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Flash Review 2, 10-27: Just Improvise!
Just De Facto, M'am

By Chris Dohse
Copyright 2000 Chris Dohse

Dance Improv people have always seemed like a community unto themselves. A sweat-stinky, scruffy village somewhere between Wackyville and Granola Towne. Even though I've performed improvisations myself, both solo and group, using both text and movement, I think I've always seen improv more as an effective compositional tool than a performance medium. The success of its masters, like Paxton or Forti, can be attributed to compelling personae as much as to execution. When it sucks, improv performance is self-indulgent, dull, corny, infuriating, an endurance test of love-it-or-hate-it. Waiting for seat-of-the-pants serendipities can be nerve wracking.

De Facto Dance is a quintet of adherents to the form, an evolution of Richard Bull Dance Theatre and Improvisational Arts Ensembles, comprised of Kelly Donovan, Meg Fry, Aggie Postman, Naomi Pressman and Lee Shapley. If improv relies on the charisma of its players, these five have that in abundance. The three dances they showed Wednesday night in the funky, overheated basement of Middle Collegiate Church illuminated the process of their thoughts and actions in true improv fashion, creating a sort of found sculpture in sound, image and conversation. These collages framed quotidian gesture and prose as art without reifying it, in a way reminiscent of the merzbild of Kurt Schwitters.

Various members introduced the "outline" or "narrative lens" of each dance before the group began it; we were told that "In the Wild" was inspired from watching programs on the Nature Channel. Using theatrical conventions of lighting and spatial clarity, the piece started with two seated narrators, interpreting aloud the movements of two mirroring hominids. The participants costumed in black with faux-furred pillboxes, the interactions between stalkers and the stalked proceeded to the sound of falling rain. An essential playfulness pervaded the group's relationships and became a primary device of the evening.

During "Beginnings," I kept imagining how any two of the dancers first met and became friends. One of them repeatedly tried to perform a solo to music that never began. Another plead for a dance where everyone would "feel their feelings." As they began to forget we were there, the ludic became luxurious. A dance without text, "Turns" poised the dancers against Skip LaPlante's instruments made from found objects. I noticed that when the dancers stopped talking it made more room for my imagination and made me wish I hadn't been previously alerted to that particular dance's structure. A repeat of "In the Wild" closed the performance.

All dance is really made up on the spot, even when some sequences are well-rehearsed. Perhaps improv-as-performance increases the spotlight on a dancer's know-how and make-do, and increases appreciation for why a thing is done rather than how. In this way, De Facto Dance charms with its simplicity and ingenuity.

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