Shakespeare, a woman!?

A homage to Kristin Linklater

Traduction en français bientôt 

Kristin Linklater, voice and acting teacher and performer,
died June 5th 2020 in her Voice Centre and home
in the isle of Orkney, Scotland.
She was the author of two books:
Freeing the Natural Voice (1976) and
Freeing the Shakespeare Voice (1992).

The passing of Kristin is a sad loss and a hard knock: I valued her enormously and, at one point in our lives, we became excellent friends and undertook some of the most original and challenging projects I have been involved in, impelled by her intrepid generosity, and my appreciation for her charismatic integrity. We were hoping to collaborate further, but her character took her North, to Orkney, and mine, South, to the Mediterranean superstitions. It speaks for our divergent make-ups and for a special kind of attraction, including the legendary attraction of opposites. And it made for a sturdy friendship.


New York was our meeting point. We met after she moved there from Boston, in the early 1990’s, in what was clearly a strong change in her life and artistic outlook. Before she accepted the chair of theatre at Columbia, she took a sabbatical year to test her way and try different horizons. To my very pleasant surprise, she asked to participate in a laboratory juxtaposing texts and dance, at the 1995 Myth and Theatre Festival. She wanted to do it anonymously. At first, she would cast fierce looks at me like saying: “I am too old and dignified to be rolling around like this”. The group included particularly handsome male dancers – and I should add: all, experienced and very sure-handed. After a few days, asked with whom she would like to work with, Kristin whispered « all the men… ». She was quite feather-weight at the time, and, sure enough, at sixty or so, she was flying around the studio, literally.

I appreciated her all the more because I confessed early that, although I esteemed the nature and principles of her approach to theatre (she was the best teacher and practitioner of diction and Shakespeare of our ‘era’), I was going in an entirely different direction. She growled at me quite a few times, called me a few names, and made me feel mean, but we remained good friends, and, especially, we addressed the Gordian knot between us in three creative projects.

We came to agree that we parted on the notion and implications of “psychological realism”, and especially as applied to Shakespeare; essentially classical theatre. Kirstin was a passionate and extraordinary classicist. My choreographic theatre work leans towards “non-narrative” performance, with a strong inclusion of text – which is where we met.

The first project was a two-week joint summer workshop in New York (1998) deliberately titled “Trust and Betrayal”: two parallel groups who changed teacher at lunch break. We announced we would not confer on strategies or topics. It was a professional workshop and each participant had to sort out the contradictions she or he encountered. It worked, especially because of the questions raised, which we aired in discussions and an excellent final meeting. The in-depth and in-work dialogues between us were some of the best and widest-ranging in my career. She could certainly argue her case, but she also knew how to consider a different view. See WORKSHOP NOTES.

I returned to New York to direct a graduation performance at Columbia University for a project titled GREED, The Bacchae Project. The project was conceived and produced by her students, while she looked from afar, not involved; I was witness though to the polemics on physical training, with Kristin departing from Viewpoints and Suzuki.

This was followed by another project, involving Kristin, centrally, and described as follows in the brochure of the 2000 Festival, On Gossip: “…a Linklater/Pardo conspiracy which resulted in a production entitled The Shakespeare Betrayal, directed by Pardo in which Linklater embodied the illegitimate half-sister of the Earl of Oxford — revealing the real authors of the canon.” Those who knew her know what this meant to her, and how much: Shakespeare, a woman!?

We went as far as we could go in tandem and with Shakespeare. In a sense, Kristin was too solid and knowing to be ‘deconstructed’ and ‘set up’ in choreographic theatre stratagems. She could interpret any character in any way she was asked to. And Shakespeare’s genius is too metaphorically rich and compact to be stretched into further metaphor grids. It was the gamble we set out to experiment. We partly succeeded, though not necessarily where we wanted to. The public got to see her virtuoso Shakespeare characters and language renditions, albeit, psychologically unorthodox to say the least – but still ‘realistic’. I got to work with one of the greatest theatre artists I have encountered. For me, it was a lesson. I was lucky, in the sense in which French scholar Roberte Hamayon puts it: “You are a shaman as long as your luck lasts.” I gathered some star-dust from this great lady and shall forever be grateful.

Dear Kristin, I regret bitterly – bitter like the best of Scotch whiskies! – not having seen and heard you in your element, up there, on your North Sea acoustic island where, I understand, the wind can blow the sheep off the cliffs. Your spirit now flies free, cracking its cheeks in the best of Shakespeare company…

Enrique Pardo, Malérargues, June 11, 2020

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