Choosing subtlety

Sharing some of the quotes selected by Andrew Harwood for his workshop SUBTLETY AND COMPLEXITY IN PRACTICE AND PERFORMANCE which took place last March at EDAM. I don’t think there is much to add, these quotes are by great contributors to Contact Improv and Improvisation dance in general. My favourite text is “Contact Improv: A question?” by Daniel Lepkoff. It was such an eye opener on the original intent of the practice. Truly genius!

Or did Katie take me?

This was one of the most important workshops I took since I started Contact Improvisation. Katie’s work combines music, voice and dance. It opened my eyes on the limitations of Contact Improv, whoops did I just say that.

The most important thing I learnt in these two days was to EXIT. Exit the floor if I have nothing to say, just exit and watch what I left behind me, who took the spotlight and what did they do with it and relish giving Them that opportunity, and does it means for musicians to improvise to dancers, for dancers to write text and for vocalists to dance? Space becomes as a painting with compositional elements, tensions and resolutions.

Photograph credit goes to Yvonne Chew

At the beginning

I was not allowed to dance, once I was physically punished for mimicking the belly dancer I saw on an illicitly borrowed videocassette. In university, I was in an Engineering/Sciences program and had no idea one could study dance. Nonetheless, I was often “caught dancing” in night clubs, in parties, at illegal festivals in the forest, in my living room, on the street. I took all the classes I could afford, Salsa, Belly dance, West African dance, Hip Hop, etc. After moving to Vancouver a little over four years ago, I accidentally discovered Contact in one of Anne Cooper’s classes. I had been looking for classes on Physical Theatre following a free intro workshop at Studio 303 in Montreal. Google kept spitting out “Contact Improv EDAM Dance” in my search results. I have been going religiously since, and jokingly refer to Anne’s classes as “Sunday Church,” we always do the same thing but it is never the same thing. This dance gave me ways to respect myself, communicate, relate and move.

Photographs from Ray Chung‘s workshop at Leviathan Studio (Credit: Soeren Wacker)

lessons from Contact Improv

Falling in love is accidental, Contact Improv was like this for me. I have found in it an inclusive community, words and body moves to respect my self and ways to have wordless conversations that go beyond syntax and communication techniques. It calls on one’s sensitivity to listen, relish and keep the conversation going, to improvise.

I have come up with a (growing) list of favourite CI lessons, a concept I borrowed from Aubade the French lingerie brand used in one of their early 2000 ad campaign.

CI lesson#1: It’s easier to fall together. In Contact Improv, dancers spend a good deal of their training learning to change levels and fall. There is no standing dance vs. a lying dance in Contact, the change in levels as you navigate the off-balance-ness is the dance. Falling together with someone is always easier than falling alone, the weight sharing, the push/reach and weight giving to each other as you go down decelerates the fall and makes the landing much easier than if one were to fall alone. 

CI lesson#2: Dancing is the result of chasing off-balance-ness. The moment both dancers stop taking the “off-their own balance” risk. The improvisation and therefore the dance stops.

CI lesson#3: Use your partner to extend your experience. This was another incredible moments for me in CI. You can dance alone, dance with a partner without much being with them or better yet use them as an additional sense to add more dimensions to your experience.

CI lesson#4: Curiosity over ambition. The first time I heard this from Anne Cooper, I was stunned. Improv is the art of the moment, there is nothing to look forward to, or work towards, there is only now and what is happening in the now, the clues are in this very moment.

CI lesson#5: Tension masks sensation. This basic idea is at the heart of Contact Improv. How does one sustain a conversation for 20 min without verbalizing while improvising and keeping the other person committed to the dance? The only way I found is to have clarity of mind and physical communication, achieved through alternating of yield and reach and play with the tone and listening. This generates the sensation that organizes the next move! The tipping. The momentum.

CI lesson#6: Appreciate the discomfort. Like a young acrobat scared of an injury, we must learn to appreciate the discomfort of losing verticality, sight of the horizon with no floor beneath our feet. To accept the unpleasantness of risk engendered sensations, and have survival strategies is to be alive.

I think of these sentences beyond the dance floor. I use them to improvise my life and live in contact with my self and my surroundings.