I’m writing under the guise of the semi recovered. I feel the muscles smart from self-imposed exertion. It is three days since my three-day foray into the land of pure imaginative physicality via facilitators Tess de Quincey and Peter Fraser, as part of the first improvisation laboratory for 2014, aptly titled Impro-Exchange at Critical Path.

The focus of this workshop was threefold with headers Imagination, Touch and Musicality. I must admit that upon hearing the term ‘touch’ I was already strategising ways to exclude myself. People who know me well are also familiar with my hasty departure for the toilets as soon as the word massage is bandied about in lieu of warm up. (But I digress and this blog isn’t about my aversion to certain tactile group activities.)

Day 1. We started with seemingly benign imaginary objects, which expanded and shrank at will and were tossed back and forth, demanding a mutual suspension of disbelief from the get go. These objects changed more rapidly as we progressed and were shared amongst groups that were increasingly augmented.

We chased chickens, were chased in turn, chased paper and blew as paper on a current of strong wind. My mind was already ticking over at an exhaustive rate. Why? Because I was busy determining and articulating the difference between the two hypothetical exercises, then strategising ways to deal with my cunning imaginary foe. You see, a chicken is driven by its will, and the wind, simply a force majeure. My chicken pulled out all the stops, it would sit in wait, as if brooding, and when I moved in very slow stealthy pursuit, my proximity almost within reach, the bastard would take flight, wings flapping in a flurry of fear, mully-grubbing (skimming/skipping the ground) like a run-down plane not fit for service.

Day 2. The dreaded TOUCH. All that pent up angst for nothing. Yes there was the laying on of hands. We acquainted ourselves with a  sensitivity, a curiosity of mechanics. This was not about motivation and emotion, rather a pure sensory investigation. For someone like me, very direct and sure of purpose, it was a challenge to prepare for the firm and then sharp, the soft push to the absence of pressure, which indicated movement toward, instead of with. The choreographer in me was all too ready to preempt trajectory where none was initiated, and go for it.

Day 3. Musicality. This was going to be a cake-walk. I’m not going to boast, but my previous Torres Strait Islander dance training, complete with complex rhythm dances, should’ve given me an edge. Foiled again by another unexpected approach. What is the musicality of a state of being? How does a body dance the rhythm of heavy or the melody of constriction?

At the culmination of each day, after a series of improvised groups, each presented with an opportunity to observe and share process, we performed as an ensemble. I saw myself as a colour, one day splashed on a large canvas by the likes of Jackson Pollock, the next smeared by Kandinsky. We were the paint and the painter, each contributing equally to the overall composition. This was not about being the star but about being a component.

I am not a regular improviser. This workshop, as all of Tess’s Improlabs, which have been running for over five years, places theatre practitioners side by side with people like me – counters whose training consists of always searching for the down-beat and who is most comfortable in a class of thirty, all performing prescribed sequences simultaneously. This is not my first Improlab, but this one, like all of the others preceding it, demanded my full engagement. I am always amazed that such simple tasks can elicit verbal debate, that if not checked could overshadow the initial response. I am amazed anew by the level of personal investment but most of all I am appreciative for the experience of pure joy and accomplishment which affirms my reason to dance.

Improvisation is not an exercise that is finished when you’ve made it. It is a valuable resource capable of taking you to the recesses of the imagination rarely accessed through premeditated response. To be the consummate dance artist, the pursuit of surprise, of curiosity piqued anew, to one’s own practice and communicated (to peers or an audience), is an important ingredient toward maintaining longevity. So I say, let your fingers do the walking and seek out the opportunity to do some serious play in a studio with others, or better yet find a space of your own, maybe grab a recording device, and go for it. Regularly.

– by Vicki Van Hout