Friday, September 5, 2014

Dance and Music Impro Lab: A Study on Collaboration and Instinct

Dance and Music Impro Lab: A Study on Collaboration and Instinct
            The Dance and Music Impro Lab was an hour-long improvisation by musicians and dancers bound only to the restrictions of the space and their own impulses. Music and dance built off each other to create a singular piece never to exist again.
            To an unprepared ear, the music produced by the players would appear as random sounds and noises. In one sense, much of it was. The performers followed their instincts to create a soundscape. No tempo, rhythm, or melody bound them as they improvised sounds both from their instruments and surroundings. The quartet was comprised of two violinists, a pianist, and a trombone player. A clear hierarchy dominated the string section; the older, more confident player dominated the musical conversation, while the younger, presumably less experienced player contributed in a less invasive way. The first violinist supported the loud, sudden notes from her instrument with yelps and stomps. At heightened moments in her musical arc, her energy seemed almost unstoppable, a train plowing through snow. The second violinist preferred longer languid notes, both from her instrument and voice. The contrast between the two players was certainly appreciated, though more communication and collaboration would have been welcome.
            Another welcome change to the program would be a more collaborative or less self-indulgent pianist. The player's opening minutes were promising; carefully grouped notes were played sporatically, but in support of the violinists' leads. He then seemed to mentally depart from the stage altogether when he spent approximately the next seven minutes plucking and hitting at the inside of the piano. The act of playing the piano's inner strings was not repulsive so much as his complete lack of acknowledgement of anything else happening around him. While the other musicians fluctuated between following personal impulses and supporting the sounds of others, this pianist seemed only interested in a less than original excursion to the other side of his instrument.
            The trombone player was the most collaborative and valuable musician of them all, both innovative with his instrument and mindful of the other artists performing. The sounds he produced--buzzing, sliding, breathing--were exciting in and of themselves, but they all were in accordance with the overall sound and movement being produced by the group. As a unit, the band created an intricate and often unpredictable soundtrack for the dancers to play with.
            The dance created by the ensemble had palpable themes of action and reaction, both to each other and to the music and space. The basis of improv was strong with these movers; one or more dancers would figuratively step forward and provide an offer. One or more others would then react or build upon the offer. All of this movement was in reaction to musical offers from the band. The dancers' slow-moving, somnolent entrance echoed the long, languid sounds from the strings. One dancer used the entrance to move downstage, and another joined her for support. This constant offering and building was the basis for all movement onstage.
            The dancers were clearly trained experts in contact improvisation, providing new levels of collaboration. Because they were able to support and climb on each other, many physical offers emerged from simple physics and gravity. For example, when one dancer jumped onto her partner, wrapping herself around him, he began to spin from the force of her jump. This spinning evolved into an intricate pattern of turning and bending that felt totally collaborative as the dancers supported each other's weight.
            Trust also shone through as a theme for the performance. The performers must trust each other for support, both artistic and physical. The most obvious case is during contact improvisation when a dancer must trust the group to support her weight. The dancers must also trust each other for other safety concerns. At one point, once dancer blindfolded another with a hat so her vision was no longer usable. The blindfolded dancer kept moving though, trusting her fellow performers to stop her before the edge of the stage or other obstacles. The performers also placed trust in the audience. Such spontaneous and organic improvisation requires a performer to follow almost primal instincts. Revealing deep, immediate instincts to jump, move, yelp, play dissonant notes are not traditionally revealed in other situations. To reveal them on a stage in front of an audience is both an act of bravery and trust.
            The performance as a whole was a glimpse into true improvisation, unbound by rules of rhythm, structure, or expectation. The strongest players and movers were able to work together to build upon offers and react to the sound and movement created on stage. The final piece, as an improvisation, will never be seen again, and exists solely in the moment it was performed.

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