from my own visits to Russia. Its is of course ironic because the so-called iconic reference points from history were at the time absolutely committed to change and experiment.

  • Thanks for these Moses - the image of Lenin is so rich and multifaceted as you indicate.

  • Interesting you noticed that Catriona. 'Coined' as a term points to the construction, of course, of a particular narrative of material and scientific integrity and rigour, some of which was true of the biomechanics practice and some of which was clearly not! This should become clear as the course proceeds.

  • Yes Christine - I recognise this feeling of romanticism and the tension between that and the very harsh realities of post-revolutionary politics in the country.

  • Yes - good questions! In these biomechanical studies or Études, it is the active member who dictates the rhythm, and the passive member who follows. This, of course, swaps halfway through, so this is not a hierarchical tempo rhythm. It begs the question who is active and who is passive in a scene, or for that matter in an ensemble exercise? These are sometimes...

  • Thanks Jason for making that point: "Just because I have, as @Moses G wrote, "muscle memory," that doesn't mean my understanding and use of the knowledge will be helpful or truthful to someone else". It's a very important one. How do we, as performers and teachers, bridge the gap between our own embodied experiences and our partners'?

  • Thanks Bridie for this really informative post. Interesting to hear about the non-competitive movement of the 1980s, as you call it. I suspect some of the political radicalism which fuelled that movement came in part from the tradition established by Meyerhold and seems once again to be on the rise, at least in the UK.

  • Hi Valeria. There will be lots for you I'm sure in the course. Week three has a number of practitioner interviews, talking about the relationship between biomechanics and contemporary physical theatre. But of course there is the practice in week two as well!

  • Hi Moses. Congratulations on completing your training. But of course, one never finishes training! So, hopefully this course will provide further stimulus and possibly even some skills.

  • Hi Brad. Many thanks for sharing that experience. I think I know this play, but have never seen it. It's an amazing and harrowing story of course, both of misplaced loyalty, and betrayal.

  • @ZoeBarltrop - Hello and welcome! Lots of meeting points of course between circus and Meyerhold.

  • It's true - though I have plans for future courses looking at other practices. The two-week version will still run though - Exploring the Slap.

  • Hi Lorelie and welcome. Lots of teachers have used this in the past and it's great to know that you might be doing the same. Let me know how it's going down with your students as the course proceeds.

  • I really like this observation. You characterise the 21st century very well I think in its endless call to diversify and keep ahead. There are some problems with this of course. But verticality as potentially obsoletion-inducing is a provocative and telling thought. And this idea operating across disciplines is similarly well observed. In other writing, I have...

  • Yes. Good points Michelle. I think the division between Meyerhold and Stanislavsky is misleading. Yes he (M) was forced out of the Moscow Art Theatre in the early days but they shared much in common. Not least the urge to experiment.

  • Very much agree. And then there’s all the rest of the work an actor does nowadays. Self tapes, website maintenance, agent management ! Meyerhold’s world was in some ways simpler.

  • Fascinating response Lorelie. And sorry to hear about those car smashes. You’re absolutely right that these sorts of histories change our bodies and that we have to adapt to them. The example of sports training, is particularly relevant, I think. Here is where the kinaesthetic understanding of one’s own body is absolutely necessary to stop injury. As you will...

  • Yes - tracing the training is a key element of embodying it @Nicolep - thanks for raising that. Recognising how these ideas are passed on generation to generation, is part of protecting its integrity and valuing the contributors to the tradition over the years. Laban has the advantage of its own language and formalised documentation - but you need very...

  • Hi Su - yes that is a real challenge for busy people. Take each exercise as it comes and remember you can always return to the material later. Consider downloading some of the videos for instance. Hope you enjoy it!

  • I was surprised by the music in the first piece (Revolt) which felt like it was overlaid afterwards, clashing with the sensibility and gestures of the performer. But there was also a classical music phrase in the second piece (Smallpox) so I am left wondering how music operates in this form and how it complements and clashes with the energies on stage.

  • Yes I have heard of Tatsumi Hijikata from the book in Routledge by Fraleigh and Nakamura. I am a theatre academic in Leeds in the UK and have developed a growing fascination for Butoh, sharing this with my students. I am very excited to see the archival materials which form part of this course. I have just finished a book on mountains and performance and I'm...

  • I think philanthropy is viewed with some suspicion in UK arts, and doesn't have the purchase it does in other countries, for instance in the US. So how to win over potential advocates for philanthropy is one significant challenge.

  • Hi everyone. I'm a colleague of Ben's and fascinated to see how the question of C21st funding and fund-raising is played out in this international forum. I'm a theatre academic not a practitioner but have served on Boards of cultural organisations and am currently collaborating with Red Ladder Theatre company, here in Leeds, to develop a research-led project...

  • Yes - definitely on purpose @AdaneGetachewShikur ! The idea was to explore actions on different surfaces to test the flexibility and adaptability of the performers and to make 'space' part of their immediate concerns. One contemporary image is here:

  • Nice fluid movement Adane. And a very good shape to the body on 'shake'. The right hand as it comes down and through could be more in a direct line and the otkaz before this could be more pronounced, as you identify. But very nice to see and is this on the roof of a building??? Just as many of Meyerhold's early actors did back in the 1920s.

  • Dear Sylwia, many thanks for this innovative way into the documentation task. There's more than a touch of Leonardo in this image and I very much like the idea that it is partly inspired by the movement work we have been doing.

  • Very nice set of questions Louise.

    On the first question, in respect of directing with biomechanics, the key thing here is not to be too mechanistic with the application. A common approach is to separate rehearsals from biomechanical training, with a short break between. This is the approach I took many years ago working on the Government Inspector. The...

  • Hi Sandra. I'm guessing you have read my article Spinal Snaps, is that correct? I'm not sure I quite understand your question. But I'll have a go at saying something. I argue in that essay: that the Meyerholdian centre is in the thoracic zone of the body (and by...

  • I can Adane. The slap is a perfect example of a practical exercise being caught up with its history. It is related both to the commedia dell'arte experiments being undertaken before the revolution and the industrialisation, inspired by Frederick Winslow Taylor, which featured in much discourse after the revolution. From the former, we obviously get the sense...

  • Proper Job Theatre in the UK are perhaps the most obviously influenced by Meyerhold as they have had a lot of training from Gennady Bogdanov. More historically, Joan Littlewood's work owed a significant debt to Russian theatre and to Meyerhold (as well as Laban and Stanislavsky!)

  • Nice point @DanaBlackstone : PhD research as horizontal learning. This is a development I think from older models of supervisor-master, supervisee-pupil. Is this a practice-based PhD or are you using practical investigation as part of an entirely written thesis?

  • Never too late CL! Would be interested to hear how you connect your own experience of Noh with this work on Meyerhold's etudes. Please do comment later in the course.

  • Hello Semiramis. Good luck in your training - my son is also in training to be an actor. There will be lots of things here you can use in preparation and in performance. Hope you enjoy the course.

  • Dear Maria - you are very welcome to the course. Hoping that there is something here for your varied work.

  • Agreed - good questions everyone - Amy and I will be answering some of these questions later this week.

  • Welcome Analia - you're not very far away at all! I'd be fascinated to hear how you feel the physicality of Meyerhold adapts to the digital domain here (and beyond), as would my colleague Dr Maria Kapsali - current researching in this area.

  • Thanks Caroline and I would love to hear more in time about whether your boys find any inspiration in some of these ideas. Sport and Theatre meet in biomechanics after all!

  • @erkuttokman Good luck with that performance Erkut - and don't feel the need to rush to apply these principles and techniques. The more they seep into your bones, over time, the more organic will be the impact on your own practice.

  • Yes Maya - the pragmatic and professional gains of horizontal curiosity are clear!

  • Hi Erkut - yes I agree with this and like the suggestion that each actor must have their own alphabet, as you term it. You might know that Stanislavsky called for a grammar of acting as he put his System together. But your suggestion is more radical - that each actor generates their own grammar. The key challenge there is - how do actors communicate? Is a...

  • Some very helpful reflections here Erin. I particularly like the idea of being hyper aware. Much of this training is absolutely about developing an eye outside of oneself.

  • Hi Dina. No the Dactyl comes before the Leap to the Stance and is a different action. But yes it is an anchor point. The Dactyl is kind of theatrical call to arms or a readying. It prepares the actor and connects her with her partner. It also kicks off the sense of a threefold rhythm to action. And, one two.

  • Yes - exactly right Analia. Exploring different rhythms is exactly the way to develop this exercise.

  • Yes - nice observation Su. There is a 'natural' tripartite rhythm to throwing! Perhaps this explains why Meyerhold liked sport so much as reference point.

  • Hi Erkut. Hope you find what you are looking for in this course.

  • Welcome Danilo. Meyerhold would love the fact that an Industrial engineer is taking the course, without a doubt!

  • A micro-world exercise! Yes indeed Teodora, I agree. The etudes are very much that - an archetype of the training as a whole. I would say that Michael Chekhov's Psychological gesture is the in the same category in his Technique.

  • Yes - some excellent reflections here Teodora. Working from solo up to pair work always adds further complexity and challenge and this can be explored with the stick balancing exercise. Try to hold the hand of a partner, whilst each of you balance the stick on your flat palm. Then move across the space together. Not easy!

  • Thanks for your thoughts Dina - some interesting ideas here and I like the consideration about how to adapt the work for different audiences. I think the ball exercises work with all ages - I've certainly used them from 10 upwards. But the sticks can be off putting. Bean bags would be a good start to embodying the rhythm of otkaz, posil and tochka and this...

  • That's fine Angela (and see my comment above about the ball work).

  • Not to worry Marina - the same principles are embedded in the ball work, if you can find a tennis ball.

  • Understood @SandradoCarmoPennadaSilva! And thanks for your perspective on this fascinating question.

  • Yes Matthew. You make some good observations here. These steps are anything but complete as you rightly point out and as the rhythm of learning is determined by the learner - you not me - the responsibility for development is shifted radically. This taster might however give you a sense of whether a longer training in biomechanics would be worthwhile for you....

  • Yes - this is fiendishly difficult even though it looks so easy. But it's an excellent way of getting one to shift weight with lightness and balance. Keep going!

  • Hi Marina - no need for a partner as the etude can be practiced solo - If you have one though, bring them on board!

  • Thanks for the very positive feedback Valerie. We worked very hard on the videos as you can tell and particularly on the animated versions of the etudes - they became a labour of love for our wonderful animator, Tom.

  • Dear Giaele. Welcome to the course. I hope you enjoy it.

  • Dear Erin - you are welcome. One or two learners this time are interested in applied work and wanting to think of Meyerhold in that light. Looking forward to hearing what connections you make.

  • Hi Jamie - welcome to the course and hoping you can make good sense of this course alongside your MA studies.

  • Hi Lorelei. Your students are certainly getting a lot of stimulus! As the founding father of physical theatre (arguably!), there should be lots of helpful stuff here from Meyerhold's practice.

  • Hi Olga - and welcome. Hoping you find what you are looking for. There are lots of teaching tools here.

  • Hi Sally - vertical training does tend to the more didactic - partly to preserve the integrity of the form in question. But (deep) character work can be both vertical or horizontal. If the former, you would be following an established generational approach such as Stanislavsky's or Strasberg's. If the latter, you might borrow, simultaneously, across a range of...

  • An excellent philosophy Oren - I agree with much of this. You point out all the dangers of horizontalism and some of its virtues too - many thanks! Balance is key.

  • Hi Analia - no need for a partner - unless you have willing collaborator! The etude can be practiced solo and then worked together later as a duet. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Yes Analia - play is so central to these etudes - and I like that word Ludic. Another prominent Russian practitioner, Anatoly Vasiliev (much later in the 80s and 90s) coined the term ludic theatre to explain how he was going beyond Stanislavsky.

  • Do you mean the etudes Manish or the course as whole? The etudes were definitely part of Meyerhold's approach to acting - alongside many other pieces of the curriculum, including movement and commedia classes, art and theatre history and circus skills. The course here is kind of acting course - but only a taster of what biomechanics can offer.

  • These are good sources Emily. The etudes are from the 1920s, before Kustov joined the Meyerhold company and you will see that they are much less formalised. In the first video, the famous Stab to the Chest étude is performed. It is interesting that Meyerhold saw the need to record them even though it would have been difficult to do so, a point on documentation...

  • @AlejandroCuetara Thanks for the further details. Over the term of the course, I'd be interested to hear what you make of biomechanics as tool for screen acting (as opposed to stage acting).

  • Hi Sandra. And welcome to the course. Great to hear that you are passing this work on to your pupils. There are so many potential therapeutic spin offs to biomechanics but next to nothing written about that. Looking forward to hearing how YOU make the connections.

  • Hi Veronica. Great to have you on the course. If you have done the two week Slap course there is a lot of cross over with this course - but this one runs for three weeks and has myself and a team of mentors interacting throughout. I do hope you enjoy it.

  • And if you don't want to do all of the exercises that's fine. The footwork needs no equipment at all and many of the principles of the stick work are also taught through the ballwork. Hope you enjoy the practice!

  • There is no history book which tells of both Laban and Meyerhold in the same volume (as far as I know) but you can find out lots about each of them in separate volumes - the RPP series has books on Meyerhold and Laban, for instance: (This is the revised series - Laban may only be in...

  • @KatrinaCarter Good work to find what little there is on the women in Meyerhold's life. You might also want to look at the Introduction to the new edition of Braun's excellent book (2016), which I was honoured to write a couple of years ago . There I have included a section on strategies for Reading Meyerhold which attempts to elevate a number of women in...

  • They do exist Helen and Emily. The essays on stylisation are in Edward Braun's anthology of Meyerhold's writings, Meyerhold on Theatre 4th Edition (2016, p.57-75) and the Programme is in Marjorie Hoover's book on Meyerhold, The Art of Conscious Theater (1974, Appendix 3, p. 311-315). Others might find online sources - so please do post links if you do.

  • Some very pertinent examples Angela - many thanks. There was little love lost between Evreinov and Meyerhold - as you might know. Evreinov publically accused Meyerhold of theatrical plagiarism: "He possesses a character which too easily succumbs to the influence of others" he said in an article entitled 'Originality at someone else's expense'. You can read...