Can theatrical improv methods integrate with dance improv?

Dance improv’s differences with theatrical improv lie mainly in being more free form, more nebulous, more “move and see what comes of it” and avoiding a tie-in with any sort of meaning unless profoundly relevant. Sure, theatrical improv encourages freedom to play as well, but in that approach you’re expected to develop form, e.g. finding the game, accepting or “yes and”ing offers, developing character and narrative.

That said, the idea of integrating ideas from theatrical improv into dance improv still seems like uncharted territory to me. It’s far easier said than done, obviously, since both arts involve such different skillsets and mindsets. Still, as Salt Horse hosted their Investigative Movement Practices class tonight at Velocity Dance Center, I couldn’t help but look at Salt Horse’s flocking exercise and think of the improv game Flock of Seagulls.

In Flock of Seagulls the cast takes a story, usually from an audience member, and re-enacts it physically to dance music. Whoever is in front dictates the narrative movement of the performers behind them. The players don’t deviate from their standing position at any point in the exercise. Whenever everyone turns, whoever is now in front immediately becomes the leader and must seamlessly continue and evolve the physical narrative.

Other theatre and dance exercises I vaguely recall employ the flock concept of handing the leader baton off based on whoever happens to end up in front, though the example I mentioned is the only one where a story is physically told. Dance improvisation is considered an involving enough exercise without adding in the need to organize that improvisation into and around a story formed on the fly.

Still, I see possibilities. It’s difficult enough to get performers in dramatic improv to work with improv games and techniques. Asking dancers who aren’t actors to do the same is asking a lot. But evolution asks a lot. It asks you to fundamentally change who you are and how you do things. I see not a division of independent chemicals, but undiscovered country. Trepidaciously exciting country.

I realize I’m leaving a high-potential topic dangling in ending this post here, but it’s late and I should rest. Still, think about it. Talk to some improvisers and pick their brains, dancers. There might be something there. I’ll go into this some more at some point.

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