Improvisation Festival Amsterdam


Improvisation Festival Amsterdam 1994-99

By ROBERT STEIJN

The first year’s event combined musicians Katie knew from the Amsterdam scene with dancers from the European improvisation arena. The absurd and highly theatrical aesthetics of the musicians Dominated the total atmosphere. It involved a lot of acting and comic texts.

Sat/Sun 26-27 November 1994

Dance: Katie Duck, Charlotte Zerbey, Idao Zabaleto, Julyen Hamilton
Music: Michael Vetches, Triton Consignor, Joe Williamson, Daniel diagram, Sean Bergen, August Forti, Peggy Larson
Comic: Rick Parrots
Light: Ronald Nord

For the second year’s event, we opened our selection to include dancers from the Amsterdam dance scene. We did this in order to give Dutch mainstream dancers a chance to perform improvisation and to give their public an opportunity to experience the joy and challenge of improvisation.

Sat/Sun 9 and 10 Dec 1995

Dance: Katerina Brown, Alessandro Certain, Pauline Daniel’s, Desiree Delauney, Anouk van Dijk, Frans Poelstra, Pep Ramis, Eileen Standley, David Zambrano, Katie Duck, Hisako Horikawa
Music: Danial D’ Agaro, Joop van Brakel, Tony Delius, Alex Maguire, Michael Vatcher, Tristan Honsinger
Light: Ronald Nord

In the third year’s event, we changed the format of a weekend to one long evening, a big celebration of improvisation. This performance was in total contrast with how I had experienced improvisation before: e.g., in more studio-like settings with an in-crowd public. Now it became Party-time! The public grew and included people who were interested in theater events where decision-making is made by performers in the here and now. This year’s event was also a breakthrough in a “dance” direction: we discovered the beauty of Michael Schumacher and other improvisers inspired and educated by choreographer William Forsythe. I remember a conversation with Forsythe and Katie and how much they shared in common about compositional ideas and politics around performance events. Only the approach to the body seemed different. It was a clash of cultures and the public could witness that. The spectators could analyze the different approaches towards dance side by side in a single context.

Sat 11 Jan 1997

Dance: Julyen Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Charlie Morissey, Katie Duck, Andar Zabala, Mischa van Dullemen, Desiree Delauney, Frans Poelstra
Music: Misha Mengelberg, Michael Vatcher, Paul Lovens, Michael Moore, Andy Ex, Luc Ex, Terry Ex
Light: Ronald Nord

For the fourth year’s event we combined improvisers from the post-modern movement with improvisation dancers from Europe (including from the ballet). The improvisation became a platform for discussion of how to negotiate personal dance styles and backgrounds. The conversations in the dressing rooms were highly inspirational and I always thought that these exchanges flourished on stage in front of the audience.

Sat 13 Dec 1997

Dance: Katie Duck, Michael Schumacher, Steve Paxton, Vincent Cacialano, Scott Smith, Boris Charmatz, Nick Haffner
Music: Paul Litton, Michael Vetches, Mary Oliver, Tristan Honsinger, Ab Bars, Maurice Horsthuis
Light: Ronald Nord

In the fifth year’s event, we went for a group of strong women as a comment on the almost all male cast of the previous year. We opened up our selection to new media artists. This was a big jump. This last event certainly needed a longer process and preparation, but on the last night of the improvisation festival, as always, I loved seeing the bare confrontation.

Sat 27 March 1999

Music: Joel Ryan, Michael Vatcher, Andy Ex, Terry Ex, Luc Ex, Mary Oliver, Ab Baars
Dance: Meg Stuart, Michael Schumacher, Katie Duck, Kirstie Simpson, Jonathan Burrows, Sharon Smith, Martin Sonderkamp
Light: Ellen Knops
Graphic projection: Erik Freymark, Lot Siebe
Video camera: Roberta Marques
Image program and screen designs: Sher Doruff

The formulae of these nights were always tricky, in that the stage was floating between a laboratory-situation where different styles were observed and negotiated to a circus-atmosphere highlighted by a huge public crowd. In a way the second, third and fourth events made a statement about dance and body politics. We mixed the stars of the traditional improvisation field with the European dancers/choreographers who were developing their personal styles of dancing and performing.
Making these combinations was a delicate job, especially in selecting people from within the same sub-field. We had to question what would work, and in what combination artists would accept each other on stage? Combining dancers of different styles was easier than combining veteran improvisers, because so called newborn improvisers like Amanda Miller . and Jonathan Burrows started from zero and were curious to meet the others. For them this event was an opportunity to perform and research without the burden of a whole company on their shoulders. These events made them aware of different possibilities and choices to open up their own style. In combining dancers from the improvisation field we had to respect the dancer’s different histories and select more carefully. They were also in another position. Working in the improvisation field for so many years, they were suddenly confronted with performers who had questions rather than solutions. Every year we tried different meetings of cultures but it also served as a strategy to get funding. We had to ask for money every year. The criticism by the funding bodies was that the event would gather a closed in-crowd public and that improvisation, as an artistic approach was something from the past. I always had to think of a way to convince the funding bodies by saying, “this is new!” Or “this is important for the nineties!” or “it is about the emancipation of the dancer in the nineties!” This breaking border between subcultures within the dance and music scene was for me the base of every subsidy request.

back to the top

back to writing