I was suspended for a moment on my partner’s shoulder before falling to [the] ground… I softened, spread, and rolled… folding to continue the dance, I caught the pelvis flying toward my chest… As he dove I grounded, finding a one-legged apex of balance held only for seconds… and we continued…
For the last few weeks on Monday evening, the Cowles Center Target Studio has played host to participants engaging in contact improvisation, a dance form developed in the 1970s, instigated by Steve Paxton. Often done in duet or small groups, it has been described as an “art-sport,” combining elements of social dance, rules of physics, aikido, wrestling, and modern dance.
“The dancers in contact improvisation focus on the physical sensations of touching, leaning, supporting, counterbalancing and falling with other people, thus carrying out a dialogue.” (Cynthia Novack, Sharing the Dance)
Contact Improvisation (CI) has been alive in the Twin Cities for a long time. HIJACK has been teaching a class at Zenon’s dance school since 2000, and Morgan Thorson has taught a beginning CI class at the University of Minnesota since 2002. Patrick Scully, a pillar of the Twin Cities dance community, is an anchor for contact improvisation. He has been an advocate for the form, its teachers, and practitioners, and he has continued to attend jams over the years. In collaboration with the CI series, he will present a fireside chat on CI’s presence and evolution in the Twin Cities. Former resident Chris Aiken, now an internationally known CI teacher, taught locally from 1989 until 2000 and was the first ongoing contact improvisation teacher at the University of Minnesota. The emergence of this new series feels compelled by the upcoming events with Steve Paxton at the Walker Art Center this fall.
I’ve been imagining contact improvisation as a room with many doors. For me the practice of CI is a rigorous commitment to embodied listening, agency, and spontaneity. This practice can lead many directions and be used as a tool to create community, to foster self-awareness, to inform partnering choreography, to understand a three-dimensional body in space, and to inspire nuanced choreographic structures.
The form can be used to inspire or train for performance and as its own performance modality. Within the dance world, improvisation is sometimes referred to as lazy, unrefined, “doing whatever you want,” but now we have an opportunity to reset this idea. Through the CI series and the performances and events surrounding Steve Paxton’s and Lisa Nelson’s visit, dancers and audiences can explore the many layers – physical and intellectual – that contribute to the phenomenon that has endured for more than 40 years. Witnessing the sheer magic that lives in an unplanned moment, executed by individuals with a mature practice in the unknown. In a way this series is readying our pallet for Paxton and Nelson’s upcoming work and his longtime commitment to structures of improvisation within performance.
…pause, I gesture with fingers and knee simultaneously to the body on the other side of the stage, he responds, I respond, then we are together…moving as a two headed, multi-limbed being, surfing pelvis over pelvis, upside down, I’m head over heels and weak in the knees… I’m exhausted, not knowing what might come next, I shout “Go”…and we continue.
To find out more about Twin Cities Contact Improvisation classes and lectures, visit BodyCartography Project’s upcoming events.
Writer Taja Will is a Twin Cities based choreographer, educator and improviser. This year’s WAC Choreographer’s Evening, curated by Kenna Cottman, will include an improvised work by Will and long-time collaborator Blake Nellis.
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