This week I decided to scour YouTube for examples of improvising music for (and with) improvised movement. I posted them on the New York Dalcroze facebook page to promote the chapter’s online workshop “Improvising Music for Improvised Dance”, Saturday May 20th, 1-3pm NYC time, tickets and info here, led by myself and Dawn Pratson. I’ve collected the posts here.
- Margaret Beals has been performing as improvising dancer for many years. (She is actually a friend of Dawn’s.) Here she is with sitar player and jazz musician Colin Wolcott (who participated in the groups Oregon, The Paul Winter Consort and Codona to name a few). There is a documentary, Dancing Without Steps, about her life and work releasing soon. She is introduced in the film by Meredith Monk. Though both Wolcott and Beals seem very connected in this clip, they make little effort to match or mimic each other’s phrases. I appreciate that.
- 2. Sonny Rollins and Savion Glover: Two master improvisers, both perhaps the best living exemplars of the respective art forms are in dialogue in this clip. Rollins, a fountain of invention known for 30 minute+ solos, generously gives Glover the spotlight here, creating the framework for his poly-rhythmic pyrotechnics. Attitudes towards tap dancing have had a varied history of regard in the jazz community, but here the two artists are (pun intended) on equal footing.
- 3. Yvonne Rainer: Rainer was part of the Judson Dance Theater, along with Steve Paxton (creator of contact improvisation), Trisha Brown and many others. I don’t believe this dance is improvised (though I’m not sure – anybody know?), but I love it because it feels like it could have been. It makes me want to run to the dance floor and move. I love playing to it, too (it was presented without music). When I do, it is very close to what I feel when Dawn and I rehearse over Zoom.
- Nancy Stark Smith and Mike Vargas (and company): Smith was part of the same group of dancers as Rainer, also closely involved with the creation of contact improvisation. Vargas has provided music for improvised events for years, and has an interesting and useful perspective on playing for them. Watching this, I can imagine why improvised dance and music have not left a larger mark. These are ephemeral sand paintings meant to disappear. While it can be electrifying to watch performers invent on the spot, the results can be like a good cup of coffee: after 15 minutes in the cup, it’s not exactly coffee anymore. That is not to take anything away from the high wire act presented in this clip (or old coffee, as long as it is iced :-).
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