Monday, January 12, 2009

Contact Improvisation

I've been interested in contact improvisation for a while, and while in Seattle looked up classes in London. I was delighted to find that there was a regular Saturday class and jam session in Dalston, immediately down the road from the house I stayed at over the summer. I'm going to be away the next two weekends (MapMaking part II and Cornwall) and figured I would lose momentum if I didn't go this Saturday.

Contact improvisation is (according to Wikipedia) "a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for exploration through movement improvisation. Contact Improvisation is a form of dance improvisation and is one of the best-known and most characteristic forms of postmodern dance"

I had done a bit before in a dance class I took for a while last year that my friend Claudio led. Lots of rolling over your partner's back and weight management issues, balancing against the other dancer. The class itself on Saturday was fairly straight forward (well, if figuring out how to do headstands starting from being draped across your partners back is straight forward) it was the jam session after the class that really got interesting.

There were about 20 people for the class and a slightly different 20 people for the jam session after the class (This whole endeavor went from 11:30 in the morning to around 4 or 4:30.) I decided to stay around for the jam session because we had had a quick free dance with the class and I had ended up with a partner that I failed to communicated well with. It reminded me of the first totally free improvisation I did with actors at Open Call; it was so incredibly painful and self indulgent that it led to fantastic discussions of how improvisation can/could/should work. This was sort of the same thing- my partner and I weren't working well together, but also could NOT figure out how to break apart. Then the class ended, and I wanted to make sure that that wasn't my parting feeling of the class and the whole experience.

So a few things that I learned from watching and then dancing during the jam session:

1.The contact with your partner/partners can be incredibly slight- one fingertip even. Just so that there *is* contact and a clear intention of dancing with your partner.

2. People are as individual in their dancing styles as they are in everything else. For those who have taken Peggy Zhering's classes, you know how she talks about an individuals mark? The same sort of thing happens in dance. There was this one Brazilian woman who was great fun to dance with, all circles and tumbling about. I watched her later with other partners (after I had been completely worn out and left the mats for my water bottle) and the same sort of circular tumbles were happening with all of her partners. There was also this bouncy bouncy guy who was so energetic that you couldn't be calm while with him. I found myself flying through the air at one point while dancing with him... but watching him dance with super calm guy (the one fingertip guy) was sort of surreal, they were just on such completely different energy levels.

3. As with all improvisation (I am finding) it is easiest to do what your partner wants you to do when they/you make your/their intentions very clear. To the point of saying them out loud if that is necessary. I think it is like leading in swing dancing, you know what to do if your partner is leading. If you're both just waiting for something to happen, then it is going to be a frustrating dance. Also, if someone is bold and makes some sort of statement (if you will) then there is a much clearer trajectory. There is space for the dance to come to an end easily and sensically.

4. It is weird trying to ask someone to dance with you in a jam session. Sometimes it was easy: making eye contact and then moving towards the other person. (This got more difficult after I took my glasses off. It was a fairly large room and I just couldn't see!) But sometimes also it was having someone make contact with you or making contact yourself. Which is a bit of a tricky thing to balance. (Sometimes it was accidentally colliding with someone...)

5. Even if it doesn't seem like exercise necessarily, it is. I'm still quite sore two days later...

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