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Memorable Dancing Done on the Fly. (New York).

Memorable Dancing Done on the Fly Movement Research Tenth Annual Improvisation Festival Various venues New York, New York November 26-December 9, 2001

"Here today, gone today," the late Richard Bull, a noted improviser, used to say about improvisation. Shaping action and quality with a responsiveness to the present, good improvisers can, at least, create moments that stick in your mind. Bad improvisation--"noodling," it's sometimes called--often slips away without leaving a trace. When it's over, a viewer is likely to ponder, "Did anything just happen?" In two weeks of performances, classes, and workshops, Movement Research's Tenth Annual Improvisation Festival offered all kinds of improvised dancing, some of it quite memorable and some, thankfully, already forgotten.

A superbly articulate dancer, Sara Shelton Mann has a way of phrasing her movement so that it appears to linger in the air. In The Beloved Dance (Phrases and Chi Improvisation) at Danspace Project (November 29), arcs and spiral patterns were the persistent remnants of Mann's quicksilver spinning, her windmilling limbs, her delicately rippling fingers. When Mann slowly, bonelessly unfurled her arms out to the side, she created the illusion of an energy beam spanning the stage. This sumptuous dancing was punctuated by moments of quiet humor. Abby Crain walked into the space, sat down, and methodically unpacked the contents of her pocketbook. Mann responded by taking Crain's wallet, finding her own spot, and arraying her credit cards as if dealing a game of solitaire.

In Tuning Effect (Danspace Project, December 2), dancers Chris Aiken and Peter Bingham, with musician Andre Gribou, put the focus on listening. The dance was an open-structured improvisation to an eclectic keyboard medley that genre-hopped from Beethoven to Basie-style jazz to Indian tabla rhythms. Gribou played attentively, teasing the dancers with impeccably timed pauses and mood shifts. At one point the musician became the mover, nodding and shaking his head a la Ray Charles, as if summoning up the next chord. For their part, the slight Aiken and the taller, more solidly built Bingham moved with the gentle, indirect athleticism typical of contact improvisation. Aiken, especially, luxuriated in rolling, flipping, bending, and spiraling into the floor--and he landed softly, like he had paws instead of hands and feet. The two started out onstage together, each exploring his own realm, but gradually they found time for solos and partnering. Hints of drama emerged, as when Bingham grabbed Aiken by the neck and tossed him aloft, but for the most part, Tuning Effect remained about "tuning into" sounds and the sensations of physicality.

Lisa Race and her 7-month-old son, Samson Race Dorfman, improvised a well-tuned, charming duet as part of Sara Pearson/Patrik Widrig's The Razor's Edge (University Settlement, December 8). We first saw the little guy sitting and gazing at us as Race, lying on her stomach, pushed him toward us with her head. It's hard not to identify with the expression of wonder in a baby's eyes. We watched with glee as Race repeatedly set Samson on his feet; each time he balanced for an instant and then plopped down. At times, Race transformed her body into a moving play set--her feet under Samson's armpits made a nice swing. There was an uncorny tenderness in this relationship that shone through. The mother's calm presence allowed the audience to share in her baby's delight.

A cranky baby in the audience set the tone for Meg Stuart and Benoit Lachambre's Untitled Improvisation (University Settlement, December 8). An American choreographer based in Brussels, Stuart rarely performs in the U.S., so this appearance was much anticipated. She and Lachambre began standing a few feet apart, angled obliquely to the audience, and they didn't stray from these spots. The two proceeded to channel wrought emotions into highly constricted, neurotic gestures. Stuart started with staring; she let her head sag, her mouth gape, her veins pop--it looked like she wanted to kill that baby. Her fingers pried at her lips, her hips sank, she broke into spasms of crying and coarse laughter. At the dance's climax, perhaps, sensing that Stuart was sucking up the attention, Lachambre dropped his drawers in a moment of spastic jubilation. Stuart promptly slithered out of her pants. Lachambre then had to decide whether to up the ante and drop his undies also. He didn't. Too bad. Hahn Rowe, the festival's unofficial DJ (his postmodern vinyl-scratching was featured several nights), spun a suitably itchy ambiance for Stuart and Lachambre's obsessive, angry, adolescent exercise.

It takes tremendous skill, and a lot of practice, to shape an interesting dance in front of an audience. The challenge involves both tuning into the present and making active decisions that direct the future. Hopefully, the international crew of students and performers who gathered in New York for the Tenth Annual Festival will show us what they gleaned from watching these performers the next time around.
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Author:Sperling, Jody
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Mar 1, 2002
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