Arts & Culture

‘setGo in Motion’ deconstructs improvisational dance

Undergraduates, professional dance ensemble come together in experimental dance show

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 23, 2017

Energy radiated from “setGO in Motion,” an improvisational dance performance put on by professional dancers and undergraduates and hosted by the Brown Arts Initiative and Fitt Artists Residence Friday night. Bodies moved independently and collectively across the black hardwood floor of the Ashamu dance studio. Footsteps, tambourine beats and jazzy piano notes reverberated through the room as gasps and laughs escaped from both audience members and performers.

Students, faculty and community members packed into chairs and floor cushions to watch both students and setGO, an ensemble of professional dancers, perform. The performance was split into two parts. For the first 30 minutes, advanced modern dance students  performed. For the next 45 minutes, the five-person setGo ensemble performed Contact Improvisation. Both groups were accompanied by percussion, piano and vocals performed by musician Greg Woodside.

Performing members of the setGO ensemble included Shura Baryshnikov,  teaching associate in the Department of Theatre Arts and Performances Studies, Aaron Brando, Sarah Konner, Bradley Teal Ellis and guest performer Gabriel Forestieri. The group, established under the name setGO in 2016, consists of “old friends that have been dancing together in a non-performative way” for about ten years, Konner said. In this performance, the ensemble decided to put energy toward “bringing our different forms of performance into one space for investigation,” Konner added.

SetGO in Motion marked the end of a week of improvisation workshops lead by setGO and other visiting performers. Nine classes were offered to undergraduate and MFA students along with events open to the wider Providence community. The classes revolved around questions of how to structure an improvised performance, as the workshops introduced many students were introduced to improvisation for the first time, Baryshnikov said.

“It’s a very slow and methodical process of bringing a group of dancers together and gaining … trust,” Baryshnikov said.

Konner described Contact Improvisation as a partner dance form created by dancer Steve Paxton in the 1970s. This dance method has grown and diverged into many different forms.  For Aaron Brando, this art form relates to “a tuning of my awareness (when) moving within a space.”

“Improvisation is a huge spectrum,” Konner said. Even in choreographed dance, dancers must make conscious decisions, such as where their eyes should fall. On the other end of the spectrum, dancers are given full agency over their bodies within a designated space and time, she added.

The setGO ensemble decided in this performance to focus on “deconstructing space” and “demystifying the process a bit for the dance audience,” Brando said. “Improvisation can be challenging to watch,” he added.

In the first performance, the audience carefully watched undergraduates move across the room. Later, as setGo performed, the ensemble moved fluidly together and in smaller groups to the beat of Woodside’s music, which changed tempo and mood frequently. Dancers lifted each other into the air unexpectedly, balanced on limbs, and sank into to the ground. At times, a performer was called to report to the audience their emotions or what they were noticing in that frozen moment. In a conversation with the audience after the performance, the setGo ensemble explained that this call was one they used to clarify their process.

The ensemble’s performance ended with all five dancers gathered around Woodside’s piano, their limbs and torsos close together, bodies and music intertwining. Brando grabbed Woodside’s sheet music in his teeth as the music escalated. The eyes of audience members, including the undergraduates who had danced before them, remained glued to the ensemble until the music stopped and the lights went up.

Following the performance, as dancers took in gulps of air and water, audience member Poom Pipatjarasgit ’21 said, “I found the performance to be very interesting, free-flowing and organic.”

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