Midgelow, V. (2011) Improvisational practices and dramaturgical strategies. Workshop presented to: Society of Dance History Scholars Conference 2011: Dance Dramaturgy: Catalyst, Perspective and Memory, York University, Toronto, Canada, 23-26 June 2011.
This workshop explores the development of a dramaturgical consciousness within improvisation practices. Recent and established discourses of Improvisation have pointed to concepts of experience, presence, freedom, play, social action in improvisation and whilst improvisation might be used in various ways, for example - warming up, to bond groups, to explore and establish new movement possibilities for choreography, here I focus upon improvisation as a mode of performance and the conceptual and skills needed for/ in this.
Framed by the approaches and philosophies that have developed after (and due to) the Grand Union and The Judson Church Dance Theater, improvisation has been considered a way of breaking free from the perceived strictures on and of the body in modern dance forms. These foundational artists sought free the body through spontaneity – and this concept of freedom resonated physically, aesthetically and ideologically. Such views have persisted such that improvisation has often been positioned as an unencumbered and unknowable act. And, whilst much discussion around improvisation has emphasized the interrelationship between the what is ‘known’ and what is ‘unknown’ (Foster, 2003) I have argued (Trace: improvisation in a box 2007, un-paginated) that in improvisation there can be no tabula rasa – no blank slate. Rather performance improvisations are ‘practiced’ and ‘composed’. They celebrate a palimpsestous play as images layer and are reiterated for improvisation is an act of embodied remembering, (purposeful) forgetting and self-conscious formation. It is this purposeful formation, that gives rise to a criticality in motion, that is most resonant with dramaturgy (but most complex within improvisation). Dramaturgy as a practice is processual – responding, developing and shaping materials with a heightened awareness of the contextual and referential properties that the materials encompass. Dramaturgy is an overtly critical practice that generally benefits from the ‘outsider’ perspective. This outsider perspective and the pleasure of reflection and distance that this perspective offers, is not something available to the improvisor. The improviser blurs the boundaries of performer/choreographer as both the maker and performer of her own work. The improvisor also brings the form and content to the surface at the same time, for each moment, each movement, is both in itself ‘the content’ and through the way it exists in time with all previous/forthcoming moments/possibilities part of the form