Improvisation as a Medium

I have been exploring improvisation via an interdisciplinary approach. Although I mainly use movement to practice improvisation, I am not limited to movement. In this sense, improvisation itself is my medium. It is the agency or means of making my art.

Improvisation requires movement (in whatever form), but not all movements are improvised. I question what improvisation is, and what constitutes it, or rather what we mean by improvisation. In particular, I am interested in the state of mind that allows improvisation.

Public Outreach

I organize improvisation events for the public whenever an opportunity arises, and present improvisational performance.

During my residency in Korea in 2016, I offered movement workshops to sexually assaulted teenage girls.

With a grant from the city of Vancouver in 2017 and 2019, I gave improvised movement workshops for multicultural and Aboriginal children, and presented DIY printmaking workshops using everyday objects and organic materials.

Commonalities in Improvisation

Many parts of these studies emphasized listening to the body in order to achieve the union of body and mind. The mind listens to itself through the body, which undergoes multitudinous interactions with all things in the space. The mind becomes empty and porous, channelling the flow of perceptual sensations. I found this state similar to the state of mind during meditation. Since then, I have studied Zen Buddhist yoga, meditation and drumming, and Aikido, since 2016. 

I am currently investigating the state of awareness during improvisation, and its relationship with the placement of attention. Body postures, especially the eyes, manifest where attention is located. When the person tries to feel somatic sensations while moving, the eyes tend to look inward. The eyes are open yet blank, with minimal or no reactions to things that come into the field of view. The eyes are not seeing what is there. The range of awareness is largely devoted to the kinaesthetic movement inside. When the person is attentive to things outside, the eyes tend to focus mainly on those things with stimulated reactions, disconnected from the inner, somatic sensations. The range of awareness is largely devoted to external events.

I am interested in the location of attention that allows full awareness inside and outside, which is often required for martial arts. The attention is technically neither inward nor outward, but in between.

For the articulation of these different placements of attention, I enquire into different expressions, e.g., “see”, “look”, “watch”, “gaze”, etc.

Katie Duck said that an artist should be seen, not watched, by the audience. Watching carries judgement on what is viewed. The attention focuses mainly on the object, not much on the seer, in anticipation of how the object should be. By comparison, seeing carries curiosity, to understand what is viewed. The attention of seeing crosses over between the object and the seer.

Different Forms of Improvisation

I have sought different forms of improvisation, i.e., contact improvisation dance, Gaga movement language, rule-based improvisation, instant composition for performance, meditative improvisation, movement through Qi, and ritualistic improvisation. I have met some wonderful improvisation teachers in my study of improvisation.

Intuition in Instant Composition by Paolo Cingolani (www.paolocingolani.com) at Dock11 (Berlin, Germany) in 2016.

The aim of the workshop was to improve improvisation skills in creating dances on stage. It focused on the body’s anatomy and a deep observation of the cognitive processes behind any movement: from the perception of body in motion to the awareness of immediate choices in creating compositions. Spontaneity, creativity, thinking, and sensing the body are some topics addressed by the workshop.

Movement Culture & Tua o Te Arai Performance Workshop by Charles Koroneho (tetokiharuru.com) at Shadbolt Centre for the Arts (Burnaby, Canada) 8-12 Jan. 2018.

The workshop was designed to investigate movement cultures, hybrid training, improvisation, creativity, and performance. It focused on funerals, cemeteries, and burial art to explore movement and improvisation for performance.

The morning training focused on hybridizing dance, body weather laboratory, mau rakau, martial arts, and somatic research practices. The afternoon was dedicated to
Tua o Te Arai – an exploration of bereavement, funeral practices, and lamentation.

Intensive Improvisation Workshop by Katie Duck (http://katieduck.com, http://summerimpro.com/10408-2), 29 July – 17 August 2019, at OT301 (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

This summer course was created as a platform for artists to gather and instantly compose choreographies towards live public performances. The performances emphasized interdisciplinarity, combining dance, text, music, voice, and other possibilities.

Ssro Dance 스스로춤 2014 – present (Seoul, South Korea)

I practiced Ssro Dance from 2014 to 2016, during my stay in Korea. I practice it whenever I visit Korea. It is a unique form of improvised dance developed by the late Gi-een Kim in Korea. Its principle comes from the East Asian concept of “Qi”. Without relying on any human emotion or intention, dance is formed passively in a natural way solely via the vital energy of Qi. Its essence shares that of mediation in Buddhism and martial arts.

Movement Patterning and Improvisation classes with Helen Walkley (http://www.helenwalkley.com), 6 March – 3 April 2019 (Vancouver, Canada)

The classes focused on movement patterning (patterns of body organization and connectivity) as part of Laban movement analysis, and Bartenieff Fundamentals – a set of principles developed by Irmgard Bartenieff, who studied with Rudolf Laban.