The third cluster of this publication zooms in on the crux of the research project that formed the impetus for conducting the interviews in 2001: improvisation. Improvisation here is approached in a twofold way; first tracing the concrete origins of that very notion within the work of Steve Paxton, but secondly as a more general notion, regarding it almost as a way of living, a life practice, a practice of inclusion. The jump between the former and the latter is a jump made between two different interviews, two distinct periods, and two different interlocutors. The first interview dating back to 2001 and conducted by Myriam Van Imschoot, the second having taken place in the summer of 2019 and conducted by Tom Engels.
To go from improvisation as a dance form to improvisation as a way of life seems, at first sight, a big leap, an exaggeration almost. But stretching our understanding of this notion, turning it almost into hyperbole, allowed us to think how art and life were able to resonate, how they could feed each other, or how they could cross-fertilize, without having to define the dual temporal order of chicken and egg.
In 1: On Improvisation, conducted in 2001 in Vermont, Steve Paxton and Myriam Van Imschoot trace back the very origins of Steve’s interest in improvisation as a tool for dance and composition. Against the backdrop of having worked with John Cage and Merce Cunningham, Paxton recalls his earliest memories of seeing improvisation in the work of Simone Forti and Trisha Brown made in the context of Judson Dance Theatre. We’re amid a laboratory, a testing ground, where the notion of improvisation was not yet conceptualized. It is a notion in full emergence, which would come to define and radically shift the practices of contemporary dance ever since. However, in the early years, improvisation was not free from judgment and often resulted in a flippant push and pull between discarding and embracing this new form of practice. What one can witness is the slow emerging of an understanding of what that thing called improvisation could be, or what it could be capable of.
2: Practices of Inclusion is an attempt to continue the aforementioned conversation on improvisation between Van Imschoot and Paxton from 2001. Some things remained unclear. Did the tape cut off? Was there another tape that went missing? If so, where would it be, who would have it, which life would it live now? 18 years later, we took the lost tape as an impetus for a new conversation. This interview picks up the thread and speculates on improvisation in relation to ecologies of inclusion. Inclusion and ecology being interpreted in a broad sense and being present in a variety of life expressions: the practice of Buddhism, yoga and aikido, performance as a field of permissions and openness, the pigs playing in the garden of Mad Brook farm or an 8-year-old boy climbing granite rocks in Arizona. One element keeps on returning, namely that these expressions always embody the oneness of duality. Or, as Zen-master Suzuki once said, “The body and mind are not two and not one.”
- Simone Forti, See Saw from Dance Constructions, 1960. Performance with plywood seesaw. Duration variable. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Committee on Media and Performance Art Funds. © 2020 The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Performed by Simone Forti and Steve Paxton at Galleria L'Attico, Rome, 1969. Image: © 2020 Claudio Abate. Courtesy of Simone Forti and The Box, LA.
Images right starting from the top:
- Video still from Grand Union performing at the University of Iowa, March 7, 1974.
- Tom Engels, The Mad Brook running close to the lands of Mad Brook Farm, 2019.