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Fourth Annual Improv Dance Festival

by Rachel Levin
January 23, 2008
Diavolo Performance Space
Downtown Brewery Arts Complex
616 Moulton St.
Los Angeles, CA 90031
Though polished choreography makes for slick entertainment, sometimes the most thrilling moments in dance arise from improvisation. Think: freestyles breaks, improvised taps, spontaneous swing. Such was the case at Friday's performance at the Improv Dance (iD) Festival, a culmination of four days of workshops on the art of improvisational movement taught by instructors who converged from all over the world.

The half dozen pieces explored the possibilities of dance constrained only by situation, location, props, and the contact points of other bodies. Several of the dances were partner pieces in which music figured prominently as the sole guiding principle. The dancers responded to changes in the mood of the music, but aside from that let contact with their partners guide the outcome of the dance. In these pairs, it was striking how fluid, intimate, and nonstop the motion was despite the lack of any undergirding choreography. The movements bespoke a sense of discovery and egalitarianism (full equality between the partners) akin to the spontaneity of intimacy. The dancers didn't explicitly reenact anything sexual. But I do think there was a commentary within the dance about intimate human contact that had sexual undertones. Responding spontaneously and improvisationally to another person's body, which is the focus of the festival, is about as close as one can get to a metaphor of intimacy.

Other improv dance skits took a note from sketch comedy in their humorous tone. In one, a pair of guys doing a strenuous workout riffed on the L.A. dating scene in between handstand push-ups and stick-it flips. In another, a dancer destroyed the set of living room props in his battle with an imaginary insect. Both had the audience in stitches.

In the final piece, a group of dancers guided the audience into a smaller studio for a dervish-like demonstration. Dressed in flowing skirts and wielding bells and silk scarves, the group improvised a kind of new-age spiritual dance ritual through uttering sounds and weaving together individual movement. Their shadows danced on the sky-high white walls, casting an alternative screen of movement. It was impressive how deeply the dancers invested in the impromptu scenario and how present they were with each other. Overall, the connections between bodies forged at the festival were more convincing than the most tightly performed conventional choreography.

For more information, visit www.idfest.org
Hassan Christopher Company of Strangers

Hassan Christopher Company of Strangers

Photo © & courtesy of Andre Andreev

Stefan Fabry and Shel Wagner

Stefan Fabry and Shel Wagner

Photo © & courtesy of Andre Andreev

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