Techniques of Training Pain in Performance
: Somatic Practices and Altered States of Consciousness

  • Pavlos Kountouriotis

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This practice-as-research project (a) invents, examines and self-reflects upon
    two techniques—Whirling in Pain and Neurobreathing—that the author has
    developed for dealing with pain in performance, (b) creates a framework for the
    qualitative analysis of pain retraining techniques by conducting an interdisciplinary
    study of the parameters that describe Somatic Practices and the psychology of Altered States of Consciousness, (c) establishes a taxonomy and classifications for describing and assessing techniques of pain management in the performing arts, (d) qualitatively assesses the training techniques of three practitioners —Antonin Artaud, Jerzy Grotowski and Marina Abramović—who have used Somatic Practices and Altered States of Consciousness in their techniques, and draws out patterns and themes in their practice, (e) distils generic principles of practice that are essential for training pain perception and could be used by other practitioners for developing their own techniques, or to better embody the techniques that the author has developed. These transferable principles are: reinforcement, exhaustion of pain-processing resources, inquisitive modes towards otherness, embodied knowledge, surrendering, Sisyphean reiteration, and music’s capacity for fascination.
    This dissertation considers the issue of dealing with pain in performance
    beyond the limited area of theatre pedagogy, suggesting an interdisciplinary approach and expanding its scope into the wider realms of theoretical discourse around culture and pain. This dissertation argues that since pain is not only a biochemical process but one that is culturally constructed, it is therefore possible to retrain or un-train the perception of pain through the facility of Somatic Practices that induce Altered States of Consciousness. Such retraining of pain perception has wider socio-political ramifications that challenge the pervading modern and neoliberal culture around pain, which understands it only through a reductively biological model and relies heavily on the use of exogenous analgesics to alleviate pain. Finally, this dissertation proposes that dealing with pain is possible not only by transcending and moving attentional focus away from pain, but also by entering a plane of immanence, achieved through working synergistically with pain in order to find the coping mechanisms and hidden reserves that lie dormant within the individual.

    The practical element of this submission consists of (a) a Manual for
    Practitioners that describes the techniques step-by-step, and explains the principles behind them and, (b) two performance videos that exhibit how the author has used the two techniques to create and manage pain within performances
    Date of Award8 Jun 2017
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SupervisorJennifer Parker-Starbuck (Supervisor) & Ernst Fischer (Supervisor)


    • Pain, somatic practices, altered states of consciousness, Performance art, live art, whirling dervishes, dance, training, immanence, transcendence

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