Monday, July 26, 2010

Multidiscipline Improvisation

It was not just another Saturday night at the ArtwordArtbar. This Saturday night was special. No musical act had been lined up and since the venue is inclined toward all the arts (and with the availability of some of the guests at this time) the proprietors decided to hold a multidiscipline improvisation evening.

They had done something of the sort before: dance, some music, video projection on a screen behind the dancer. This session was intended to be expanded. An artist who created and layered sound and music on his laptop computer was available and eager. A new projection program needed to be tried in a more public situation. Several dancers and various musicians were ready to take part. And to this mix I suggested myself.

What I wanted to do was something I had tried before, a good number of years before. I wanted to place some of my poetry before an audience ― with enhancements not of my own making. Back in the eighties I had come together with a saxophonist and a male dancer; we had begun work on a suite combining words – music – movement to explore a primitive understanding of the world. Although the concept was never fully fleshed out for anything like public presentation, the urge to see my work interpreted by other artists has always remained in the back of my mind. Here, I believed, was the chance to do something similar. I would speak my words. My voice would stand alone without my usual stage presence and physical movement. Instead the flow of words would be interpreted instantly and without prior consultation by a dancer or dancers there on the stage.

My idea was welcomed. I would present two poems, one in each set, and then be obligated to take part in a free, unstructured performance of all the artists involved.

I decided that the first poem would be just myself and the dancers, three ladies. I wanted to recite from off stage but they preferred me onstage as they moved around me. I compromised, sitting on the front of the stage with my words and microphone, presenting the poem as they moved and controlled the open space before me while the projectionist worked her magic on the screen behind us. At the break between sets we discussed the presentation. My difficulty had been that I was not able to see their movement and use that to vary the pacing and tone; one of the dancers expressed a slight frustration that sometimes my presentation didn’t match what she expected from the words. All valid and useful comments.

My second presentation was not as concrete in imagery, leaving it more open to interpretation. I also asked the musicians ― bass, percussion, violin, and the aforementioned computer keyboardist ― to come in wherever they felt they could. This time, I stayed off-stage and was able to watch the dancers, vary the pace and intonation; the musicians were doing the same. This ensemble seemed to work together well, not flawlessly but to the satisfaction of the whole group.

Then, to end the evening after another break for refreshing mind and body, the improvisational “free-for-all.” The focus of this extensive … I suppose you could call it a “jam” … was the dancers on stage: as individuals, in twos, as a trio. To their actions each of the other artist/participants added their own layer, using their own medium. As a poet, I am not able to compose and speak out on the spot but I did not withdraw from the fusion. I used the opportunity to add voiced sounds ― sometimes words, phrases, short sentences, but more often hums or unstructured voice. I would take a clear vowel and slowly run it through different shapes of the mouth or flit it back and forth. Throw in a few do-wop phrasings (often at greatly reduced rhythms) and I knew I was contributing to the whole, even wordlessly.

Ah, the magic! Layers of creative expression, unrehearsed and spontaneous.
I look forward to the next time I can be part of such an experience.

1 comment:

Virginia Simpson Geffros said...

all I can say is WOW! wish I had been there