Much of the culturally invigorating edge in the Performers' Ensemble was developed during the youth of founding member Susan Galbraith. Daughter to career diplomat and ambassador Francis J. Galbraith, she made it a point to become involved in the cultures she encountered: "Wherever we were, I did the theater and dance of that particular country." Among the stops: Singapore (where she studied Indian dance) and Indonesia (Balinese dance); "I would also travel to Thailand and Japan and study those forms, as well."
When she helped found the Ensemble several years ago in Minneapolis, one principle Galbraith applied was the Asian integration of dance and theater. "There's not the separation that there is here," she points out. "Their storytelling is done through a sort of dance form so that it's a total performance more than a cerebral head trip."
The Minneapolis-based Ensemble, currently in residence at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theatre, has assimilated a wide variety of techniques and theater forms and reworked them in various shows, which have included an Indonesian dance of lighted candles, a dialect-rich South African play and a series of colloquial Australian one-acters. The Discovery presentation, "Journeys Through Imaginary Landscapes," blends Japanese haiku and tai chi-like movement.
A theater school is an important aspect of the Ensemble's work, because Galbraith finds that "most of the American training deals with emotional connection, so that actors are trained from the neck up, what I call television acting. But there are a lot of actors wanting to do more full-body kinds of shows, or more interesting things vocally, and there doesn't seem to be an integrated technique for the voice and body. We want to have total performers who will experiment with skills and techniques from other cultures, who will develop the actor as a full being."