In dance as in other performance areas, improvising is more than just making it up as you go along; it takes imagination and trust, with a healthy dose of courage thrown in.
The controlled chaos of improvisation was the source for “Pony,” a dancer’s duet featured as part of this year’s Faculty Dance Concert, being performed Jan. 22 to 26 in the Meany Studio Theatre.
“Pony” was created by Rachael Lincoln, the newest faculty member of the University of Washington’s Dance Program, together with student dancers Siena Dumas Ang and Hannah Old. The annual faculty dance concert features dance students performing choreography designed by faculty members.
Lincoln has the “courage” part down pat — she is a longtime member of Bandaloop, a group that defies gravity with “vertical dance” performances hundreds of feet in the air.
“Pony” is one of four pieces — including “May and June,” a film written and directed by Lincoln — that comprise an eclectic evening. The other dance works are “Beats Me,” choreographed by Jennifer Salk, associate professor and dance program director; and “From Here,” choreographed by Jürg Koch, assistant professor.
Lincoln said improvisation in dance can range from totally freewheeling to somewhat directed. The “do’s and don’ts” vary depending on the piece. ”To me, skilled improvisers are always exceptional listeners — to themselves, to those around them, to the space, to timing and to context. Improvisation involves constant decision-making and a very alive mind and body.”
Lincoln said the process of creating “Pony” began with free improvisation by the two dancers, then grew more specific through her suggestions until it became a set piece. By the time dancers and choreographer had brought the piece to its final form, Lincoln said, “it became unrecognizable from the initial direction.”
But even as they perform, Lincoln said, the dancers are free to change things a bit. “The dancers have autonomy within the performance to continuously listen, modify, change and tweak — it keeps them on their toes.”
Also on the program:
- In “Beats Me,” choreographed by Salk in collaboration with musician Paul Moore and the dancers, three on-stage musicians will serve as referees as dancers compete in a series of games — some fun, some competitive.
- “From Here,” was choreographed by Koch with technology and text created in collaboration with composer Doug Niemela and actor/writer Dylan Ward. The performance weaves overlapping layers with movement and words and was created with the ideas of “universal design” and the aesthetics of disability theater in mind. Eleven dancers will perform. There will be American Sign Language interpretation by Andrew Scudder.
“This year’s faculty concert appears to have more collaborative elements with dancers than in some years,” said Salk. Noting that faculty focused their efforts in this concert on the dancers’ strengths and creative contributions, she added, “As choreographers in a research/teaching institution we try to merge our own artistic desires with something that is educational for our students.”