Over my Winter Break, I spent a full week in Philadelphia studying Movement Improvisation in Performance. Included in this work was Contact Improvisation and Authentic Movement. As a performer, it was one of the most liberating experiences I’ve had in a while.
I don’t want to talk about CI too much, but just to give a little background, it was first developed and codified in 1972 by Steve Paxton, who was a dancer from the Judson Church Dance Theatre scene. “Authentic movement is an expressive improvisational movement practice that allows a group of participants a type of free association of the body.” It’s a very spiritual practice in which a witness watches their partner, who has their eyes closed, do whatever they want for fifteen minutes. If you have any curiosities about this, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ASK!!
The artists I worked with during that week were Ishmael Houston-Jones and Yvonne Meier, who are extremely famous dance improvisers who made their claim to fame in the 80’s. I had only heard great things about them and their work before the workshops. The Philly Dance Community has a wonderful High-Tea event that serves as a discussion with visiting artists once a month, and the guests were of course Yvonne and Ishmael, so I had an opportunity to get to know them more then. I clearly remember asking Ishmael what he valued most in work, and he said, “Authenticity and Risk.” I was in total agreement.
After seeing their work, however, I feel differently. Ishmael sent me a video of a PS 122 revival of his work called “THEM.” I wasn’t totally impressed. The dance improvisation was impressive, yet it all existed with the same timing and rhythms. I love improvisation…but I felt as if no one was really saying anything. It was as if the artist wasn’t making a stand. Yvonne Meier’s work is similar in that it is entertaining, but that she doesn’t express her voice clearly enough. After talking with a friend, we realized what we were missing: Vigor. And maybe set choreography.
As a dance theatre artist who loved doing this work, and got something out of it emotionally, I am on a quest to find how these practices can translate directly into performance. I fully understand how they can be used off the stage, but I want to discover how these forms may illuminate ideas more effectively than set material.
Here are a few links I have posted to further illuminate this topic:
Please comment if you have feelings about their work!