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jklm studio  |  by kori martodam

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  • Writer's pictureStephen Leckenby

improvisation: composing meaning in real time

I have this feeling that improvisation as a performance technique is thought of as a feral, distant cousin of what most people call “legitimate” dance. Legitimate dance is the kind thing that is repeated and perfected and founded on years of technical training within a codified vocabulary. I am in love with and continually compelled to make excuses after improvisation because of this feeling. In a few days my company and I will begin a week of intensive rehearsal, dancing together daily from 9am–5pm, putting 50+ hours of our time an attention toward being able to “just go out there and make something up” called CLEAR next Friday and Saturday night. Before we begin, though, I thought I might address the question: So what are we doing?


The answer has both global and specific components. Globally, we are preparing to perform together in front of an audience in a standard proscenium setting. The audience sits and watches; we perform. Hopefully something worthwhile if not profound is happening. A few weeks ago I saw Taylor Mac at the Moore here in Seattle. I read judy's (Taylor's preferred pronoun) creative manifesto after the show and was struck by judy's idea that “as a theater artist I'm not a teacher; I'm a reminder. I'm just trying to remind you of things you've dismissed, forgotten, or buried.” I find the humility and audience-empowering stance of that idea liberating. I believe it's true. So as a company of dancers about to make a new work, we will ask ourselves, I will ask myself, what I wish to remind my audience of, what feelings and images I want to offer as an inflection point in the greater on-flowing of life. CLEAR will, as the title suggests, be an experience of transparency, but the specifics of how it is encountered and in what way we want to manifest transparency in performance will be one of our first conversations in rehearsal.


Specifically, we are a group of eight women with professional training in dance, theater, and stage-based performance. We are eight people with a huge variety of life experiences and diverse aesthetic sensibilities. We are about to evolve together a common language of expression for CLEAR, to fashion an aesthetic ecology of what we collectively know and feel CLEAR to mean, and to practice techniques of communicating with one another and the audience (using our moving bodies) to manifest meaning in real time. Chris Aiken, one of my longest-standing and favorite teachers of improvisation, stated in an interview several years ago that “meaning comes from the interaction of my wishes and my experiences in relationship to what is actually tangible and real.” I interpret that statement to include the element of imagination; that manifesting meaning involves the imagination and memory insomuch as we are motivated toward that which we have found to be or imagine to be pleasurable, and are deterred from that which is not, unless a greater purpose steels our endurance of it. But is it the abstract—remembering, wishing, longing—that motivates in many cases. The real and the now are quite placid, should a person suspend the mental time travel to experience them. Thus we will study our wishing, our longing, our memory, our imagination, and how these thing galvanize and inform our movement. We'll also study, as a break from all of that business, the present as well.


During our intensive we will engage and tune not only our physical movement skills, but we will practice as composers of time, space, rhythm, form, emotion, meaning, and stillness. This is the work. We know how to dance. How do we utilize arrange our capacities and choose from numerous options in real time to desired effect? By practicing judgement at the speed of impulse. By becoming familiar with instinct. This is the great experiment and the questions we seek to answer to in our week together. We hope you’ll follow the unfolding of our research!


More soon, Kori Martodam JKLM Studio

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