Don’t call it improv. Not only does it look like a typo in print but, as Leslie Scates, one of Houston’s leading improvisational dance artists will tell you, “using “improv” continues to connote the work as casual.” In fact, it takes a particular kind of dexterity, vital to today’s dancer, to go beyond auto-pilot in improvisation and the preparation that goes into pulling off a spontaneous masterpiece is anything but casual. It’s no surprise then that The Second Annual Texas Dance Improvisation Festival (TDIF), to be hosted by Rice University October 7-9, is filling up with registrants from the widespread cities of Texas.
“Improvisational dance is a form that demands as much practice, intention and craft as any other dance technique,” says Rosie Trump, co-facilitator of this year’s event and Assistant Director of Rice University Dance Department. Addressing the need for a Texas-based event, she adds, “This is a legitimate form with a recognized lineage and secure future. Although TDIF is a relatively young festival, there are dance improvisation festivals that happen all over the country and internationally.”
The event, conceived by Jordan Fuchs, was facilitated in its inaugural year by he and Sarah Gamble at Texas Women’s University Department of Dance. As an attendant of that event, it was Scates who advocated for bringing the traveling festival to Houston for its sophomore assembly.
Funded in part by grants from the City of Houston Mayor’s Special Initiatives Grant program of the Houston Arts Alliance, TDIF will kick off with an improvisation jam at 6pm on Thursday, October 7.
Two full days of improvisation classes will follow. Movers of all types and improvisational novices are welcome to register for the festival classes. “Because you define the physicality in your dancing while improvising, it can be very appealing to all levels,” says Trump. “We have a variety of sessions to suit registrants at different stages of experience.”
Describing what even veteran performers and students have to gain from studying the craft of improvisation, Scates says, “Improvising teaches them to pay attention to choice-making in their dancing brain. It turns their bodies into 3D dancing instruments rather than instruments that constantly get and require feedback from a mirror or a particular ‘front.’ It teaches them to craft movement for repeatable choreography, improvise with other bodies and vocabularies, and to see other people as source material providers and not competition.” She points out that the related practice of contact improvisation “provides ample technique for creating partnering and becoming a versatile post modern dance machine.”
This year, TDIF will welcome Los Angles based dancer, improviser and arts activist, Meg Wolfe as its featured guest. “She is this visionary force in the LA dance scene,” explains Trump. Adding that “Southern California is a difficult place to navigate as a dance artist,” Trump explains that Wolfe curates Anatomy Riot, a regular choreography showcase; organizes a master class series called DanceBANK; co-edits the L.A. dance journal, and is the coordinator for a new grant program in Southern California. “I am very excited about what she will be able to share with the the Texas dance community, because so much of what she has initiated has been done without institutional or traditional support systems,” remarks Trump.
In addition to classes, two evening jams and a panel discussion will all take place at Rice University’s Barbara and David Gibbs Recreation Center, 6100 Main St, Rice University.
A performance and closing jam will be presented Saturday, October 9 at Barnevelder Movement Arts Complex, 2201 Preston, in downtown Houston.
Though the movement will be unplanned, Scates insists that there is no “phoning it in” during true performance, improvisational or otherwise. “Improvisers rehearse. Improvisers create scores so that the craft of improvising choreography has a setting, limits, definition and intent. Improvisers learn to capitalize on a brilliant moment and develop it.” The public is welcome on a first-come, first-served basis (with priority given to registrants) to attend the performance and jam at Barnevelder for an unrepeatable, “improv”-free evening.
Participants must register though the Texas Dance Improvisation Festival is completely free of cost.
Find more information or sign up for the full or partial event at tdif.rice.edu.
Reprinted from Dance Source Houston