Movement directors usually work closely with the director and the performers, collaborating with the creative team to realise the physical life of a work. They propose a physical language to performers and directors, and devise training methods or teach skills that will help facilitate a specific physical style. The movement director may create, or research and pass on, information about etiquette, ethnicities (including proxemics, gestural language, social codes, etc.), a character's condition (related to medical conditions within their historical context, and factors such as inebriation, pregnancy, etc.) and personal journey (ageing, etc.), as well as specialist movement (e.g. period dances, dexterity in falling, lifts and acrobatics, animal work, cross-gendered performance) or chorus work.
Although choreography is part of a movement director's skill-set, this does not mean that every choreographer is also a movement director. There are also important differences between the movement director and the fight director: the movement director will engage with the effect of the relevant weapons on posture, movement and emotional state, the fight choreography itself is directed by the specifically qualified fight director.
Specialist movement consultants may focus on other specific areas (e.g. as in the work on primate movement by the puppeteer Peter Elliot in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes). In recent years, fashion commerce has looked to develop campaigns, shoots and catwalk shows further with the help of professional dance-based movement directors and consultants, among them most notably, Stephen Galloway, Jordan Robson, Ryan Heffington, Ryan-Walker Page and Eric Christison.
The role described by the title of movement director today has been in existence since at least the start of the 20th century, although rarely mentioned in programmes or credits. Movement directors often work at a crossover point, shifting between teaching and directing movement for actors, and have also been termed as movement coach, theatre choreographer, or movement support.
The National Theatre created the role Head of Movement that was held by Jane Gibson for a period of ten years. Glynn MacDonald has been the long-standing Master of Movement at the Globe Theatre, collaborating with visiting movement directors and choreographers. 2009 saw an important development in the appointment of Struan Leslie as Head of Movement at the Royal Shakespeare Company. This was the only official Head of Movement position within a British theatre company at the time.
Many contemporary movement directors have established long running relationships with certain companies, with whom they have created a shared body of work and working methodology. These are for example Jane Gibson with Cheek by Jowl, Kate Flatt and Struan Leslie with Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre and English National Opera, and Liz Ranken with Shared Experience. Other contemporary movement directors include Michael Ashcroft, Peter Darling, Lucy Cullingford, Vanessa Ewan, Lea Hausmann, Steven Hogget and Scott Graham (Frantic Assembly), Georgina Lamb, Sue Lefton, Ita O'Brien, Dennis Sayers, Toby Sedgwick, Ayse Tashkiran, Sian Williams, Anne Yee, Joss Carter, Imogen Knight, Paul Harris, Diane Mitchell, Anna Morrissey, Paul Sadot.
Movement directors today emerge from a rich heritage of movement pedagogues and practitioners. French director and practitioner Jacques Lecoq, and movement theorist and pedagogue Rudolf Laban offer important influences. Many of their students and contemporaries became influential teachers of movement and movement directors in British theatre, often influenced by and interweaving with the lineage of contemporary dance as influenced by Laban, and the heritage of social and cultural dances. Claude Chagrin, who trained with Jacques Lecoq, was the movement person with the National Theatre Company before and while it became permanently resident in Denys Lasdun's National Theatre Building in 1976. She was also the first person to be credited for movement, on a production of The Royal Hunt of the Sun (dir. Peter Shaffer, 1964). Michel Saint-Denis taught movement in London and was an influential associate director alongside Peter Brook at the Royal Shakespeare Company from 1962 until 1966, introducing influences from his work in Paris with his uncle Jacques Copeau. Other notable teachers who have shaped British movement work today are Trish Arnold, Geraldine Stephenson, Jean Newlove, Litz Pisk, Yat Malmgren and Belinda Quirey.
Movement directors have sought to be named, in recognition of the existence of their profession, for many decades, and are increasingly gathering recognition. Relevant training for practitioners is now offered through recognized higher education degrees focusing on movement in theatre, such as the Master of Arts (MA) in movement studies at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, founded by Vanessa Ewan and Debbie Green in 2004, and now jointly led by Ayse Tashkiran and Vanessa Ewan, re-titled MA/MFA Movement: Directing and Teaching, and the MA in Training Actors Movement, led by Wendy Allnutt at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Manchester Metropolitan University also offers an MA in movement practice for theatre.
Movement director course leader at the Central School of Speech and Drama, Ayse Tashkiran, is researching a comprehensive history of movement direction and creating a platform where movement practitioners are able to share their work and facilitate an understanding of their profession by a wider audience. Industry initiatives to draw out the work of movement directors include the Young Vic and the Royal Shakespeare Company with a variety of workshops, apprenticeships and placements.
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