Register Saturday | June 15 | 2019

Les Chemins de Traverses

Notes from performance

Improvising to a double album of Star Wars is what got me started dancing and what still spurs me forward these days (minus the soundtrack). So it was with great pleasure that I performed three evenings of structured improvisation in May for Van Grimde's Corps Secrets.

Les Chemins de Traverses at L'Agora de la Danse was a series of concerts which paired the company with different musical guests each evening. Isabelle designed the shows to invite audiences into her creative process and expose the multitude of ideas this working practice can generate. Sourcing from a vocabulary developed for the project, we performed with contemporary jazz group, Thom Gossage - Other Voices, the NEM and with electroacoustic musicians Michel Frigon & Guests.

I have stuck around long enough to understand Isabelle's choreographic aesthetic. Her dancers inhabit a state which oscillates between internal and external awareness, while physically embodying torsion and line at various frequencies. To fulfill this ideal you need a clear understanding of the impact of movement in space, a high speed connection to personal sensation and to come equipped with an arsenal of dynamics. The other dancers for the project were Esther Gaudette, Ceinwen Gobert, George Stamos, David Rancourt. I think as a group we had a good balance of virtuosity, sensitivity and ingenuity.

Van Grimde's work can be very technically and physically demanding. Les Chemin de Traverses was a liberating experience because it freed the dancers from the pressure of execution and expectation. Instead of striving to achieve a preexisting image, the challenge was instead to be vigilantly aware of new configurations and to transform existing vocabulary with new interpretations.

Isabelle developed the movement bank we used with Esther and I. It is intended for a new creation with the NEM entitled Vortex. Our shows in May were experiments in the direction and structure of the work.

The moment an improvisation show is proposed, a dancer must ask themselves how much freedom this actually means. I can tell you it rarely means free reign for us and generally this is a good thing. Having a platform for exploration gives individuals a common territory where rules can be broken, instead of struggle to be formed. This said, being inspired within precise parameters of space, time and phrases was a pretty intense challenge. Sometimes I was amazed by the way the brain and body can communicate. Our minds rifling quickly through a catalogue of movement phrases, making appropriate selections and playing them out physically; while gauging proximity and contrasting someone else's timing choices - no small feat. I got by on trust in the other interpreters and blind faith that my body is intelligent enough to process information in an interesting way.

Precise recall of the events alludes me because there are many versions layered in my mind. The clearest reminders are the ideas we worked with. For instance, Saturday evening I started in the space as the audience entered. I was playing a game with images of geometric lines that lead my body through a variety of strange configurations, and gradually took me out of the floor. At a certain point Esther and I began a distance duet where the we stole parts of each others motifs and territory. My personal trajectory went from a geometric task to a more instinctual duel.

Other stand outs were an impromtu duet with George where we broke the rules of the score. A section called bodies to bodies that happened in a downstage corner for the first time and where the group instantaneously reacted to each new soloist. Ceinwen joining me in the trajectories though space. Esther and David's duet after their arms collided. Standing off stage with George watching the dim red light fade on the musicians as we ended the second show with the NEM. The impact of approaching any of the musicians through all three shows, and feeling their fear/ openness to the intimacy of the physical language we proposed.

In the studio it is easier to research and investigate without worrying about the outer view. On the other hand, in performance nerves heighten the commitment from every individual. Sometimes this resulted in bravado, but generally people invested in more daring choices, were more generous and less concerned with conserving energy. How we dealt with the transitions in structure created the most confusing and satisfying moments. The mist would either descend or clear, depending on how well we read our mutual relation to the music, time and space.

There were difficulties too. I struggled to find strategies when I didn't feel like building in tempo, or dancing to certain music. Had to force myself to look around and leave space for others when wanting to fly off on a personal tangent; or go inward and listen when overstimulated externally. Could still learn to make stronger propositions and at other moments to do less. I was also dealing with a back injury from the work and had to keep conscious enough not to hurt my body getting carried away by adrenaline and the energy from live music. But when all the stars aligned it felt like the form and content was being revealed to, rather than created by us.

Over the past few years I have learned to see music as partner rather than the dictator of my rhythm and intention. However these performances proved the undeniable influence on mood and quality that sound has for both audience and performers. The electro acoustic left more space for our interpretation and created an environment rather than initiating a direct dialogue. The contemporary classical felt more cerebral and chaotic but at the same time contained a rich mix of intensities, tempos and resonances. The jazz felt closest to our process rhythmically and structurally, and we had the most tangible human connection with these musicians.

Our spatial choices were altered because we were surrounded by the audience. One had to consider many visual perspectives in order to play with depth and proximity. The experience of dancing close felt very human and far from illusion.

It became obvious how much order informs our perception of material. Suspending a balance, repeating a motif, what movement answered a proposal all influenced by the cumulative impact of choices. For example, my solo went quite differently depending on if it came from a duo or from separation from the group. In each score, it was supposed to start internally, but there were very divergent roads there. The first night, as the other musicians fell away Miles found low frequencies that formed a net for my explorations. Friday, an intense dialogue with David and the pianist, challenged and swept me up before I went off on my own. Saturday, there were pulses in the music which revealed a new direction of syncopating fluid movement with isolations. With each experience you hope you have enough skills to compose when you aren't completely inspired. But when that feeling hits it is so satisfying to go for the ride. As the nights progressed we had less to prove, and hit upon the right impulses more easily.

In the scenario of Les Chemins (like any improvisaion perfromance), performer and viewer were both implicated and involved in discerning patterns in the present. These shows were an exercise in entering into a conscious trance with others. What I've retained from the experience is that I want to go further down this road. It feels like the start of something very satisfying that doesn't allow for complacency.

After watching videos of old performances, I have concluded that generally in the past I have tried way too hard in isolation. The performers I admire convey strength of intention, clarity and impact by giving an idea duration in time and awareness of space. Performance to me now, seems all about removing layers and being with people, rather than constructing a pretty, intriguing (place desirable adjective here), fictitious version of ourselves. I admire people who can think on their feet, support the group and be transparent with their personal experience. Improvising with an audience present is a fast track to cultivating this state.