Ensemble Improvisation's Essential Ingredients
A Crucial Pair of Complementary Skills
Collaborative improvisation presents a special challenge. It involves people aiming to cooperate without being able to rely on using routine - explicit rules and patterns - as the basis for their coordination. (In a way, improvisation is the search for action beyond routine.) The quality of ensemble improvisation generally depends on the quality of collaboration between its members, and not just the actions of any individual. In this vein, I see a fundamental, complementary pair of skills that are essential to vital, engaging ensemble improvisation:
- The ability of an individual to be receptive and respond to their own ongoing processes - feelings and sensations, inertia, ideas, inspirations, whims, joy of moving, etc - while remaining receptive to influence from activity around them
- The ability of an individual to be receptive and respond to activities of those around them, while also being receptive to what's going on within themselves.
Altogether, I see as key the ability to be receptive to what's going on inside and around you, without letting one preclude the other.
Here's one way I see this emphasis being helpful:
By factoring in one's own, internal activity to my responses to external activity, one maintains some coherence in an ongoing dance. This tends to foster responding to external correspondences that fit where you're going, in the moment, and vice versa - to better integrate your own and the other person's trajectories. This can make for combinations that are less forced, more coherent. The tension between the internal and external helps keep what's happening coherent yet continually changing, vital to all involved, rather than monotonic / monotonous.
I believe this recipe reduces tendencies for one initiative / person / state to take over the collective activity, or at the other extreme, for a dancer to isolate themselves from the others. Even more, I believe it provides the foundation necessary for everyone in an ensemble interaction to cultivate their own inspiration and to thrive on each other's, and thus for the ensemble to collectively change and grow.
See Respecting Boundaries for guidelines that support this approach, and Contact Improv As a Way of Moving for a framing of contact improv with this premise deep in its foundation.
I've posted a blog entry that develops this notion in the context of the Underscore, after an inspiring session.