Charlie Ashwell and Seke Chimutengwende’s Improvisation starts in darkness. With casual, skippy moves, zig-zag and rhythmical, it is as though the two of them are hearing some music of their own, and as they move it’s soft and inviting. A kind of sound-down dancing emerges.
As micro-patterns are repeated their dances feel like a harvesting. Or a practice at harvesting as they reinvestigate the potential of each moment to bear up what potential it may have at each moment. It is all pretty full with renewed commitment to keep on dancing toward meaning(s), bold in the face of the audience; I find that engaging.
This practice transposes from movement to text in a game of naming from adjective to noun. An arm gestures hangingly, is described by Charlie as “hanging”, and seized upon by Seke as one of those potent moments. So ensues a patrilineal tale of earldom, from execution to the animals contained in an atheist’s heaven. A tale as tall as, as wide as…diagonals.
They cover the diagonals, make friendly sweeps across the stage, arrive close to the edges and stay – confidently – put. I feel at ease with both the directness of their address and with the spaces between the words, the harvesting dance full of curiously folky propositions and the crystallisation of the voice with all its historical authority.
At several moments the performers arrive close together, speaking at the same time, backing each other up all conspiratorial and confident, bluffing their brilliant lies. They seem to be enjoying themselves and each other, playing to the strengths of their mutual ease, acutely aware of the other. As their free association story continues to assemble I have the feeling that I am witnessing the break down of the autocue, the free roaming of imaginations both physically and literarily dexterous.
On discovering I was reviewing an improvisation I squirmed a bit. My take on improvisation has always been that it’s so much more fun to do than watch. I find myself envying those on stage and feeling even more shackled to my seat than usual. However, if I begin from this standpoint then I can let my judgment lie in how well the experience of doing it is shared with the audience.
Luckily, Charlie Ashwell and Seke Chimutengwende exposed themselves particularly skilfully. The relief, achievement and disappointment inherent in improvising were explicitly conveyed. The uncomfortable rhythmic pacing at the beginning evoked the anticipation of the unknown immediate future, and awkward glances and sighs of relief kept me with them. This drew attention towards what makes improvisation so goddamn exciting to do and assisted my phenomenological neediness.
The improvisation relied heavily on the text and speech throughout to create humour and engage the audience. Shared words were captured out of a messy articulation containing ramblings of hangings, earls and sheep. My favourite was experiencing the performers’ relief at the shared delivery of the word ‘geese’ arrived at through a ‘gathering, gaggling, gaggle’. Another pleasing moment was the realisation that the lyrics to Phats and Small’s 1999 hit Turn Around were emerging out of the disorder: “Hey… What’s wrong with you? You’re looking kinda down to me”.
Underlying the text, the movement generally formed atmosphere and assisted timings leading me to question its function. I was left phenomenologically appeased but wondering whether the movement had become the page for the spoken word to be written on. If that’s the case I’m OK with it, but I wonder whether for experienced dancers, delivering highly skilled movement can become such a commonplace procedure that even in improvisation its significance can get lost. Performers risk being so comfortable with the wave of an arm that it results with it disappearing into the background unintentionally when partnered with text.
Megan Saunders is a dance artist whose activities focus primarily on learning, participation and territory. She is currently researching the body and privatisation of space and is excited by the gaps between things. Megan also wrote about Improvisation.