I am a Dance Improvisation artist who has been researching and contributing to the evolution of this genre of dance for the past forty years. My art posits an experience of freedom that engenders creative healing and the potential for transformation. Dances are negotiated through movement that enacts communication and relationship using the simplest of structures and guidelines.
Improvisational dance is central to all global dance forms from social dance to the complex structures of ritual dances across the globe. In the 1960s and 1970s, in response to the stylization of dance forms based on one individual’s technique (e.g. José Limon, Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham), experimental postmodern dance artists began to legitimize improvisational dance as a collective form embodying the creative input of all of the participants and performers. I place myself in the lineage of some of the seminal figures of the Judson Church era (1960–69), with innovators such as Simone Forti and Steve Paxton. These artists, originally my teachers, have since become collaborators and fellow researchers in the practice, performance, and teaching of Contemporary Improvisational Dance. I have developed a strong body of performance work, teaching pedagogy, and Improvisational practice that contributes significantly to the form and I see all three practices deeply interwoven in my creative work. My research is done through my teaching, my performances, and my collaborations with other artists across many disciplines. I do not separate my research from these practices. These practices are my research.
I shape the philosophies of my work from my studies in four traditions: Contact Improvisation (dance), Aikido, the Evolution of Consciousness through the teachings of Andrew Cohen, and the Alexander Technique. It is through absorbing these different philosophies into my research that I have refined my artistic practice, giving my work its own unique standing within the field of dance.
Contact Improvisation is a duet dance form that began as part of the dance revolution of the 1970s in New York City. I was introduced to this work when Steve Paxton first brought his technique to the UK in 1978. The democratic nature of this improvisation practice had a dramatic impact on my understanding about the potential to generate embodied approaches to freedom, new relationships to the body and the hierarchies I had perceived in the traditions of modern dance. I was one of the first five people who began to teach and perform Contact Improvisation throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. My immersion in teaching and performing Contact Improvisation led me to seek more simplicity and clarity of structure. I desired a strong physical foundation in my dance practice as a means to gain greater artistic freedom.
I turned to the Japanese martial art form of Aikido, studying for five years under the tutelage of Imaizumi Sensei in New York City. I absorbed the principles of clarity, discipline, respect, and the philosophy of non-violence that underpins its rigorous physical training and techniques for harmonizing with an opponent’s energy. The tenets of Aikido translated directly to the collaborative partnering work I was researching through Contact Improvisation. The principles of this martial art became the foundation upon which I built my work in dance.
The integration of the Aikido principles transformed my relationship to my art from a career path into a life-practice. I became interested in researching the deeper implications of my artistic practice and its relationship to human life, and spent sixteen years studying the Evolution of Consciousness through the teachings of Andrew Cohen. Through this lens I was able to grasp a deeper meaning and connection within my work in dance. I place my research within the larger context of the human endeavor to evolve as a species with the imperative for us to realize our individuality within the context of community. This study was indispensable to my understanding of collaboration and subsequently led to my passion for interdisciplinary learning.
In Spring 2008 I took a full-time position teaching Improvisation at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. On moving to the US I began studying the Alexander Technique with Joan and Alex Murray, two distinguished teachers who ran a local teacher training course. I graduated as a certified teacher of the Technique in May 2013 and this somatic modality has become integral to my research. I consider the Alexander Technique imperative for understanding the correct “use of the Self,“ a phrase that F.M. Alexander coined when he started teaching his technique in the early 1900s. Its principles are applicable to a multitude of disciplines, most notably the performing arts.
Many artists—actors, musicians, as well as dancers—have found the Alexander Technique to be a powerful way to enhance performance. Aficionados say that the Alexander Technique is “the technique under all techniques,” because it is a process of embodied thinking, sensing, and acting.” —Glenna Batson, MA Dance and certified teacher of the Alexander Technique
My research goals as a performer are to explore the nature of meaning as it arises in each situation. My performances are often site-specific and cultivate an intimate relationship with the audience. Through the use of humor, eye contact, dialogue and proximity, I invite the audience to join me on a journey as I negotiate my way through present moment decision-making that is inherent in improvised performance. My research has been influenced through performing alongside many world-renowned artists (not all of them dancers) such as Simone Forti, Steve Paxton, Michael Schumacher, Adam Benjamin, Katrina McPherson and Le Quan Ninh, who share an interest in the power of improvisation.
My mission as an Improvisation artist is to honor the individual within the collective, make room for difference within the harmony of relating, learn by making mistakes, search for solutions, and to create new movement-based languages through the exploration of gravity and weight.
Improvisation is a practice of confronting what is real—recognizing/listening/responding to what is occurring in the moment—and honing the body/mind to a state of readiness and continual questioning. This constitutes a state of mind where embodied awareness and physical action are simultaneous. It is in retrospect that the results of the split-second timing of awareness-in-action can be analyzed. This process provokes a continual revelation about oneself, others, the artistic creation and the world around us. At its foundation, it is about transforming a fear-based relationship with what is unknown and unpredictable into one of excitement about the potentiality that each moment offers us, and can lead an individual to discovering a way of living where constant alert awareness, questioning, and curiosity are the norm.
My ability to communicate with diverse populations and to bring people together in a state of heightened sensitivity comes from my depth of understanding the language of the body. I have refined my skills of communication through touch and the natural rhythms of the body, creating a physical and philosophical practice that facilitates bridge building across cultures and disciplines. It is important for me that my research focuses on working with every-body (e.g. blind children and their mothers in Taiwan, deaf students in Cambodia, forty students from twenty African nations in Senegal, as well as professional dancers throughout the world). These experiences often have great impact for participants as well as for my own development as an artist. For example, in Taiwan after working together for a week, the mothers reported experiencing new ways of communicating with their children focusing on positive affirmation as opposed to imposing authoritarian strategies.
To practice Improvisation is to practice a state of vulnerability, willingness and generosity, and embodying this heightened state of sensitivity in collaboration with others is central to my artistic practice and research.
When I am not teaching at the University of Illinois, I facilitate workshops
throughout the world, sharing my passion for the exploration of dynamic
freedom and unity through improvisatory dance.