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Flash Review 3, 12-2: Letting it Flow
Improv Festival Kicks Off at Danspace Project

By Terry Hollis
Copyright 2000 Terry Hollis

As a dancer the word "improvisation" makes my heart sink into my sweats. Not because I don't like watching it, but because doing it becomes a test of will. I want it mapped out and served up. At least that's how I felt until one night, at the Yard. About 1 a.m. a friend convinced me to go into the studio and improv with him -- you know, just fool around. About four hours later we were still at it, and only stopped because class was in a few hours. It was a cool ride. All that to say, last night at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, the Ninth Annual Improvisation Festival kept that ride going with some of the quickest minds around.

At one point during "Real Location," the space is quiet and we hear two loud clangs from the heating pipes in the church. Taking that as her cue, Lisa Nelson breaks out of her pose and joins Anat Shamgar on the floor. Using nothing but a lot of experience and whatever seemed to be around at the moment, they create tension, hilarity, and even a couple of revelations.

Watching improvisation done in silence has always been fascinating to me because there is nowhere to hide for the audience or the performer. For some reason, I think it's easier to see the dancer's thought process and follow it. Not always true. Watching Daniel Lepkoff, Ms. Nelson and Ms. Shamgar perform "Real Location" I constantly tried to make the connection, and the challenge was working with vocabularies that stayed separate. None of the "You do this I do that" that ends up defining some improvs. These dancers stayed true to their own rhythms during the piece and didn't seem to push the point that these are duets. In the beginning it seemed to alienate me from the piece until I read the program note that calls it "a dance for New York." Suddenly that alienation made perfect sense. In the last duet, the one that shows the most synergy, Mr. Lepkoff stands in one place and vibrates violently while Ms. Shamgar is directly opposite him completely still. Soon she starts to join him in his state; it doesn't seem like madness but empathy.

Mary Overlie's "Solo Series" struck a lot of chords. Ms. Overlie is a beautiful mover but her solo sections used blunt, clear statements ("dance is a profession," "movement touches everything"), and an expressive face to create some pretty heavy atmosphere. At the opening Ms. Overlie sets herself up as the only person in the world, looking frail and helpless dressed all in black, but when she opens her mouth the first word out is "audience." She flips the script right away and lets you know that what's important is that she's looking at us and not vice-versa. As she moves through the improv, telling us lots of personal information, the lighting (by Kathy Kaufman) continues to shift and voices from the sides of the stage begin to seep in. Soon Ms. Overlie is joined onstage by throngs of students, each giving us their own statements. The stage clears and Ms. Overlie is left alone again pretty much the same as before. No transformations or dramatic transitions, just her. It's a nice moment because, as she says earlier in the piece, movement is her politics. Nothing comes in and changes it; she uses it to change everything else.

I gotta admit I was a little wary at the beginning of "The 3-Deglazes Redux," performed by Sally Silvers, Pooh Kaye, and Viveca Vasquez. I was thinking, "Where is this going?" I found out. Entering the stage with their own baggage (literally), these three took us on a trip. With a sound score that went from Latin to Louis Armstrong they provided a hilarious tour of physical interaction. Pooh Kaye crawls along the floor while Ms. Silvers crawls along with her connected arm to head. Vivica Vasquez tries on a leopard skin coat and is inspired to fly (or die trying). When Louis Armstrong starts singing "What A Wonderful World" they bring out a huge tutu with duct tape attached, turning Pooh Kaye into someone's ideal. The audience loved going on this tour.

The Festival continues on tomorrow at Danspace Project, with a new line-up.

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