Improvisation Journal #2

It’s now past the middle of the semester, and we’ve covered a lot in Bebe Miller’s improvisation course. We’ve explored states and tone, ensemble work, contact improvisation, and even danced outside a couple times.

Yesterday’s class, though, was especially poignant to me. Bebe had asked us to come in with 5 “elements” we wanted to explore. Those might be states, scores, activities, whatever. My ideas were that I wanted to explore 1. effort and weight. 2. the ability to trust myself to take weight from other people 3. successful trio form (ie. not just a duet and a solo and then switch) 4. a compositional eye vs. an individual eye.

As luck would have it, we worked in trios! My group exchanged ideas and then were given some time to improvise and discuss what was happening along the way.  My group discovered that each idea had a roughly 30 second life span, followed by a 15 second transition, and then a new 30 second idea.  To counter this pattern, we played with purposefully trying to stick with one idea for a long time. Sometimes interesting things happened, and sometimes things got boring or weird. 

What I love about improvisation is that all the elements of “real life” somehow work their way into the studio. Improvisation leads to some truly beautiful, breath-taking, and often risky moments, but it also leads to boredom, discomfort, and uncertainty.

My group experienced all of these things in our exploration, but our final iteration of it was largely successful. We enlivened the space, related to each other, lifted and supported our bodies, used detail and nuance, and also allowed new ideas to form without forgetting what had come before. In those exhilarating moments of improvisation, I have a sense of the hugeness of time, but can also be lost in one moment. It’s what makes me want to stick with this whole dance business.

My takeaways from yesterday’s class were mostly about the importance of trust, both within yourself and with your dancing partners, and it’s important to remember that trust takes time to develop. At times in the past two months I have felt frustrated by the lack of intimacy I feel in the class, but then I remember that I just moved here and just met everyone.  It takes time to develop those types of relationships with others and that kind of awareness in ourselves. I don’t think the type of improvisation state I experienced yesterday would have been possible even a week earlier.  Sometimes it’s frustrating to ride those experiences out, but we can actually relax and trust the form itself to get us there in the end, and in the right time.

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One thought on “Improvisation Journal #2

  1. I’m curious about art in general and dance in particular as a research tool for other aspects of life. The ways in which the form imitates, explodes, and hides the different dynamics at play. I think the power of this kind of tool or line of thinking is most obvious in examining relationships between people, between bodies. Dance is rather inescapably figurative in a way that other art forms are not. I think this is why dance lends itself so well to narrative (intended and unintended), but it’s also why even the most abstract of compositions can leave deep visceral feelings of longing, disconnection, wholeness in the viewer and this experience can happen inside improvisation as well. The practice of improvisation seems to play into many of our most basic emotions; trust, belonging, uncertainty, “rightness”. And, of course, some of us are quicker to feel trust, belonging, certainty. I am just continually struck by how much of the high art of dance simply depends on the people in the room and what rooms we as choreographers, teachers, movers choose to be in. There is knowledge in this form that I think would benefit from a much larger room, but I am also much slower with trust, belonging, certainty so my desire for a broader room, might mostly have to do with the lack of connection I often feel in this one.

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