The Fear of Improvisation

Conjunctio Oppositorum: the coexisting of opposites. This is particularly coined in the practice of Jerzy Grotowski, who discusses it particularly in relation to spontaneity within discipline and discipline within spontaneity. The most useful image I find used describing this is the flame, flickering within the confines of the candle.

A useful idea, but often the idea of a restraint brings negative connotations to the treatment of liveness. In many ways, this is a personal experience and I am interested to open this conversation up to others to see if it is shared. Essentially, I will start with improvisation, finding rich partnerships and relationship to the space and to stimuli such as sound, colour, texture and movement. However, when constructing a show, the idea that things have to be structured can often lead me to feeling I am losing the fire within the candle.

I reflected on this on a dark train ride along Gower, from Carmarthen to Cardiff. What I started to dissect is how education may potentially have a role to play (imminent pun coming) in how we treat improvisation, or play (there it is). In my education, right/wrong were the central dictators of success, instead of something such as trial/error which doesn’t punish when the results are not what are expected. Play, of which movement improvisation is, is hard to contain as the useful fire of it is in the orientation towards the unknown and the live, reactive experience. It is much easier to find where you went wrong when there is a framework of what is wrong and right. In improvisation, there often is no wrong or right, just what is. It could be a case that what is managed to collide, in the moment with the expressive intention of the mover. It could also happen that the movement went against the idea that the mover may have intended. But, it is not wrong – it is just unexpected.

After many a show, my thoughts go immediately to what I did wrong and right. This bit was wrong as it was not how it was rehearsed. I have seen people cry over such things and verbally abuse themselves. They are capable of it, so why could they not do it?!

What if, instead, the mover was oriented by trial/error. They move on stage within a bamboo structure that can bend and shake in response to the earthquake that is our natural liveness and reactivity. In cases, they may say “Interesting, this felt good and effective today. I was not feeling that section as much so had to dig a bit deeper into this certain quality. It didn’t quite resonate how I expected, I wonder why that is? Perhaps next time, I could try this”. How we talk to ourselves is extremely important. It feeds into our attitude (our manner of receiving, processing and articulating our response to a stimulus). Give yourself the curiosity for growth and development.

So Conjunctio Oppositorum can still stand, but how about the introduction of an even more well known Latin phrase: Carpe Diem (Seize the Day).

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