DC 10th International Improvisation Plus+ Festival

December 1, 2004

DC 10th International Improvisation Plus+ Festival
Betts Marvin Theatre, Washington, DC

December 1–12, 2004

Reviewed by Lisa Traiger


, and you’ll miss how a wily dancer stuffed himself into the cavity of a grand piano. Blink again and wonder when two dancers morphed into a half-dozen, one tossing a partner ragdoll-like in the air, another groping upward with pulsing fingers, a third fiddling with the metallic handles on an audience member’s purse. The apt title for one of nine performances in the 10th International Improvisation Plus+ Festival, Blink, with its 65 minutes of improvised movement and music, contained moments of serendipity, of boredom, of discombobulation. That’s the nature—and sometimes the beauty—of this free-form technique. Akin to physical jazz with its unplanned approach, improv has been making a comeback in D.C. for a few years now. With stalwart experimenter Maida Withers, a professor at George Washington University, at the helm of the festival (which she began as a lark Garland-and-Rooney-style a decade ago), one performance has grown into a citywide event spanning nearly a fortnight.

Two evenings of headliners featured an international cast including instantly captivating Nikolai Schetnev, a skinny Russian with an Ur-geek look who moves like liquid silk channeled through a street-savvy beat-box pulse. On December 3, Schetnev opened Shocked and Odd—Live Art with a solo featuring a taped score and his edgy, streetwise dynamics—puppet sharp, then melt-away soft. The mostly male cast, supplemented by GWU’s student ensemble, Washington Free Collaboration, relished the physical. They at times engulfed the space with unchecked dashes, blurts of combative attack, and, especially from student Wendell Cooper, facile floor work tinged with touches of breaking and martial arts. Leggy Withers, crowned by a shock of white hair, favored the old-fashioned approach, seeking contact and weight-sharing opportunities whenever she wasn’t entranced by her own space-hugging gestures. The sometimes-piercing sax of Peter Fraize, Steven C. Hilmy’s electronic rumbles, and Jim Levy’s keyboard putterings accompanied the dancers.

The following evening Blink highlighted Magpie Music Dance Company of Amsterdam, with dancer Katie Duck’s quirky mix of the mundane and the out-of-the-ordinary and Vincent Cacialano’s rangy but oddball approach to movement. Gifted violinist Mary Oliver let her instrument speak to and integrate with the performers’ often-chatty set. Seattle-based Cyrus Khambatta, a curator of the performances and workshops with Withers, joined the pair with easygoing rebounds and snaky slithers.

Both evenings provided funny moments but frequently lacked passion and direction. “Yesterday I saw a compass,” Withers remarked during Blink. The dancers could have used one to find stronger endings.

For more information: www.improvfestival.com/main.html