As we waited to make our last appearance at the Building Museum, we were able to hear David Rockwell, founder and CEO of his namesake cross-disciplinary design practice, give a keynote address. In his speech he talked about architectural projects, commissions, and how such tasks involve one essential thing—play. Rockwell explained play through four elements—inspiration, risk, temporary, and exploration—and I realized that Rockwell’s approach to his projects and the approach to my improvisational experience that night—and to dance in general—were not so different.
Inspiration shows up whether we know it or not, for all forms of art. Of course in choreography, inspiration leads us to create movement, spacing, picking music, etc. In an improvisational situation, however, inspiration is much more immediate. In the Building Museum, we drew on the shapes we saw and created in the space to create movement. It was a constant conversation of bodies to bodies, bodies to corners, bodies to walls, and so on. What we saw and felt there at that time was what instigated thoughts and movements—and that constant search for inspiration kept us moving.
Risk exists particularly strongly in improvisation, for so much of it exists in the unknown. At the Museum, I felt as though the stakes of risk were the highest I had ever experienced. Not only was I in an unfamiliar space with people I had not danced with before, but the environment was full of surprises. I shared dancing space in very close proximity with fragile elements—glasses, noses, and fancy clothes. Thus, I found my spacial awareness as well as my awareness of my own clumsiness on high alert, careful not to knock over a tray of mini quiches or step on the trail of an $800 gown. Definitely not the usual concerns I have during a performance, but it was a fascinating challenge as it unfolded. (And yes, I made it through without injuring any party guests or their spiffy attire!).
As Rockwell elaborated on the temporary nature of his projects that moved from place to place, I thought of dance in context of as a performing art. Dance is temporary in its essence as a performing art. Like music or theater, dance exists when it is physically being created and practiced. When the practice ends, the art ends. As opposed to visual arts like painting and ceramics, which create products that are visitable, preservable, and tangible, no one can hold dance in their hands to keep forever. I think that’s part of what makes dance so organic and authentic, and why many people experience emotional reactions to it. When it is present, we can surround ourselves with it, enjoying it fully And, as was reiterated for me that night at the Building Museum, dance can happen anywhere, at anytime, with anyone.
Exploration is at the core of modern dance and improvisation. We explore the possibilities of our bodies, the space, and the interactions that come about by bringing all these elements into our dance as a whole. And this is what’s at the core of every art form—creating something is a never ending journey of discovery and questioning.
I love that Rockwell used the word “play”—it reminded me that freedom and happiness are a huge part of creating anything. And it reminded me that we don’t have to take everything seriously all the time. Realizing how interchangeable these elements are between two seemingly separated approaches to art was one of my favorite parts of the night at the Building Museum. It gave me a big surge of happiness and a desire to play with my creativity. So, with his conclusion, it was off to energize the dance floor with party guests—and play we did.
Here are some clips of us in action: