I begin this preface by acknowledging the sad and sudden passing of Maggi Phillips this year. Many readers of Brolga will have known Maggi as its editor in recent years. I first met Maggi when I began teaching at WAAPA in 2000. Maggi encouraged me to undertake research supported by the Faculty when I knew very little of the protocol and had next to no experience in writing about dance. Each past student of Maggi’s whether they were undergraduate, Honours, MA or PhD, and each colleague will recall the time she gave them, the carefully worded notes in her tiny handwriting in response to their work. She had a seemingly unending willingness to wait and to wait while students figured out how they would complete their work, her faith in them stronger than their faith in themselves. In 2004 I travelled to Taipei with Maggi to attend a World Dance Alliance conference. With us were a group of students and although Maggi was not responsible for those students in any official way, she shared that weight with me with great equanimity and generosity. I was struck by the gusto with which Maggi immersed herself in the conference environment, but even more so by the fondness and respect with which she was greeted by so many members of the World Dance Alliance community. I know Maggi is greatly missed by many.
This issue of Brolga came about after I approached Maggi and suggested that it might be possible to gather several articles, particularly concerning improvisation. Maggi agreed that not only would it be possible to turn over an issue to that purpose, but that I should act it its guest editor. That Maggi would offer me the opportunity to edit this issue, without my having had any editorial experience, seemed typical of Maggi’s willingness to believe in the capability of others. Maggi’s belief in the possibility of my completion of this task has been, in the end, what has allowed it to come into being.
It has been a privilege for me to work on this project. What I have been struck by most and what I believe Maggi was always trying to champion, is the importance and the individuality of the voices of the writers: the dancers, the practitioners themselves. The commonality between these articles is the expression that improvisation and in particular, improvisation in dance is not one thing. It is not a technique to be known and learnt, there is not a set of principles that can guide an individual into a place of understanding that is finite.
This collection of articles began because of several gatherings of improvisation practitioners in Melbourne to dance together, to present ideas and to perform. Although articles were sought more broadly, this collection consists mostly of articles from members of that community. Each of the articles in this issue explores a particular idea or set of ideas that relate to improvisation as it has been experienced in a practical, bodily way. Marchant’s article Dance Improvisation: Why warm up at all? considers what takes place before improvising begins, while warming up. As he describes, there is much that happens both in terms of the gathering of material necessities and working bodily to arrive in a ‘state’ for improvising. Marchant asks when ‘warming up’ begins and whether warming up is necessary or even desirable. He also asks whether warming up in a particular way may predispose one to dance in a particular way and whether that could be contrary to an aim of using an improvisation practice to question dancing ‘norms’. Through these questions Marchant opens up thinking about how one might experience improvisation.
In Improcinemaniac, Reid describes her simultaneous practice of screendance and improvisation. Reid uses language that is deliberately poetic, and deconstructs and reassembles words in order to question or reconfigure meanings, particularly those of conventional dance language. Reid has experimented with how creating dance on screen can bring the viewer into a particular or otherwise inaccessible point of view. She writes that the more she works with screendance, the more she improvises, describing the ‘breath-taking’ accidents that can occur when the rigid requirements of rehearsal and ‘take’ are removed. Improvising with the camera in turn incites in Reid a desire to bring the live, improvising body into performance alongside video images that have been created through improvising. Play with light, breath, zoom and focus inform and are informed by the in-present play with capturing camera and dancing body.
Using improvisational play with light and lens is also described by Wilson who applies a deeply embodied approach, developed over years working as a dancer, to her visual art practice in experimental photography. In her article Improvisation in visual art practice using a photographic process, Wilson introduces the idea that her photography practice employs dance improvisation which has come about and is perceivable because of her prior experience as a dancer. Wilson charts the development of a technique of creating images by leaving a camera shutter open for a long period of time and moving the camera while holding and moving in response to an embodied perception of light.
Millard’s What’s the score? explores the use of scores or verbal propositions as supports for dance improvisation. Questions about what scores are or could be are explored through describing the use of scores by dance improvisation practitioners, such as Steve Paxton and Yvonne Meier. Nelson Goodman’s theory about how different kinds of notational scores work in relation to the existence and creation of works of art is also discussed and compared to Millard’s own use and perception of scores in her dancing practice, undertaken with a group of dancers over several years.
In Gaps in the Body, Fraser writes of having arrived at an understanding of improvisation that, rather than being about moving, is about ‘attention’. Instead of using an (imagined) objective view of a body to generate or create interesting or new movements he employs a kind of noticing from the inside to move with his body, to cooperate with it as it fluctuates and changes. This noticing is full of ‘gaps’ and his attention is drawn to certain physical sites only to be lost as the noticing of a particular area swells, is dispersed or is replaced by a more immediate physical concern.
McLeod’s article, The Ethos of the Mover/Witness Dyad, describes the response of an invited public to a performative Authentic Movement (otherwise known as mover witness dyad) event over three evenings. The events were based on the premise that the audience might be conceived as witness to the improvising movers. The article discusses the varying responses of the members of the witnessing public as a means to reflect on the very current issues of the status and boundaries of performance, ‘audience participation’, ethical relationships, and the role of different forms of putting things into language where improvisation is concerned.