Dancer Informa Magazine
Improvisation: It’s all inside
There’s an arguably witty, yet wise response out there to the dismissive “My kid could draw that!” – “Well, he/she didn’t.” This is partly a pointing out of how “expressionist” artists, whose work at first might not seem to take much skill, were all classically trained before moving away from that classical mode of creation. That’s true of dancers as well; we must gain a technical framework in order to be able to let it go. With a technical foundation, we dancers can allow our mind and spirit to shine through our highly skilled body. That is when truly meaningful art can happen. It was inside of us all along.
Yet the process of learning how to do that, how to have a foundation of technique let one’s true self emerge through movement, is a difficult process for many dancers. When guided to move within a framework, rather than given the movement step by step, count by count, some dancers freeze – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally. It’s more important than ever for dancers to rise above that fear and stasis; we’re asked to be more and more versatile and be active agents in the creation of work, all the time.
Postmodernism also continues to evolve, perhaps morphing into a new sort of “Post-Postmodernism” with an eclecticism of movement idioms and approaches. Within this context, choreographers are continuously developing and refining improvisational structures and other ways in which improvisation shapes dance-making. Dance Informa spoke with three choreographers on the roles of improvisation in their creative processes, how they support and nurture their dancers through that work, and more.
Sheena Annalise, founder, owner and artistic director of Arch Contemporary Ballet (New York, NY)
“All of my choreography stems from improvisation really. I don’t come into a rehearsal having planned the movement. Sometimes I have a flow or outline, but the actual phrasework more or less just comes out in a trial-and-error process. I will start moving, and the dancers will follow what I am doing. If I don’t like what is happening, I change it and try something new, or a dancer may accidentally be doing something different and have everyone try it like them. [Improvisation] creates unique movement that is organic to my dancers.
It creates limitless possibilities, because you are able to mold and shape movement and keep pushing your existing phrase-work to a better outcome. Improvising is an improvement to existing work as well, taking a phrase’s bones and adding meat to it. [It] makes room for change. I’m always asking the dancers to use the bones I give them as a direction, and to add the meat themselves. Improvisation is more than just using your dance vocabulary or movement that you are familiar with; it’s about exploring the unfamiliar. It is a chance to test out your body’s limitations, explore what each piece of your body can do and how it moves.
This is difficult for [dancers in] a genre of dance that doesn’t explore this option much in training. I sometimes encourage my dancers with guiding instructions. For instance, I will take something and ask them to make one part bigger, or think about using a different limb to create the same movement. From there, imagination eventually takes over, like a spark igniting a forest fire in the studio.”
By Kathryn Boland of Dance Informa.