5 day silent contact improv jam
I offer great thanks and respect to Nancy Stark Smith for all that she has contributed to the dance form Contact Improvisation, but especially, her creation, The UnderScore.
We used the UnderScore for our 5 day silent jam, Aug25-29, 2019 at Leviathan Studio. The 12 of us began at 10am on Sunday morning, ending at 4pm on Thursday afternoon. The UnderScore was the glue that kept us recirculating back into the space, continuing to delve.
Prior to the 5day UnderScore we were participants in the Residency for Experienced Dancers in Contact Improvisation. This began two weeks earlier. We began the residency with morning class in Paxton’s work and Tai Chi and Aikido. This lead to good, grounded, weight-sharing, safe lifts, supported tumbles, into and out of the floor, dancing. The afternoons were lead by participants in their individual interests. There was a process though, a litmus test. If you had a proposal to share with the group during the afternoon session then you were asked to present it to the group in the morning so we could examine the proposal, ask questions, and know what we were getting in to.
This was the third week of a Residency in Contact Improvisation at Leviathan Studio. Although silent, we did not take a vow of silence. The guidelines at the outset were that if someone needed to talk, they could. Everyone was asked to be open to being talked to if the need arose. We also agreed to meet as a group at 10am each day for a brief check-in. These check-ins were 2minutes or less. There was nothing to say.
After hosting many workshops and residencies (65 since 2010) at Leviathan Studio, I have grown accustomed to the conversation during meals. Much of the conversation repeats itself, over and over. There was no superfluous conversation during these 5days. That energy spent listening to conversation could be used to listen to our dance. I had more energy to dance without all that talking.
There was a lot of laughter. You could make eye contact. This isn’t a monastery. You could gesture. You could tell jokes without talking. There was a surprising amount of laughter along with a passion for dance, especially, Contact Improv. We jammed in the morning for a couple hours, regathering as a group in the afternoon and then again in the evenings.
Nancy’s UnderScore was what we all agreed to practise during the 5days, 1 continuous UnderScore. “You are always in.” The evening sauna was silent. Even while sleeping, you are in, you are participating in the UnderScore. This brought a lot of focus to the floor, to the dance, to each other.
Along with a genuine appreciation for Contact Improvisation, maturity is required. I have seen many jams get overrun with loud pop music. Maturity embraces the void whereas immaturity tries to fill the void. Those long moments where nothing is happening, boredom may arise. Only the seasoned, the committed dancer will embrace the awkward moment of nothing happening and wait. I have seen many people come through the studio who won’t wait. Their dances are short. They quickly change partners. If there is a lull, they run. If there is quiet, they turn on the music.
Our final gathering to close the UnderScore took 2hrs. There was a lot of silence. There was a lot of appreciation for each other and appreciation for the space we held for each other. There was a wish to do it longer next time. Another suggestion was to end, take a rest and then start another length of silence.
This was an overwhelming success for me. After hosting many residencies that spent a lot of time ‘talking about it,’ but not actually dancing, or, allowing the loudest extrovert to take control of the process, taking us down a road that has little tangential relationship to CI, or, downright, nothing related to CI at all, such as loud dance/party music, after these experiences I have dug my heels in and demanded that we study what the masters studied and respected.
We broke our silence with a long Thanksgiving at 4pm on the 5th day. Afterwards, we had dinner and then reconvened to jam again that evening. Although we could talk now, there was very little talking. A deep appreciation for silence had been acquired.
We had one more full day of the residency. We went back to the morning warm-up that we had used during the first two weeks, rolling until ready to jam. That afternoon was spent in rest, preparing for the evening jam with Vaughan. Vaughan comes to the studio at the end of all workshops to play improvised, live music with harp and piano. He watches us and plays to us as much as we dance to him. His observation was, “I’ve never scene such an ensemble group here before.” It was observed by the dancers too. There was a group energy during this jam that I had never felt before. It was special.
I will organize this again in 2020, perhaps twice, perhaps longer.