QUANTUM BASS, PART 2 is the second of two ARTCAST episodes created from performances by the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble at the Quantum Bass Center in Houston. The Quantum Bass Center is a place where acoustic basses are sold and repaired, and master classes are offered. You can read more about the Quantum Bass Center and our choice of this unique and intimate space as a performance venue in a previous blog post: Still Dancers Displaying Their Exquisite Shapes
All the dance and music in this episode are created spontaneously in the moment by the performers. The contexts for each improvisation were provided by different members of the Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble, and they range from the very simple idea of an open duet melding two voices of the performers’ choice, to a dynamic cross-fade of movement and music in Lindsey McGill’s Squeaky Dream.
In my work, I create and rehearse choreography. I find a myriad of benefits in the dance that is carefully created over time – following one’s vision for the work –and rehearsed. I also, however, work with improvisation in performance, which is a complete relinquishing of the aforementioned process. The first is crafted in advance and tightly controlled and the latter is a releasing of control. I am perhaps unusual in that I embrace both ways of working equally. I often meld the two by creating hybrid works that have set choreography and also a section of improvisation. I also try to have the company perform at least one show a year that is completely improvised. This requires a unique kind of preparation.
The Michele Brangwen Dance Ensemble holds two kinds of rehearsals with our dancers and musicians: ones dedicated to working on choreographed material set to written or improvised music; and ones which we refer to as “improv” rehearsals. People often ask me, “how can you rehearse improvisation?” In other words, if it truly is created spontaneously in performance and different every time, how can you rehearse that? In an “improv” rehearsal, we are not creating or rehearsing movement and music that will be performed at a later time, we are actually practicing performing in the moment. We are also honing the tools a performer would use in improvisation; the dancers work on truly listening and the musicians work on truly watching, and we all work on being able to communicate with each other. The choices in improvisation are individual, but the result is good when it brings forth to the audience a collective statement.
For me, improvisation is the most exciting when it is just that…in other words if we use it in performance, it should be new and different every time. The idea is not to create something spontaneously in rehearsal and then reproduce it again later. The idea is to create it fresh and in the moment, working off your ideas and each other. It’s the not knowing that pushes one to a heightened connection to the performance moment. We become very connected to each other, the audience, and the space. As Tim Hagans so often says when teaching workshops on improvisation, the choices are informed by everything else he has experienced in his life up to that moment.
Quantum Bass, Part Two, begins with a duet performed by myself and Tim Hagans. This is followed by Squeaky Dream, which is based on a concept by Lindsey McGill, who was featured in Quantum Bass, Part 1. Squeaky Dream flows seamlessly into a duet for Roberta Cortes and Seth Paynter.
ARTCAST Season 2, Episode 6: Quantum Bass, Part 2 will premiere on Sunday December 14 at 8 p.m. ET on youtube.com/brangwendance. Episodes are available for viewing any time after broadcast on Youtube.com/brangwendance or brangwendance.org