Now Practices: Contact Improvisation in Buffalo

Year: 2013-2014
DanceForce Member: Elaine Gardner
Artists: Nancy Hughes, Brandin Steffensen
Community Partners: Buffalo Contact Improvisation Performance Group, Dance WNY, Nichols School
Audience: 322
County: Erie

Buffalo is a striking city in a wonderful location. In addition to being close to other major cities in the Northeast, Buffalo has ample and affordable spaces for dance rehearsal and performance.

In early 2012, due to a booming interest in contact improv, the Buffalo Contact Improv Jam Community collaborated with other organizations, such as Pick of the Crop Dance, to create its first contact improvisation workshop, titled Mission Improvable. Intended to focus on making dance in the moment and on sharing dance research with the community of Buffalo, Mission Improvable was such a success that its organizers and participants wanted to create another intensive, which would seek to improve upon the experience for both dancers and facilitators. In the fall of 2012, as a result of discussion and planning between Brandin Steffensen and Nancy Hughes, a spark of a second jam was lit. It was decided that Brandin would be a great fit to lead a second workshop, to be called Mission Improvable: Now Practices (MI:NP). Brandin then brought in Zena Bibler, a dancer from his home base in Brooklyn, New York, as his assistant.

The participants in the intensive, ranging in age from 19 years to 60, came from Boston, Rochester, Indiana, New York City, and Brooklyn, as well as local participants from Buffalo. They found out about MI:NP through email blasts, Facebook, a website, posters, business cards and word of mouth. Housing was offered for all out of town students, who were supplied breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day. The fees for the workshop were intentionally low, and 6 dancers took a work study position.

Besides a generous grant of $3,500 from NYS DanceForce, more funds were required to keep the intensive affordable. Laura Jean Casteluzzo and Tim Greco organized a performance and silent auction at the Universalist Unitarian Church in Buffalo. A project committee also reached out to their supporters and raised funds through private donations.

Mission Improvable: Now Practices featured 5 ½ days in which participants researched and performed improvised dance. There were also two events open to the community: the Tuesday Contemporary Dance Series on Dec. 4 and the Buffalo Contact Improv Jam on Dec. 8th, both of which were taken by beginner and advanced dancers from around Buffalo. Additionally, Elaine Gardner arranged for three special workshops to be taught by Brandin Steffensen at Nichols School, a local college preparatory academy. The workshop culminated in a well-attended public performance on the evening of December 7th.

The workshop created an opportunity to collaborate with artists in other fields. Photographer Jim Bush documented the event through shots representing a narrative arc of the workshop week. Brian Milbrand videotaped the final performance. Bob Sowyrda worked with the dancers for two classes and collaborated in the creation of the performance both conceptually and immediately by performing music during the piece. Mike Lokeck, who was assisted by Amy Taravella, came in on the day of the performance to provide and design lighting for the presentation.

In seeking feedback from attendees, two elements of the workshop received unanimous praise. First, an event on December 4th was incorporated at Silo City, a repurposed compound of grain elevators, for a class where Zena Bibler led the group through “Relationscapes.” Everyone was able to share their movement vocabulary in a site-specific work primarily as a soloist or duet. Second, one of the important conditions of participating in the workshop was that the dancers made a commitment to be together for the duration of the event, volunteering to do the needed work to keep the workshop running smoothly. Dancers were able to spend all day in the workshop space dancing, discussing, and creating, and then they would make food together and create a communal living space. This process of collaborating not just as dancers but as people through social exchange brought participants into a close-knit group and deepened everyone’s experience individually and as a whole.