What they’re talking about in Europe

There’s all kinds of discussion going on in Europe right now.

In the last few months, I’ve hosted two contact dancers visiting from Europe. Both had been to a number of European contact festivals in the last year, and both had attended the last ECITE (European Contact Improvisation Teachers’ Exchange — an annual teachers’ meeting in Europe). And what I heard from both of them is that there is an intense discussion going on right now in Europe over the question “What is contact improvisation?”

Of course, the CI world is always discussing this question. But there’s a more specific slant to it now in Europe. As I understand it, contact improvisation festivals or contact improvisation-inspired festivals are springing up like weeds in Europe right now, especially over the summer. And this is wonderful, because there are lots of chances to do contact improvisation. But some of these festivals are getting far from a traditional concept of contact improvisation: moving into festivals that maybe explore the body, healing, touch, alternative social structures, or alternative community structures — but don’t necessarily involve a dance with a rolling point of contact and weight-sharing.

Apparently contact improvisation’s popularity is such in Europe that it’s actually helpful to associate a festival with contact improvisation to increase attendance, even when the connection is distant.

So the question in Europe is, Are these festivals contact improvisation? Are people being led into a false or incomplete sense of what contact improvisation is? Are people confusing contact improvisation with just “contact”?

It’s a whole different world here in the U.S., where contact improvisation seems steady, but not particularly booming. The West Coast Contact Improvisation Festival, the only purely CI festival in the country, has not yet fully resumed after stopping operations two or three years ago. Earthdance’s slate of contact improvisation offerings was slightly down last year and appears to be about the same for 2013, relative to 2011. Some communities are growing a little: Los Angeles and Ann Arbor-Detroit have added second jams, and Buffalo is growing steadily I understand. But nothing like the energy in Europe. You’d be more likely to increase attendance at your event by calling it a “boogie” than by calling it contact improvisation — and in fact, many weekend jams these days have something like a Saturday night boogie night.

I don’t have more to say on this at the moment, but I’m interested in any comments readers may have.

2 comments for “What they’re talking about in Europe

  1. 2013/01/17 at 15:46

    This is interesting.

    Here in Buffalo, things are definitely increasing steadily. We recently had a 3-day intensive workshop with international guest teachers, and our twice-a-month jams have now become weekly.

    There is a group of us that has been exploring the concepts of “what is contact improv?” and “What is performance?” (and I suppose “What is Contact Improv Performance?”) We have experimented with music, lighting, public settings, private settings and (limited, prompted) audience participation. (This group has yet to come up with a particular name and so has been calling itself BCIJPG or BCIPG–Buffalo Contact Improv Jam Performance Group or just Buffalo Contact Improv Performance Group).

    This has led us to question all sorts of dynamics regarding spontaneity, composition, intentionality, awareness, audience witnessing a show vs. having an experience, etc. The conversation in Europe seems to be taking things to a whole other level–is contact improv movement-based? Is it akin to dance or perhaps other forms of physicality? Is it related to Reiki or other forms of energetic movement as well as/opposed to physical? What other emotional and/or spiritual dimensions can be explored?

    I am interested to see if this conversation is developing anywhere in North America, or–like Buffalo–if anyone else is exploring different dimensions of contact improv and how it may relate to other fields.

    Maybe we’ll have a Boogie night and see what happens.

    • richard
      2013/01/17 at 16:49

      I know, right? It’s crazy all what’s going on.

      I notice three trends in North America right now with contact improvisation: somatics, performance, and group improvisation, or group-awareness jamming. Somatics can be seen at places like SOMA Fest (http://tericarter.com/-Soma2013About.html), as well as in many types of classes, integrating BMC, authentic movement, and other related concepts (not my area of expertise, so apologies to folks if I’m mischaracterizing anything). The somatics area of contact improvisation is actually investigating some of questions you’re wondering about. Performance is a continuing interest, I think often driven by trained dancers who come into contact improvisation and wonder if they can use contact improvisation in their performance work — usually fairly unsucessfully. It’s actually somewhat stunning that despite all the investigation into contact improvisation as a performance form, there doesn’t seem to be a successful formula for presenting it that anyone has hit on, or at least, one that has been widely disseminated and copied. And group improvisation is explored through ideas like Lower Left’s Ensemble Awareness skills, or more popularly, Nancy Stark Smith’s Underscore.

      But in a way, these are sort of old conversations, and I suspect not notably different conversations from what were happening 20 or 30 years ago in the States, possibly excepting the group improvisation angle. (Progress in contact improvisation is a bit weird, I think for not the least reason that no one writes anything down, which means lots of knowledge is continuously lost and reinvented.) I do think bigger, crazier stuff is going on in Europe, like at Touch and Play. Like for instance, read this: http://www.contactquarterly.com/contact-improvisation/newsletter/view/touchandplay.php . Whoa.

      Or, for that matter, this: http://www.contactquarterly.com/contact-improvisation/newsletter/view/talkingisrael.php .

      Contact improvisation in North America feels a little tepid, a little less vital, by comparison. But I’d love to be contradicted by those that feel differently.

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