London Contact Improvisation(LCI) hosted a National Jam from 28 February to 2 March 2014. There were quite a few special features to this event. Historically it’s hosted at Chisenhale Dance Space(Chiz) and consists of warm up classes and long stretches of jamming with shared food and time to chill out and chat. This year, we hosted events at two venues and added three special jams and warm ups with visiting teachers, and arranged for two “photo-dancers” to document. We also combined the Jam with London Invites Paris (LIP). It was the largest turn out of any National Jam, with over 115 people attending over the course of the three days.
The first special feature of the National Jam was a night specifically dedicated to welcoming guests from Paris. It was our turn to host the Parisians in response to Paris Invites London (PIL) which occurred in September of 2013 as part of an initiative to develop an exchange between the CI communities in the two cosmopolitan cities. LCI organized a Friday night tea and cake welcome at Chisenhale Dance Space for the French community. After an opening circle led by feverish and sniffly Robert Anderson, Katy Dymoke and Genevieve Cron offered us a cheeky intro into jamming, and thus kicked off London Invites Paris (LIP). Gianfranco Biasiol’s music wafted through the space and after three hours of focused dancing, we made our way down the road to a very welcoming and warm local Thai Restaurant. From there, hosts and guests were connected and further weekend logistics were exchanged.
The Saturday and Sunday programme was held at Siobhan Davies Studios(SDS) in partnership with Independent Dance(ID), a UK based organisation that supports independent dance artists and runs their programme at SDS. Quite a few of the teachers on the LCI roster also teach on ID’s Monday night improvisation class at SDS. ID also supports a regular Underscore practice at SDS facilitated by David Leahy and Kathy Crick. It seemed quite natural to deepen that relationship with an organisation and studio that has continually supports improvisational dance practices.
After a brief orientation, explanation of the schedule, and a round of names, I hand over to Thomas Kampe. During the circle, people kept streaming in late, so by the time we were ready to start the warm up, the circle was 80+ strong, a number neither our National Jam nor SDS have ever seen. Lucky for us, Thomas is a master at dealing with large groups and led a warm up that actually created space in a studio brimming with eager dancers.
The first special jam, a Child-Friendly Jam, started at noon, facilitated by Jo Dyer in the studio below the Roof Studio (see her submission in this NL). Parents and their children were led in a warm up and there was open dancing/playing time. At 2pm the children and parents were invited to join the main jam upstairs. It was very well received and the families and the jammers enjoyed having children at the event.
After the break, from 3–5 pm, Tamara Ashley organized and facilitated a Digital Jam. Tamara invited everyone to lay supine on the studio floor as she spoke instructions that brought awareness to dancers’ internal experience. Their moving evolved from a quiet inward place into open jamming in a studio bathed in light. Video projections were beamed onto the front wall of the studio and Tamara weaved in and out amongst the dancers with a hand held projector linked to her mini-iPad and was live recording and projecting the dancing simultaneously.
The Digital Jam had a dreamlike quality; dancers were very attuned to each other and the space and their movements were softer and what seemed more sensitive than during the morning jam. Jan Lee’s improvised soundscape helped create and influence the atmosphere. People arriving paused at the threshold of the space in awe just taking it all in. It was quite mesmerising, this altered space and the dancing it evoked. It put us all in beautiful state to waft home.
Sunday morning, only 60+ turned up and Robert Anderson made an appearance (to much applause) even though he was still quite ill. Gesine Daniel’s warm up class was a fabulous introduction to the Small Dance, leading then into awareness of skin and sourcing movement from within before making contact with another. “You are already dancing,” she said, as people noticed tiny shifts of weight in their own bodies which propelled them into dancing with others.
David Leahy led a talk-through of the Underscore before we started the “pow-wow” at 5pm. We were encouraged to offer one-word seeds as we had 70+ people in the circle. My seed was “diving in”, referring to both my experience hosting the weekend and dancing the last score of the weekend. I was truly in the deep end but swimming along with grace and curiosity. The Underscore was the closing event of the weekend, and there were elements, memories, and experiences from the entire weekend present in the dancing.
After our “harvest” and a brief round of announcements, it was time to thank everyone and do the “Clean-up and Exit Score” as we had a mere 25 minutes to clear up and get everyone out of the building. Drawing on previous experiences clearing up at Earthdance and the Freiburg Festival , I pre-prepared a list of tasks and quickly, by raising hands, had volunteers for all the chores within seconds.
We then had our Exit Score: clear the Roof Studio of personal belongings, re-convene in 10 minutes at your assigned location around the building and sweep through the space clearing up. WE DID IT! We left the place spotless, with 70+ people out the door in time, something that hardly ever happens at our Saturday Jams!
We had our social goodbyes at a local Indian restaurant, which Richard Sarco-Thomas scoped out for us the night before. We feasted like kings and nourished ourselves after a long weekend of dancing, reunions, and new connections. The guys in the restaurant asked if we were church missionaries, based our sense of community sitting round the table, sharing stories.
What made this particularly moving for me was the influx of participants from outside London. We had our regulars from the Saturday jam but dancers from far and wide made the trip: a group from SOUTHAMPTON, BRISTOL, CORNWALL, LEEDS, BRIGHTON, GLASGOW, ITALY, and of course our Parisian guests. Dancers who had relocated to other cities from London came back for this event. We also made an energetic connection to the jammers in DETROIT, whose weekend jam was happening simultaneously in the USA across the ocean.
The last special feature was having a “photo-dancer” helping document the weekend. We wanted to experiment with documenting in a way that is unobtrusive and sensitive to the dancing and the people involved. The idea was that they would participate and be in and amongst the dancing. Srik Narayanan quietly and inconspicuously snapped away whilst dancing. We shared the images on two screens in the corner of the studio as the event unfolded.