Tanya: Back in the year 2000, I came here to take in the Guelph Contemporary Dance Festival when the festival itself was still fledgling. I unwittingly wandered into the main stage series and saw Karen and Allen Kaeja performing Broken Saucer choreographed by Claudia Moore. Seeing this piece opened up a whole new world to me that set me on a course that has been life-changing. I had never seen contact improvisation before. I imagine that their piece was set choreography that had emerged from contact improvisation among other processes. The soaring lifts were, of course, spectacular, but there was something else, a quality of listening and responsiveness within the turbulence and ecstasy of the mysterious unknown of relationship. It was that embodiment of what I actually wanted in relationship, which found me declaring to my friend as I left the theatre: “Whatever that is, I have to do that.” The next day I was hunting down a contact improvisation teacher in Guelph and organizing classes at the studio I had in Kitchener.
Contact improvisation arises from a few core principles: 1) Take care of yourself, while 2) having an extended sense of self. This sets up a creative tension from which emerges a complex dance where the dancers are both free, and response-able (able to respond to whatever happens). If I attend to my needs while in an interdependent relationship with you and trust that you are doing the same, the dance is alive with a fundamental trust in our awareness to navigate the unfolding unknown.
This year I had the opportunity to work with choreographer, Karen Kaeja. What I learned when I worked with Karen was how she brought these principles into the process of creating choreography. She regarded the dancers with a deep trust in what we bring, and what we don’t even know yet that we bring, infusing the space with an appetite for the unknown, navigating through curiosity and experimentation. I have the sense that when she is watching us “try stuff out”, she is as curious about her own responses, trusting her intuition to juice up whatever she sees, and trusts what her imagination might cough up to further build on that. There is no fear of muddling about in the ether. As in contact improvisation, often the most awkward moments are where the treasures lie, and if we relax into that trust, it will reveal itself. I discovered the quality of reverence for the mystery of relationship, which had captured my heart over a decade before, can swell at the core of creating choreography, as much as it can in my most enlivening contact dances.
TANYA WILLIAMS is a context artist with a passion for dancing with systems… in community, on the land, and in the body. She regularly teaches contact improvisation and contemporary dance and has been facilitating and performing for 19 years. She is a co-founder of the Ontario Regional Contact Jam, Friends of the Floor Dance-Theatre, Embodied Cognition Collective, Fall On Your Feet Dance Lab, and The Living Room Context learning community for the embodiment of ecological thought. She currently resides in the living experiment: Household as Ecology. She is hosting a weekend workshop with internationally acclaimed Contact Improvisation teacher, Martin Keogh, in Kitchener on April 27-29th. Information available at www.tanyawilliams.ca