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My first performance on my dance degree course is fast approaching (2 weeks today!), and last night at Uni we started to work on the structure of the piece which has developed from the improvisation exercises we have been working on in our choreography module.

I've always had a fairly conflicted opinion of improvisation tasks. When I first began my training at Coventry, we had a weekly lecture on improvisation for the entire year working from early solo tasks and culminating in a giant Contact Improvisation Jam at the end of the year with all 3 year groups involved (and chocolate being thrown in too, I seem to remember!).

I was very uncomfortable with the improvisation process for a long time. I can find it very difficult to move beyond my inhibitions when I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing and although the classes were very well structured it took me a long time to get past this. However, as I became more familiar with the process I started to enjoy the tasks more and when we moved onto working in Contact Improvisation I couldn't get enough of it.

Restarting my dance training now (a good few years later), a lot of my inhibitions have returned. In one workshop, based on Isadora Duncan's work, I just froze completely at the point where we were set the most 'free' to run around and play with the silk scarves. I have since made a resolution to just 'go with it completely' in any situation like that and to see what comes of it. I know that from the outside looking in on improvisation that the audience isn't judgemental and that it is the people who most fully engage with the improvisation score that become the most watchable. The confronting your fears by attacking them approach.

Back at Coventry I did, however, very much believe that improvisation was a tool that was invaluable in a workshop environment but that wasn't particularly interesting as a performance tool. I remember watching a piece of improvised music and dance but not being particularly engaged by it. Although at that time, and also currently but this is starting to change, my tastes in dance lean more towards the dance theatre genre and I like expression, narrative forms and character.

Since studying choreology at Birkbeck, however, I feel like my eyes have been opened to how dance itself communicates. Previously my reading of a piece was certainly affected by the movement content but I would have struggled to explain why and the more abstract it was the less I would engage with it generally. Now my brain is more capable of interpreting the movement content itself i.e. the arm is moving continuously and then there is an impulse in its rhythm - why is that happening, how does that affect the piece overall? When I watched Matthew Bourne's Nutcracker! recently, despite being an avid fan of his work normally, I was disappointed in what I perceived as a lack of 'dance' in the piece (as opposed to mimed sequences). I know that he himself says that he is not the choreographer to look to for dance for dance's sake and I wouldn't want to judge his work on that basis, it just didn't reflect what I was looking for at the time.

The piece that we are creating for our performance (Friday March 23rd @ The Place wink) is based on an improvisational structure and is very much pure dance. As I said before this type of work wouldn't normally engage me but with my now more open mind and more sophisticated viewing of dance I am able to see the opportunities in this type of work. Last night we were set the improvisation score and we danced it for 45 minutes continuously. Incredibly it only felt like 10 - 15 minutes and our course tutor and course co-ordinator watched the whole thing and they also said that it was so engaging that they didn't notice the time passing either. The parameters of the score mean that frequently encounters happen between us as dancers and we have a logic to follow that makes our actions affect the other dancer. Either one of us will have to move away from the other person or, as we can only travel parallel to the audience across the stage we can become trapped in between two other dancers. The variety of ways these encounters can play out are incredibly rich and as we have the option of being very stubborn and imposing our will upon the other dancers the dramatic tension can reach very high levels. It is the various natures of these encounters and our solo journeys that inspired our tutor, Eva Recacha, to name the piece Wanting and wishing.

As a choreography student the piece is especially useful because we get to be both performer and director of the work. If while performing I feel that the piece could do with a radical change at any particular moment I can introduce a completely different dynamic. Alternatively I can blend in with other actions already happening in the space and develop those. Very quickly our group become just as focussed on the listening as on the performing and it was this blend that kept the piece interesting and prevented it from becoming self-indulgent because we always kept in mind the perspective of the outsider and how engaging what was happening was.

I had been thinking recently that one of the main reasons for the use of solo work and improvisation techniques in choreography workshops was simply because it is easier to work with a group this way. I'm glad that I've decided to stop being so cynical, trust my teachers and to fully embrace the tasks as I can see now how rich this practice is. I think the piece of advice we received that helped me make the most sense of it was that improvising isn't about not knowing what you're doing - instead it is to know exactly what you are doing in the moment but to be completely open minded about what you are going to do next.

Next week I'm going to be writing about the 4 workshops with Frantic Assembly that I'll have just completed. They're such an interesting company and I can't wait to share with you what we've been up to.

Lewis x