WE know it when we see it: an exquisitely timed cover drive sending the cricket ball hurtling towards the boundary; Michael Jordan, airborne, spinning with the basketball; Roger Federer, on or off the tennis court. We know it equally on the big screen. ‘One of the chief qualities that made Sean [Connery] such a big star in those early James Bonds was his movement,’ said TV director Philip Saville. ‘His hand movement, his agility; he was an altogether organic man. It’s a very important quality if you’re making action movies. Steve McQueen had it, he had the natural sense of forward movement and all his body co-ordinated. Sean had it in spades.’
Beautiful movement is easier to admire than to achieve. As we mature, the rigours of professional life tend to favour our intellects. Although many of us may claim to incorporate physical exploits into our weekly routines, the realities of a political work environment, not to mention wider social mores, mean that much of our physical expression is suppressed. Indeed, in most corporate settings, we’re more likely to be rewarded for a ‘poker face’. All of which is a shame, because expressive movement can be a blessing at any age.
Sir Sean was an unlikely initial match for Bond. He auditioned wearing a lumber jacket, yet he was observed leaving the producers’ Mayfair office, crossing South Audley Street, ‘like a big jungle cat,’ remarked one of them, Harry Saltzman. The actor was light on his feet, given his 6ft 2in frame. ‘The difference with this guy is the difference between a still photo and film,’ said co-producer Cubby Broccoli. ‘When he starts to move, he comes alive.’
Herein lies hope for us all, for what studying these men blessed with elegant movement typically reveals is a backstory of focused training and personal transformation. Gene Kelly’s dance routines look delightfully improvised and effortless, but he was a workaholic when it came to rehearsals. Jordan’s basketball game was barely even recognised when he was in high school. In Sir Sean’s case, between working as a milkman and playing Bond, he studied in London under the Swedish acting coach Yat Malmgren.
Malmgren’s approach (often known simply as YAT) is a potent cocktail of ingredients and an inscrutable sounding one at that. At its base is the objectives-focused method of Russian theatre practitioner Konstantin Stanislavski (as found in the actor’s question: ‘What’s my motivation in this scene?’). Next comes the personality-typing of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung (introvert, extrovert, feeling, sensing and so on, which separately underpin the Myers-Briggs test used in corporate recruitment). Then, there is an admixture of movement psychology and movement classification, courtesy of choreographer Rudolf von Laban, who was run out of Nazi Germany by Joseph Goebbels. Finally, there’s a set of ‘inner attitudes’ that describe the psychological nature of character. Crucial is the relationship between psychological drives and externalised movement.
‘It all sounds terribly alienating and full of shit,’ said Colin Firth, who was also schooled in the technique. ‘I found that after a couple of years of it, it started to make an enormous amount of sense… I still use it.’ The system can be understood through studying examples, through experience (taking classes) and through key ‘takeaways’.
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