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Improvisation Festival/NY

by Anne Zuerner
December 6, 2002
Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery
New York, NY 10003
(212) 674-8112

Improvisation Festival/NY

By Anne Zuerner
December 6, 2002 at St. Mark's Church

Three playful improvisations took place on Friday night at St. Mark's Church as part of the Improvisation Festival/NY. Sara Rudner danced to the beat of her own heart, Bebe Miller and David Thomson danced with each other, and Kim Epifano strutted her stuff to the sound of her own voice, playbacks and distortions of her voice, cleverly designed by Rodney Johnson.

Sara Rudner's improvisation to her amplified heart beat, mixed with live music, was conceived by Christopher Janney. While Rudner meditated on her pulse, Janney, accompanied by Stan Strickland and Jeannie Wolff-Gagne, counted into microphones, read medical literature about the heart, and breathed heavily. Interpreting her heart's rhythm, Rudner sent herself quick stepping and twirling. At moments her heart would become loud, slowing her down in her tracks, at other times she would rest, and we could see her thinking, planning her next wave of quick frantic motion. The movement was reminiscent of her solo as the Leader in Twyla Tharp's The Catherine Wheel (1981), swirling around as if trying to hypnotize her viewers.

Rudner took her signals at face value. When the musicians counted, she translated the numbers by counting on her fingers. She mimicked the loud pounding of her heart with quick staccato gestures. While thinking about her next approach, she visibly felt her pulse on her neck and at her hip sockets.

In "The Conversation" Bebe Miller and David Thomson moved about the stage trailing all twenty years of their relationship behind them. The piece traveled across the landscape of a relationship, carving out the space that a conversation would inhabit, if words could be used as excavation tools. Sometimes they danced close together, conversing with an intimate physical language, gesticulating and touching each other gently. At other times they were far apart, dancing wildly and expansively. They chatted. "Why'd you do that?" Miller snapped lovingly, causing a laugh from the audience. Later, Thomson coughed— another laugh. Miller threatened to reveal a secret that he did not know that she knew. The sound engineer seemed especially attune to their playfulness, beginning their first piece of music, a romantic piece by Gavin Bryars, just when Thomson was leaning over Miller, as if mid-seduction— the audience laughed again. The two beautiful movers were not afraid to get close. At one point, they held eye contact, with a distance of one inch between their brows, for about 10 seconds.

They danced decisively, making distinct choices and acting on them with show stealing confidence. Each performed a joyous, expansive solo, working into his or her own groove, while the other watched fondly. At one, remarkable moment, Miller turned from her down stage left position and marched herself all the way to upstage right, standing right in front of the door just stage right of the steps that lead to the altar of St. Mark's Church; she seemed as if she might march right out the door. There is not much space to move back there, so Thomson marched right on over to her and the two began repeating small movements to each other at a rapid pace, looking away and coming back. The result was cinematic, like a couple, filmed mid-conversation, with one clip flashing by over and over again.

Kim Epifano is a force to be reckoned with. She came out into the dark, whispering and crouching like a troll, while Rodney Johnson played back the sound of the audience as it talked during intermission. When the lights came up, there she was, decked out in a sleeveless, sparkling dress, ready to hit the clubs. Then off she went, singing dancing, laughing, breathing, talking, front hand springing all around the church. One particularly good choice she made was to use the picturesque altar space, where once she entered, she was like Isadora Duncan posing under Greek architecture, yet with her own 21st century irony about her. And what better song to sing while standing in the altar space of an episcopal church than "Amazing Grace?" From then on we heard a veritable juke box of songs, as she belted out excerpts from "Summertime," "It's a Hard Days Night," "Give Peace a Chance," "The Girl From Ipanema," and others. Amidst the musical selections, Epifano knelt down and gave the audience a chakra lesson, prefacing it by saying, "I know you New Yorkers know about your chakras!" to which the audience stared back blankly. From her bag of tricks, Epifano also whipped out a few sayings that would later return— things like, "It doesn't matter. We're all matter!," "Everyone has something to say. We all have something to say!," "I love it!," and a few stories. While concocting her symphony of excitement, Epifano, twirled, stood on her strong agile hands, and writhed with a large, bubbling life force. She seemed as if she wanted eat the whole world, she loved it all so much.

Improvisation is an undervalued, and often neglected genre within modern dance. Emphasis has always placed the choreography and the choreographer as the most important force of a modern dance company. But remove the choreographer from the picture, and we see dance in it's purest state, coming directly from the dancer. The dancer is free to move in the moment, reacting to the world around her, really communicating what she feels through movement. Improvisation, some might say, is the very root of dance itself, because it is how we begin to move. Spontaneous movement is how choreography is created and how new territory in dance is discovered. How important it is then that this festival exists, celebrating those in the field that remind us that dance does not have to be crafted and refined to be valuable art.

Danspace Project
131 East 10th Street (at Second Avenue)
New York, NY 10003
Information: 212-674-8112
Fax: 212-529-2318
Reservation: 212-674-8194

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