I've been in London working with my dance partner Tim Taylor, joined by Jacky Lansley. Tim and I are so familiar with improvising together we can move for over an hour without speaking, loving this shared and fluent language of imagination and sensation. Dancing with Jacky over the last two meetings has brought a whole new spectrum of colour to the experience.
How can I describe to someone the experience of movement improvisation - both of watching and of engaging in it - in a way that conveys meaning, as well as satisfying my need for structure and clarification? I feel better when I've danced, and more essentially danced with others. I am grounded, calmer but at the same time more energetic. Ideas flow - I have spent time engaged in a language that's as essential to my life as reading and writing. We let go of the thinking mind and a dream-like state informs the 'material', but at the same time - through years of theatre training and experience - there's an acute awareness of form, content, meaning and performance.
Yesterday, a long warm up led by Jacky, finished with a port de bras adage exercise as we might do in ballet class. This simple sequence of movements gave us the framework for two improvised pieces. We worked in pairs with one person setting the 'task' and the other two 'performing'. Tim was the first 'director,' asking us punctuate the adage exercise with words if we found a moment that felt particularly 'satisfying' - and also include sitting on a chair and talking about our experience of the heat wave. Jacky similarly used the adage, adding exit and entrance, and a discussion about breakfast. My own instructions were three words - walk, lean, drape.
How absurd it must sound, and indeed a kind of surreal landscape is created - a theatre of the ridiculous, and at the same time elements that are shocking, profound, funny, and sad. I saw Jacky draped in a black shawl - a woman from a country far away. Tim - any man - observing her analytically as he leant against the wall, cigarette in hand - speaking coldly as he described her smallest gesture. She held a stone in her right hand. She looked so vulnerable. Then the image shifted and the power was with her as she attempted to place the stone on Tim's head.
Tim's work is always so clear and polished - you'd never know he was improvising. He is comical, clever, accomplished, elegant. He never clowns around. Jacky is the most wonderful clown, bringing a sense of play - trusting to share and embody the journey of her imagination. She is provocative, skilled at shifts in tempo and emotion, the power of the costume and object to convey meaning - trusting the confusion as part of the process, transforming the moments when we lose focus and see the whole activity as oddly foolish, back into hilarious moments of theatre.
Over lunch we discussed 'issues' and how to convey meaning through theatre. Jacky and I argued much over the politics of ballet. I rarely argue and never have with Tim - but it felt good and essential, and brought a new dynamic to the solos we performed in the afternoon. The task was to do a stand-up comedy act on the theme of Issues - political or other! Sheer terror. Tim was funny as soon as he opened his mouth, by his use of language and his tiniest gesture. Jacky was so engaging in the way she allowed us to witness her thought process and the meandering path through confusion to meaning and emotion. I know I was not funny at all - I wish I could be. I found my way in as ever, by creating structures - tidying the studio and organising bananas and oranges into patterns on the chair, until I found it - the memory of a performance I witnessed once in Utrecht.
We were locked in a huge abandoned gymnasium to watch an innovative theatre production. There were many of us, all sitting on the concrete floor - there was a large cast of actors, singers and dancers. It was a long production, and no way to easily get out of the building. We witnessed scenes of torture, of babies and children hurt, of rape, and violence - and all around people were laughing. I had the sense that at any moment someone could be pulled from the audience and killed and nobody would prevent it. I was so deeply shocked - not by the performance - but by the audience response, that I couldn't speak about it for a long time. It was the horror of this that came back so powerfully as I found my way into the improvisation. It was embodied and given form for the first time after years - through theatre not therapy.