Interview: Proximity

Interview / Proximity / Austalia

How did you get involved with improvisation ?

I was drawn toward IMPROVISATION in 1973 with the Great Salt Lake Mime Troupe. The Troupe was made up of modern dancers from the University of Utah, Jazz musicians and a clowns. We had to adapt to whatever place we were given to perform. The places we performed ranged from street, to theaters, to studios. The publics ranged in a similar way. We had to adapt to whatever place we were given to perform. In 1976, I was asked to develop a solo by a manager in Amsterdam so I stayed.

I made solo performances with improvisation music artists from 1976 to the early 80’s. Within the solo I could form music ensembles with scores allowing for choice, chance and compositions. I collaborated with the musicians on scores for music, dance and text. The changing of languages, cultures and places were central to how any work I was doing was structured. I wonder sometimes if I was attracted to improvisation simply because I knew it would be a direction that would keep me far away from suburbia. Curiosity killed the cat and a cat on my driveway is certainly in a great deal of danger. I do not want to live in suburbia in my art or in my life or any aspect of my being. Perhaps it is because I hate suburbia that I love to improvise.

What do you think are the most misunderstood areas for Improvisation Performances?

In both the reviewing and the doing of improvisation dance performance I think that it is the list understood for how it is an area for structure and design in composition and choreography specifically. Improvisation means choice. It means anyone involved with the performance has choice.

If a performer lets a choice go by (for example: stillness) it effects duration and chance is available. If a performer makes a choice (for example: to exit) then it effects how we perceive duration from the very moment the choice takes place. The demand on the dance or music performer in an improvisation performance is very high if the improvisation has been placed to emphasis time and space structures and it is ensemble. The performer has to be able to be in constant process with choice and chance while experiencing time in rapid and suspended slots. There is no duration in an improvisation performance, unless it is set. A performer who improvises dance or music using only choice as their time structure will eventually loose any perspective of the space because choices come rapidly under the condition of performance and/or ensemble, more rapidly than there is space to contain. Eventually, the performer is no longer choosing. This is why chance is such an important innovation for the improvisation dance performance. But it is most important that these two elements represent time structure. An approach which places meaning on choice as freedom (from the choreographer, from culture, from styles etc.) and chance as a transformation process (of ego, of nature, theology etc.) does not place the emphasis on the effect of the time and the space as choreography.

Memorized time designs function to keep time as duration. Dancers and choreographers use this to set ‘structured improvisations’ (memorized combinations of movements or movement patterns) so that the performer can in some models ‘take a break’ from the duration dilemma of the art form. I am interested in memorized patterns up to the point that the performer still makes choice within the design. There is a kind of ‘falling asleep at the wheel’ effect in structured improvisations where designs for dancers or musicians begin to work with the limit of time and duration. The pattern dominates the performers choices in time so that the return to choice and chance has ‘a pie in the face’ effect. Smart choreographers usually set the rest of the piece. It can been done very well if the work has been laid out to keep the performer in choice. There usually needs to be something more complexes about the pattern then linear designs or loops. A chance score would do well.

No matter how far fetched the set time structures are, there is no duration within an improvised performance and there is no order of materials so the choreographer has to commit to that or not call it improvisation. The role of the choreographer has to change to even call it an improvisation performance.

A performance may be setup, for example: two parts, 30 minutes each. For the performer, these concepts of time (30 minutes) are altered as soon as the event ‘begins’. The choreographer needs to collaborate in order to realize 30 minutes. The choreographer can not handle time without collaborating with every element the event has to offer (the light or sound designer). The choreographer has to give up the control of duration. That is given out in the process of choice being given to the individuals. Chance is what allows the ensemble to find order. It is not achieved by abilities to read scores or memorize patterns, though I do think this back round ads agility. Nothing to read, no patterns set to memory, everybody has to change their role. You have to listen to the space in the theater as if it was the heartbeat of an old animal in order to understand your role because it is shifting all of the time. You can not create a solo; you can only be left with one that you are now responsible to execute in time. If the choreographer can change roles after so many years of power and prestige in the dance field, our heroic hang ups and our search for the master piece will go right out the window. This is tuff for the big industries of dance to do. This is real ‘the dinosaur is dyeing’ stuff. The structure is in for a huge renovation once improvisation is practiced, realized and part of the way choreography is placed and aligned within dance and in music. Dance as a time art is one of duration and therefore improvisation is the most intensive view one can possibly take on the art form for what it actually is.

Improvisation dance has had several groups of artists who have gathered in order to find an alternative to main stream dance esthetics. It is very difficult to proceed onward with how compositions and choreographers are funded with improvisation involved if esthetics is the only language and criteria we are using. Improvisation as time structure for choreography is about form. Art for arts sake, open experimental behavior. Dancers and choreographers tend to merge the languages and make a mess out of the profession in doing so. It is not by way of improvisation that I can alter esthetics. I can only alter esthetics by dancing and by selecting whom to dance with. In my feeling, esthetics is up for question, not for awnsers at this time. Ballet studios, Modern Dance studios, Jazz studios, contact dance studios, new dance studios, hip hop studios all have dancers who are smart and can take on these time based structures and do it well. I do not need to search within some alternative route or a frozen esthetic. I do not represent the view of improvisation as an alternative. Chance and choice is not an alternative to counting or any traditional time structures with dance in my mind. It is an addition to how one can work with duration. It is very fun and very complex to be involved with. The question does come up—- show business or show fun?

In what ways can a performer/choreographer investigate this force (chance) to help them better adapt or use chance?

What I insist on from dancers is that they loose entering as an option. In fact, I would like the dancer/performer to only use what is of memory as an option. By memory I mean, ‘to remember’. There is an inevitable variable of space and materials in an ensemble improvisation. What a performer remembers is transformed immediately as time passes. Memory or remembering is relative under the conditions of improvisation. Relative by way of time. (Past, present, future) Options, within an ensemble improvisation, are available constantly. The option to do particular movement patterns, to dance with another performer in formation (duet, trio, quartet etc.) is continually available. Options are what the dancer or performer chooses to do. A dancer or performer who is letting material fly into space is not making choices or recognizing the options of choice. You do not need to remember to enter in an improvisation performance, but you do need to remember to exit. If you enter the playing space from the point of view of exiting the back stage you are already applying a concentration which allows for the performer to hear, see (since) the options and make choices in time. If the performer, for example, finds them self in a trio after exiting the back stage, an option to exit the playing space could create a duet. One of the dancers in that duet can choose to exit as well, creating a solo. If that dancer also chooses to exit we have an empty space.

An ensemble improvisation done well, in my way of thinking, has the potential for space to be created at any point. Space is silence. The performer who has their mind on the potential to exit (the backstage, the playing space, the materials and formations they are involved in) has their ear on the potential for silence and their eye on the potential for space. They are not trying to make the composition happen by what they can see as potentially interesting, beautiful or right but are instead leaving the space for something to happen out of chance. Chance is the creation of space where something can happen (choice) versus (set choreography) making something happen and putting it in a space. I practice exit with dancers so that it can be remembered and used as an option along with the thousands of options that fly out in the process of the event. It helps to slow the options down to a pace where the dancer can see, hear and choose.

Cage told the story of the African king who came to visit England. The King was taken to an orchestra concert and said afterward, ‘why do they keep playing the same piece over and over? Cage was questioning the architectural structures, which have held our musical ear for centuries. He wanted us to hear sound as music. Logics of sound are placed in space with all of its imperfections and it’s beauties and above all be heard. He did not set time in his scores and by doing that he amplified time as a tool.

A dancer is usually trained to enter and execute. They are not trained to exit and dance. I train dancers to ‘to let it go’. I have often heard about improvisation dance performances that the dancers ‘move too much’. I do not think that this is actually true. They can appear to be moving too much but that is because there are simply far more options (choices) then there are space to contain them. What they are actually doing is moving without choosing (in time) to move. You have to remember to choose and you have to remember to exit. Memory is key to the concentration. Exit opens up the potential for a composition chance but it also lets the dancer use time so that space can lift and the dance can be placed.

What are some of the tools or techniques you practice to facilitate instantaneous decision making?

In order to support a dancer in their ability to make quick physical decisions.

I teach technique. I use a technique base, which combines ballet, modern, post modern dance techniques and especially contact dance. I think it is the finest way to condition the body and mind for quick decisions. I use counting for my combinations and complexes space designs (no front). I insist that dancers are able to hear the beginning of a musical phrase so that the logical ending is analyzed by the duration’s of time the movement is placed while continually changing space. Technique is how I want a dancer to make decisions. Technique is how a dancer can do it. But dance technique is a specialization of body. I do not think that any specialization can define an art form. I think that the art form is defined by it’s inherit use of time and space, communication and the elements. In the case of this art form (dance-choreography) body is the element.
I am a strong believer in a combination of traditional techniques alongside bodywork. Intelligent dancers can make quick decisions because they not only understand the limits of their own bodywork but because they understand the limits of the body. They study body!

Do you think that a solid grounding in compositional concerns creates a fertile ground for improvising?

Yes. Any compositional study is of great value for the improvisation artists. I think that it is a prerequisite to be determined to keep studying composition if you improvise. The history of composition is not chronological of art history alone. It is a mutual development alongside all aspects of culture. Art is not life, in my own way of thinking it is the re creation of life. Cage said that art should not be different than life. But I do think that it is different from life.

Art is what I am doing in life and it is occupying a great deal of my life. When I gave birth I did not have to practice or prepare. I do need to practice dancing and I do need to prepare for an improvisation performance. A lot! Dance is not childbirth. Art can be a deep experience within our lives.

In our work, where crowds gather, life can be felt with extraordinary power even when it has gone terribly wrong. Composition in art is like science in life. If you are taking on the improvisation as a means to create performance, then you have to take the same kind of rigorous and detailed research as a scientist would do to study life. The question by physicist about how life began leads them to study how life will end. We share a mutual composition dilemma in that question when we improvise.

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