Hi all, Ellen here!
I’ve recently started following a new youtube web video series called “The Art Assignment.” In it, museum curator Sarah Urist Green takes you to visit a different contemporary artist each week. After a brief interview about their art and what inspires them, the artist then gives the viewer an assignment. This opens up the conversation to the online community, as viewers all over respond by completing the assignment and posting their work to the Assignment’s youtube or facebook pages. This week’s assignment is to create a GIF of something that you consider “Intimate and Indispensable” to you as a person.
I took the assignment to the dancers this afternoon, since for me my Intimate Indispensable is dance, and as I suspected, so was everyone else’s. We did a long improvisation based on the question of what specifically about dance makes it indispensable to each of us, and followed it up with a long discussion of the thoughts we’d worked with. Since a single GIF doesn’t give much time to explore these thoughts, I created a series of GIFs and thought I’d pair them with a blog post detailing our conversation. I’ll also include the video of the full improvisation at the end of this post, for those interested in seeing the whole thing – warning: it’s nearly 40 minutes long!
The first thing that came up in our discussion after the improv was how connected we all felt throughout the 40 minutes. Working with such an intimate concept kept us close and made us hyper-aware of what everyone in the space was working with at any given moment. We went around the group and talked about the thoughts we’d had running through our heads, and looked for common themes. Jackie (black sweater) mentioned playing with stillness, and giving herself the permission and the space to just be still within the dance and really embody it fully. Angelina (hot pink) listed off a series of questions, including “Where do the impulses to dance come from?” and “What is ugly, what is beautiful?” I (green) listed off qualities of dance that I felt particularly close to, including momentum, emotion, and the real person behind the dance.
We all played at various times with pushing our boundaries, Jackie testing the limits of her stretches and reaches and Angelina exploring how far she could go into pedestrian movement and still be dance. We discussed the idea of real-time choreography; our hyper-awareness making it easier to react to each other and toss motifs around the room to create a cohesive whole. We touched briefly on the distinction, or lack thereof, between performing and rehearsing, and the difference between being inside the dance and observing it.
Finally I brought up the idea, originally presented to me by a favorite teacher, that dance is unique among the arts because it is ephemeral. Every performance is different, and watching a video is never quite the same as being present in the room while the dance occurs. Being inside an improvisation means that we will never know quite what the experience of watching it was like, even if we watch the video. That thing can never happen again.
When asked to distill their answer to the original question down as succinctly as possible, Jackie answered that she felt improvisation was her Intimate Indispensable. If asked to eliminate improvisation from her life, she would not be able to. Angelina felt that it was impossible to narrow down her Intimate Indispensable further than Dance, in its entirety. Everything from improv to tap to bad dance movies is part of the dance that shapes who she is. And for me? I think working with others is my Indispensable. I’ve spent time creating alone, making solo after solo with no-one to bounce ideas off of, and it’s not something I’d like to return to. I need that feedback that only other dancers can provide, both in improv and in choreography.
You can check out our whole improv below. I’ve added a separate page for Art Assignments, where you can check out last week’s assignment as well as this one. The link to that is now in the sidebar, under “Other Projects”.