Contact Improvisation: A Question?
My understanding of the original intention of Contact Improvisation as an art event was to display to the public the body's innate ability to respond physically to its environment. Implied is an interest in the diversity of people's survival strategies and an indication that this spontaneous physical material can be viewed as danced composition.
Designing a performance form that would shunt any stylistic or aesthetically driven impulses a dancer may have, revealing a level of physical functioning that is ordinarily unconscious and material that is typically avoided in performance, is a tall order to say the least. Looking back, I think Steve Paxton experienced a moment of genius in creating the performances that were called Contact Improvisation.
Steve's ploy was to put the dancer's body into unusual, disorienting, and often emergency situations, pulling the rug out from under our feet so to speak. Rather than a predictable and familiar environment of support, such as the sole of one's foot meeting the fixed surface of the floor, in Contact Improvisation, one finds oneself in circumstances that demand accessing support from any area of one's own body
surface, in physical contact with any area of another person's body surface, both of which are in motion. In this situation one is not able to rely on habits, the reflexes take over, and the rest is history.
The underlying technique needed to prepare for and survive the surprises of a Contact Improvisation duet is to pose and maintain a question:
This questioning, rather than formulated within one's verbal mind is formulated and resides within the tissues of the body: bones, muscles, organs, nerves, and brain.
What happens when, after a few years of practice, what was once an unpredictable emergency situation becomes familiar? This point, reached fairly quickly, is the juncture at which the direction and essential nature of Contact Improvisation comes up for grabs. The never-before-seen movement pathways, the never-before-experienced physical sensations, or the never-before-imagined relationships with another person that emerge from the experience of dancing Contact Improvisation all can be taken as a definition of the work, rather than the physical questioning that is the ground from which this bounty of innovative material springs.
The idea that a question can be the definition of a movement form is sophisticated. The dominant association triggered by the word form is perhaps the idea of the shape of a physical object. In the case of Contact Improvisation however, the word form refers to a synaptic architecture, a readiness to receive a particular band of real time information. What is commonly referred to as "the duet form" has no knowable outer form.
If Contact Improvisation is the image of what a Contact Improvisation duet looks like, or an agreement to agree with ones partner on a set of prescribed exchanges, however numerous and however graceful these exchanges may be, that proposition is finite. If Contact Improvisation is the physical act of posing a question about ones own present circumstance, then the work is ever expansive and has applications to dance well beyond the manifestation of the duet interaction.
What does one visualize when entering a Contact Improvisation duet. What do you need to know? What do you imagine?