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Improvised Performances Driven by Comedy

Written by Carla María Negrete Martínez
Victoria Jacobs and Craig Juleman in  Mabel and Morley: Hearsay
Photo by Tim Summers
Last Saturday, August 4, 2012, the Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation (SFDI) culminated in a performance by its participants. It is not easy to be observed while performing impromptu, even with a score. Certain studies don’t allow observers in class as it places a degree of expectation on the performers, corrupting their opportunity to research movement through improvisation. The participants were subject not only to this challenging task, but also to following their scores clearly.

The evening opened with a male voice singing in darkness in Victoria Jacobs’ Mabel and Morley: Hearsay. Slowly becoming visible, Jacobs and Craig Judelman inched toward the audience, resembling a couple in the late 1800s walking fearfully across fields. Judelman played his composition on the violin, and became Jacobs’ partner while she danced and spoke a tale in rumors of a nurse and a photographer. Through imagery, musical strain, and movement, the two artists captured a dramatic tension while Amiya Brown’s exquisite lighting design enraptured the eerie moment of the nurse’s death.

SFDI Participant’s Performance
Photo by Tim Summers

Once the boat has taken you across river, leave it on the bank, don’t keep trying to make it work again just because it worked before was co-created by Stuart Phillips and Lindsey Drury. This duet’s mood spoke of a disconnected relationship as Phillips refused to leave the center of a pool of light and Drury circulated the parameter until, at last, Drury comically surrounded Phillips with backpacks, urging him to stop making an improvisation work in front of the audience.

Drury performed again after intermission in a piece directed by its title. Instructions: If you are Lindsey Drury, perform this work at Velocity in Seattle, WA as part of the participant performance by doing two things, 1. Work with necessity in a masterbatory (stet) manner, 2. Hope that it’s right, know that it’s wrong. Of course, Julyen [Hamilton], in nonexistent space. Drury placed her mother on stage and had the audience question her. The engagement surpassed simple questions, as at one point everyone in the theatre sang Sinatra’s New York, New York. The piece served as a reminder that life is ultimately an improvisation as well.

Steven Gomez’s Rediscovery made for an exciting performance. He crossed the stage to lyrics by Florence + the machine’s “Swimming,” mimicking swimming strokes, and rediscovered the air above his imaginary ocean with comical over-theatricality. Gomez might be a beginner performer, but his devotion and passion for dance are contagious. His performance proves SFDI and Velocity are truly welcoming hosts to all interested in dance.

Two short performances were Evan Foster and Noa’s Evan and Noa, and Two minutes two drums by Tyler Wardwell, Kristianne Salcines, and Becky Lydon. Foster embodied an indecisive paranoid man with coiling motions and a screechy voice, while Wardwell’s and Lydon’s homemade drums preyed upon and urged Salcines to dance until their time was up at the 2-minute mark.

SFDI Participant’s Performance
Photo by Tim Summers

Amy Larimer’s 8/4/12 stood out among all the evening’s works. She asked the audience for inspirations, to which she added movement. Amongst them were declarations of love, and an onomatopoeia of the Blue Angels’ engines. Not only did she keep perfect track of the funny story she created (a girl stood up by a guy) while adding in the inspirations seamlessly, but she maintained beautiful technique throughout as well.

I Quit! and Ex-Classical were two pieces that had a clear theme, yet would have benefited from a clearer sense of direction. The former, co-created by Joanne Cuffe, Lydon, Salcines, and Foster, portrayed a prefect ensuring policies were followed by pressing pieces of paper labeled “policy” on students. Ex-Classical was co-created by Lydon and Jessica Ludescher. Both performers improvised with violins in arbitrary ways. Unfortunately, the attempt to portray a retired musician came off as a lack of care for the discipline.

Michele McCauley, Von Xristo, and Brown created and performed Who is not being born is surely busy dying. The work was filled with references to pregnancy; the performers listened to the other’s ‘womb’ while complementing Brown on the lighting design, to which Brown conjured witty responses. The improvisation ended with an astrological reference to death.

The night closed with Ready? Directed by Kris Wheeler, guided by Kris Apple’s sound score to bells, and performed by Sheri Cohen, Anna Dixon, Vanessa Dewolf, Karen Nelson, Mary Reich, Rosa Vissers, and Wheeler herself, the work drew on the performers’ individuality. Dewolf laid on stage with a microphone, barely making noise. Wheeler entered and exited unpredictably, driven by something out of view. Vissers and Cohen shared a magnetic duet from opposite ends of the theatre, slowly leaning into nonexistent space while observing others. Contrastingly, Reich charged vigorously through space, while Dixonexplored quirky facial expressions. Later, Nelson and Dixon shared a duet connected through Nelson’s pants. Near the end, Nelson echoed a common desire amongst audience members by telling Dewolf she couldn’t hear her.

SFDI will return in a year with more contact improvisation artists from around the world. The festival remains an offering for everyone to rediscover the awe of living and relating to others in the moment.