Impressions of: "Never Before, Never Again"
Toeing the Line Between Structure and Recklessness in Triskelion Arts' First Improv Festival
Sunday, February 1st, 2015
Featuring work by Open Music Ensemble, Callie Nichole Lyons, (Alex)andra Taylor Dance with TRANSForm Dance Collective, Lorraine Grosslight and Trisha Zembruski as the Cherryheads, Karesia Batan and Jason Corff, Jackie Moynahan/JaxDance, Dirty Soles Dance
Although a show, by nature, is ephemeral, the art of improvisation takes the transience of live performance to a new level. Appropriately titled, Triskelion Art's "Never Before, Never Again" presents an assortment of work that examines various approaches, some more effective than others, to the ways improvisation can inform live performance.
It would be a stretch to call "Never Before, Never Again" a dance show; the evening crosses a spectrum of artistic mediums. The music portion features Open Music Ensemble's Unrehearsed and Fully Improvised, an auditory exploration that launches the show. Philip Foster stands behind a small table laden with many small noise-making devices. He asks us to close our eyes, so we only hear, rather than see, how he and his four companions use this profusion of strange instruments to lull us into peaceful relaxation. Now in a meditative state, we are cleansed of expectations for the performances to come.
The concept of performing improvisation is a unique beast that usually requires some structure around which the performers can navigate. In several of the pieces, the improvisation is fueled by a set of props. In Trails Of, piles of books create a landscape that two dancers explore. They relocate the books to different stacks, constructing an obstacle course before eventually dismantling it. The performers violently rip pages out and shove them into other books, revealing how art can be deconstructed into rudimentary elements and then pieced back together to create something new.
In Trial and Run, Jackie Moynahan performs to a recorded dialogue with an imaginary person; we laugh as we realize that the piece is about a relationship with a tuxedoed stuffed animal that perches on a suitcase among a plethora of other strange props, many of which are never touched. Moynahan tapes a blue box on the floor and then dances inside of it, mesmerizing us with loose, lanky movement and comedic facial expressions. In this case, the use of props proves to be distracting and superfluous as Moynahan is captivating enough on her own.
5 Suitcases, a standout of the evening, is delightful. Lorraine Grosslight and Trisha Zembruski are The Cherryheads, a campy duo whose pure absurdity could appeal to children and adults alike. The wacky pair explores a line-up of five suitcases of varying shapes and sizes, using them as props for imaginary endeavors. They exclaim: “I’m ready for a trip!” or “I’m ready for a bullfight!”. The highlight occurs when they grab matching ukuleles and attempt to improvise a song, playing off of one another and making up the lyrics as they go. The humor is so boldly bizarre it makes us blush, but the women embody their personalities with such earnestness that we can't help but love every second of it.
ding!, the most interactive piece, brazenly demands our participation; audience members randomly select cue cards that fuel the piece’s improvisation. “Describe how to make a carrot cake” is chosen, and one of the performers shoves a doily apron on an audience volunteer before standing behind the volunteer as her gesturing hands mimic making a carrot cake. Initially uncomfortable like a standup comic wrangling laughs from an indifferent audience, the performers, through charismatic persuasion, eventually get everyone on board. ding acts as a menu of improvisation tools in which the performers invite us into their creative process.
Sometimes, music anchors the improvisation. Callie Nichole Lyons' Bewildered Exchange, set to Spiritualized’s Broken Heart, is simple yet striking. Floating and gliding along the floor like a duck on water, Lyons initiates her movement from the top of her head to her hips and her elbows; she never once plants two feet on the ground. Smooth and deliberate, it is dance in its purest form.
In Good Fences, six dancers in grey are a morphing group of statues. Themes of the individual versus the group proliferate as the women use the negative space between each other’s limbs as grounds for their exploration. The dancers portray a lovely physical rapport, but the piece lacks an element of spontaneity expected in an improvisation. Amongst the discipline-shattering work of the rest of the show, it feels flat.
“Never Before, Never Again” presents us with a variety of works of improvisation; each piece in the show navigates a delicate balance between structure and recklessness. In seeing these various explorations sides by side, it is clear that the performers who take greater risks offer the most exciting performances, and the pieces that are properly structured to allow for this risk factor are most successful. The evening offers fascinating insight into how improvisation can inform live performance and allows us the privilege of being sole witnesses to incredible moments of spontaneity.