The Other - Angel & Witness - Masks At Work

Diversity Project –  Amsterdam Hogeschool voor Kunst

February’s Mask project involved students from Hogeschool voor Kunst and choreographer Liat Waysbort.

We normally make this unit ‘The Voice of Physicality-The Physicality of Voice’ around a theme and work to integrate the use of text and movement for dancers.

I offered to take them through a Journey with mask to help explore the theme of The Other. We wanted to work with diversity and the rich environment of internationals in MTD 3 seemed perfect material. Mask lends itself to examination of this theme too precisely because it is so ‘other’ .

The Mask

Participants were first taught how to read a mask, how to step into the shoes of something foreign and alien to them, how to animate shape and form, by breathing life into an object.


They discovered and took on a quality revealed only to them through their unique and personal process of embodiment, that eventually gave voice to some internal ‘wisdom’ the mask had, as a statement or advice for the audience. Sometimes in another language.

IMG_0408 The Angel

The ritualistic and trance-like style of movement needed in mask work certainly gives an indication of ‘other’ in its presence. And when it appeared onstage, we named this influence ‘Angel’.

The Witness

There’s another influence as audience, that also changes the state or quality of things through observation and we named these more ‘external’ perspectives ‘Witness’. Because they were an interpretation of what was happening in the group on stage.

When the individual work was done we started to assemble in 2’s and 3’s to make interactions.

Relationships are constantly moving in figures of 8, in and out of dialogue, interpretation and reaction.

We played with this, in and out of mask, remembering the qualities and recognising them in each other and ourselves.

We shared dreams and found non-linear stories to deconstruct into feeling and physical expression. We created space for exploring and experimenting outside the comfort zones of ‘dance’ and verbal meaning of recognisable text.

We were able to take on the aspects we saw, felt, or were gifted with and allow them in turn to transform our own narratives and structures.

‘Here, let’s share, take this, it’s mine, I want you to know me.’

It was synchronous to read the title of films at the cinema that night. ‘Call me by Your name’  and ‘The Shape of Water’ both gave their content over to understanding perceptions and prejudices other than our own and merging, mingling ourselves into the one heartbeat we share as humans.

So the Journey was multidimensional. Their own process, in the mask, to reveal qualities, their position as Witness to others’ interaction and to be gifted with a quality from someone else, that they may not have chosen themselves, but had to take on.

Weaving these 3 influences into a structure or direction, which could then be looped and played with into physical and verbal narratives that were fresh, spontaneous responses to the moment, was engaging and insightful for both audience and participant.

We shared our compositions visually and will never forget the visceral experience of The Other.


We didn’t get to play with exclusion and inclusion, which would have been the next step in this process: a very powerful experience that creates affinity and awareness of how delicate our social fabric can be when supporting or destroying those that ‘don’t fit in’.

That will be my next project with Philippa Collin, Anthropologist and Social Entrepreneur, who is busy connecting various groups of councillors, academic institutions, and communities to support refugees of status in their next steps.


About author

From her Masters in Psychology & Theatre, Grainne is inspired by dark, dirty stories and is passionate about the art of transformation. Her fascination with multiple points of view led to her establishment of Mask Work as a provocative and intuitive way to explore and connect inner experiences to external actions. When she’s not jumping to the end of a detective novel to see if she’s right, she’s understanding her body through Aikido.

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