Over the course of the past week, Knox’s Auxiliary Gym played host to a collaboration of dancers, thespians, and members of the Knox community intrigued by the concept of embodied movement.
In a number of sessions since Thursday, Sept. 12, the embodied movement workshops were led by Jeff Wallace, a specialist in contact improvisation, contemporary dance, and physical theater. A contact improvisation workshop was also offered on Saturday to welcome Knox’s movers back to campus.
By Wallace’s own definition, embodied movement is “a powerful way to become more present…and therefore to find the movement and find a way of interacting that is more personal, more unique.”
And while embodied movement encourages the development of the body’s intelligence to enhance any activity in which one may engage, contact improv, a branch encapsulated within the embodied practice, focuses on taking the connection with the self and applying it to interactions with others.
Wallace, who collaborated on a play directed by Professor of Theatre Liz Carlin-Metz in Chicago, was brought to campus by a stroke of “serendipity,” according to Associate Professor of Dance Jen Smith.
Metz contacted Wallace last year to see if he would be interested in a residency, knowing that she would be missing the first few days of class Fall term, but not wanting her students to be deprived of a learning opportunity.
From there, the concept grew. “What started out as making sure [Metz’s] classes were covered, we kind of parlayed into a larger ‘welcome back to Knox, dancers, actors, anybody, here’s a wonderful example of our philosophy behind movement’” said Smith, who will be teaching a class on contact improvisation next term.
The timing was also serendipitous in that it fit with the Terpsichore Dance Collective’s plans to explore sight-specific improv performances.
Sophomore Hannah Steele, a member of the Terpsichore executive board, saw the improvisation techniques as “a new avenue to explore…[because] the dance department is only changing and growing in new directions, and this falls very much in line with what the goals are. It is something new that you don’t get in a lot of places.”
Indeed, contact improv began at Oberlin College in 1973 in a building “frighteningly similar to [Knox’s Aux],” according to Wallace himself. To Wallace, “a dance is a movement conversation.”
Part of what made the workshops stand out was the force of collaboration that went into bringing Wallace to Knox.
The program was made possible by contributions from the Theatre Department, Dance Program, Terpsichore Dance Collective, the office of the Dean of the Students, the Cultural Events Committee, and the Liz Jahnke Metz Fund.
Junior Sam Auch spoke to the role embodied movement can play in theater, saying that “sometimes people who aren’t involved in theater forget that your tool when you’re an actor is your body, and so just like a dancer, it is equally as important to understand how your body works.”
In the theater disciplines of Eastern Europe, “characterization actually starts with transforming your body into the body of your character,” said Wallace.
Of the two departments coming together, Smith referenced the interdisciplinary nature of dance, noting that, “by pulling our minimal resources together, we can have maximum effect.”
“Ideally, it’s something everyone can appreciate. We’ve had twenty, thirty people coming to each workshop. And they’re not just the actors or the dancers, they’re the biologists, the chemists, the musicians. And that, to me, means we’re doing something successful,” she said.