"If you're dancing physics, you're dancing contact. if you're dancing chemistry, you're doing something else." Steve Paxton (1987)
When two bodies meet and start to move challenging or giving into the laws of gravity, contact improvisation is the ground and the mean for such exploration. The dance form is concern with the evolution of movement through giving weight, sharing weight, rolling, falling, offering support among other things.
CI allows to tap into different layers of our being offering a combination of playfulness, technical exploration, research and improvisation. It requires of us to stay tuned in and aware of our immediate environment.
For me it is this sense of immediacy that arouses and challenges me. It is a good dance and movement practice but as well a good life practice, we learn to be there in the moment trusting our instinct and intuition, recognizing our fears, joy, social skills "how do we deal with..." and most of all it is great fun.
Contact improvisation first appeared in 1972 thanks to Steve Paxton who at the time was working with dance students at Oberlin College. Since then the form has been developed, supported and danced all over the world by an ever so growing community.
Many teachers such Nancy Stark Smith, Lisa Nelson, Nita Little, Kirstie Simson, Ray Chung, Martin Keogh among many others have contributed greatly to such support.
I just want to share the result on an interview which somehow helped me clarified some of my views on CI, of course all this could change.
1. You started 8 years ago with contact-improvisation?Before you danced other dancestyles? Which one?. What was exactly the inspiration for you to start with CI?? and what is it about Contact that has kept you continually inspired nowadays?
- I started to dance when I was 19 years old and in the process i studied ballet, modern dance (Limon, Graham) and Jazz until i met contemporary. So from there i went into Release, Klein and i met a lots of people who were experimenting with movements.
- I decided to start CI at a cross road of my career as a dancer, for 10 years straight i had been performing set works and i was considering to stop dancing, not feeling inspired. then i met Kirstie Simson, took class with her, she teaches more Improv with some CI but it was really inspiring and from there I went to festivals, workshops, in order to deepen my understanding of CI.
- the thing about CI that keeps me continually inspired is the constant investigation within the form. inputs are coming from so many different places that you are always in a state of inquiry. which is i believe the intrinsic state of Improvisation, which is one of the ingredients of CI.
2. and what do you recall as initially the most striking thing about CI?
- the most striking thing about CI is the diversity of the community. coming from a "dance community" where being a dancer was surrounded by so many criteria it was dumbfounded to see all these people who never been to dance class in their life, spinning, rolling on top of each in the most challenging ways and forms.
the other thing is that when you are among people practicing CI you really feel like as if you "belong", we talk the same language and we are supporting each other for the benefit of the form.
3. Did you find some aspects of the movement confronting?
- if you intend by "movement" the CI community, well i would say that somehow the hippie happy part of it sometimes can be too much for me... and like what we talked about in the last ECITE i went to, the hierarchy within CI, boundaries, the little presence of minorities within CI and sometimes the lack of simplicity around what we are actually doing.
but if you talk about the dance i think it's simply great!
4. What is the most exciting thing for you as a performer of CI?
- the most exciting for me as a performer of CI- and i would like to emphasize the fact CI is a major part of my performance skills but not the only one- is the unknown aspect of this type of performance and the fragility of the moment. it takes somehow lots of practice to trust the fact that you don't know what will happen next but you are still the maker of it.
5. Where is your focus when you're performing?
- My focus is very much on my state of being and what i perceive. For me it is a constant battle between the things that "I like" and the things that "i don't like". The most interesting thing in the process is to see that as soon as one springs into action how the all preconceived ideas of our mental states just dissipate and one has to deal with a form of reality which has nothing to do with the previous chain of thoughts.
6. Has your practice of Contact informed the rest of your life?
-As a practicing Buddhist let's say that CI just reinforced the impermanence aspect of life for me and the fact i don't have as much control on what's happening as i think.
I believe that we are always improvising in our everyday life and always debating about the choices we make. But very often we are so busy that we don't perceive clearly the outcome then. but within the practice of CI and Improvisation, one is often pushed if not forced to be aware of such multi dimensional sphere of life, oneself, space, the people around, what's happening within and outside of oneself... and this is really something that I take with me. and I'm learning as well a lot about relationships and myself within a group. the difficulties sometimes of accepting things just the way they are. and i am learning to say no....
7. You also teach CI. On your website i found this: 'I began to teach CI 4 years ago and within the process I develop a few theme of interest such as “ weight and weightlessness”, the body in motion”, “making contact” and “surrendering within CI”.' Can you tell me more about this themes? why are these themes important for you? Is this what you understand under CI?
I somehow developed these themes through a desire to clarify what i was experiencing while practicing CI. my first theme "weight and weightlessness" came from the understanding that the more i would be aware of my weight and the lighter i could get. the paradox was quite interesting, so often practitioner will say "I don't feel you" and very often they are referring to weight. we are reading through touch.
"the body in motion" is a more general approach to the basics of CI. and very often i like to see it as experiencing my own body as a moving vessel. meaning i have my own dance, i am experiencing space, time, and i allow myself to meet others doing the same thing, into duets, trios or groups in physical contact, or spatial contact.
"Making contact" was bit a inspired by Sci-fi movies :-) at least the title. My interest was meanly into trying to connect all the different component that would be part of a dance. Making contact not only physically but as well on a more perceptual way. making contact with space, with my intuition, the thoughts, intentions and desire, how do we go in and out of contact. and see how all these factors were all intertwined in the making of making contact.
"Surrendering within CI" came after observing my own dance and realizing that i was very often trying to orientate the dance towards a definite outcome, i wasn't always willing to let go and just take what was there, what was given to me. Apart from the explorative side of CI, it has unfortunately become more and more codified. so we tend to want to make things happened, to execute that beautiful lift, to do that great jump and then land into a fantastic spiral on the floor while our partner is getting a ride on our shoulder. we basically have an already made agenda and solutions to solve many of the intricate situations we could find ourselves in. but I kept thinking if we are staying with what is given and take it from there maybe we could come up with new if not, different ways to approach the dance. "surrendering" and "letting go" somehow in that context are almost the same. being able to redirect our intentions and transform our desires.
these themes are important to me but do not undermine the fact that CI is or should be an ongoing exploration. they are tools that i use when i need to bring some fresh air in my dance.
And of course they are ultimately changing.
8. And do you have a special technique to teach CI? how are you going to work?
for quite sometimes i had a very technical approach on teaching CI, and i guess it was mostly coming from my background and the way i was taught. But eventually i came to the point where i needed to ask myself, was CI a dance form? and if not so what was it that was teaching? and how could I teach something that wasn't only dance?
So many other forms of body expression has come from CI or have been link to CI and this diversity can make it quite challenging for those teaching or practicing the form.
Right now my investigation is very much orientated towards the sensorial aspect and the simplicity of the form. clarifying that foremost CI is about the playfulness or weight exchange and the fine tuning of awareness and mindfulness and every thing else that happens out of these components are the fruits of a single moment that might never repeat itself again.
when i go to work i need to bring myself to a place where curiosity and discovery are my main focus and i need to believe that i might find out something that i didn't think about before. i need to be able to let go and change the course of what's happening if that's what the moment requires.
8. another citation from your website: ‘For me the body is the perfect environment for exploration, for it reflects so well our current state of being and the society we’re living in. Improvisation and CI are great tools to get in touch with all these different aspects. We keep moving through life purposefully and so often we forget to get in touch, to get in contact with what's happening within us.’ Can i say about this that you see the CI as a reflection on our daily life, on our society where we forget to stay in touch with what happen in life?
after a long jam or workshop i often feel more in touch with myself and what surrounds me, and that doesn't mean that it is a pleasant and totally satisfying experience. but somehow the effort required for being present at all time on different levels creates a sense of clarity that very often we tend to avoid in our everyday life. we need to distract ourselves from the everyday life and therefore we get a bit cut off from what's really happening.