Blogs The Green Room Taja Will

Choreographer/performer Taja Will creates work using the moving body to explore realities of social consciousness. She delves into images, emotions and ideas in the creative process, and her performances parallel everyday extremes. For Taja, the body is a vehicle by which to explore the experience of an individual within community. Her technique straddles the line between movement and voice; resulting with performances which uniquely marry the sonic and kinetic. Will’s work uses techniques of structured improvisation, choreography and contact improvisation to manifest an aesthetic of agency and spontaneity. ‘She’s after is connection. Looking at Will is like opening the door to a fire: she glows’ Lightesy Darst, MN Artists Metro Magazine calls Will, ‘one to watch, one to embrace’ as she was the 2010 Keeper award recipient for outstanding artist in the Twin Cities. Will has also been nominated for the Sage Awards for Dance in the category of Outstanding Ensemble. Most recently she has received the 416 Club commission in collaboration with Joe Horton and the American Composers Forum Live Music for Dance Grant in collaboration with Paul Rudoi. As an independent artist Taja has performed and taught throughout the United States in New York City, Western Massachusetts, Seattle, Boulder, Decorah and throughout the Bay Area. Locally her work has been seen at the Red Eye Theater as part of the Works-In-Progress series and Isolated Acts, at the Ritz Theater for Renovate Choreographer’s Evening (2010, 2013), at the Walker Art Center’s Choreographer’s Evening (2009, 2012), at Fall Out Art Space, in the Dance Film Project, at Patrick’s Cabaret for Kinetic Kitchen, Bryant Lake Bowl, and various site specific venues. She has recently performed works with Rosy Simas, OffLeash Area, Company Blu (Italy), Sasha Kleinplatz (Montreal), Jim Lieberthal, Lynn Andrews, Miguel Gutierrez, the RAW (Ready At Will) Dance Collective, Body Cartography Project and Cathy Wright among others. Will is a movement educator offering workshops in somatic modalities, improvisational choreography, contact improvisation and composition. In 2014-2015 she will offer workshops at Hamline University, Luther College, Brown University, set a new work on Alternative Motion Project and partner with Blake Nellis to teach at the Peaceable Barn in Connecticut.

In()Flux: Contact Improvisation & Steve Paxton

I was suspended for a moment on my partner’s shoulder before falling to [the] ground… I softened, spread, and rolled… folding to continue the dance, I caught the pelvis flying toward my chest… As he dove I grounded, finding a one-legged apex of balance held only for seconds… and we continued… For the last few […]

BodyCartography Project workshop/Fritz Haeg’s Domestic Integrities at the Walker Art Center. Photo: Gene Pittman

I was suspended for a moment on my partner’s shoulder before falling to [the] ground… I softened, spread, and rolled… folding to continue the dance, I caught the pelvis flying toward my chest… As he dove I grounded, finding a one-legged apex of balance held only for seconds… and we continued…

For the last few weeks on Monday evening,  the Cowles Center Target Studio has played host to participants engaging in contact improvisation, a dance form developed in the 1970s, instigated by Steve Paxton. Often done in duet or small groups, it has been described as an “art-sport,” combining elements of social dance, rules of physics, aikido, wrestling, and modern dance.

“The dancers in contact improvisation focus on the physical sensations of touching, leaning, supporting, counterbalancing and falling with other people, thus carrying out a dialogue.” (Cynthia Novack, Sharing the Dance)

Contact Improvisation (CI) has been alive in the Twin Cities for a long time. HIJACK has been teaching a class at Zenon’s dance school since 2000, and Morgan Thorson has taught a beginning CI class at the University of Minnesota since 2002. Patrick Scully, a pillar of the Twin Cities dance community, is an anchor for contact improvisation. He has been an advocate for the form, its teachers, and practitioners, and he has continued to attend jams over the years. In collaboration with the CI series, he will present a fireside chat on CI’s presence and evolution in the Twin Cities. Former resident Chris Aiken, now an internationally known CI teacher, taught locally from 1989 until 2000 and was the first ongoing contact improvisation teacher at the University of Minnesota. The emergence of this new series feels compelled by the upcoming events with Steve Paxton at the Walker Art Center this fall.

Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson. Photo: Paula Court

I’ve been imagining contact improvisation as a room with many doors. For me the practice of CI is a rigorous commitment to embodied listening, agency, and spontaneity. This practice can lead many directions and be used as a tool to create community, to foster self-awareness, to inform partnering choreography, to understand a three-dimensional body in space, and to inspire nuanced choreographic structures.

The form can be used to inspire or train for performance and as its own performance modality. Within the dance world, improvisation is sometimes referred to as lazy, unrefined, “doing whatever you want,” but now we have an opportunity to reset this idea. Through the CI series and the performances and events surrounding Steve Paxton’s and Lisa Nelson’s visit, dancers and audiences can explore the many layers – physical and intellectual – that contribute to the phenomenon that has endured for more than 40 years. Witnessing the sheer magic that lives in an unplanned moment, executed by individuals with a mature practice in the unknown. In a way this series is readying our pallet for Paxton and Nelson’s upcoming work and his longtime commitment to structures of improvisation within performance.

…pause, I gesture with fingers and knee simultaneously to the body on the other side of the stage, he responds, I respond, then we are together…moving as a two headed, multi-limbed being, surfing pelvis over pelvis, upside down, I’m head over heels and weak in the knees… I’m exhausted, not knowing what might come next, I shout “Go”…and we continue.

To find out more about Twin Cities Contact Improvisation classes and lectures, visit BodyCartography Project’s upcoming events.

Writer Taja Will is a Twin Cities based choreographer, educator and improviser. This year’s WAC Choreographer’s Evening, curated by Kenna Cottman, will include an improvised work by Will and long-time collaborator Blake Nellis.

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