I experienced a “multi-generational dance improvisation opportunity” – key word here is opportunity. It was held at Greenwich Academy, my old high-school stomping ground, run by the school’s dance program as a meeting for alumnae and members of the Moving Arts Collaborative to remember and honor Madelyn O’Neil, the school’s influential dance pioneer back in the 1950′s and 1960′s. Lead by the current dance teacher, Marcia Brooks, and former dance instructor at the school, Meryl Green, this session of liberating movement and thought was just what the doctor ordered.
We began with a bit of history of Madelyn O’Neil’s legacy at the school – it turns out that her husband had built a full marble amphitheater in their wooded backyard, the O’Neil Amphitheater (completely amazing!), and Madelyn would hold performances for dance groups and such in the outdoor venue. With photos and anecdotes, Meryl Green shared her memories of her friend and of the performance space, leading us in an improvisational exercise to imitate the shape and path of the marbling of the floor. With a tile pattern of a swirling spiral, or as Meryl put it, a labyrinth, we were to move in paths of the circle, inching closer to the center, taking a “solo” at the turning point, and then spiraling out, interacting and dancing with other participants along the way on our journey.
It had been years since I had done an improvisational dance session, but being back in the room where I had danced every day as a high school student for hours and hours, I suddenly felt back at home, the familiar and warm unfinished-wood flooring beneath my feet, the yellow light from the center of the room shining on the top of my head, waiting for the music to begin as we all stood on the circumference of this circle.
The music went on, softly and slowly, and I recognized the instrumentation – it sounded like it could have been a A.R. Rahman piece, beautifully orchestrated with hints of Bollywood and classical Indian influence throughout the entire piece. I began to feel more at ease. The rest of the dancers began to feel more as ease too, as the swirling and movement became freer and more open. It became more of a conversation between the dancers, rather than an actual dance piece, and there were some special moments of imitation, partnering, and opposition that happened organically throughout the piece. With maybe a total of five or six songs, the entire exercise was about 20 minutes, long enough to let the dancers finally stop thinking and just react (myself included). It was a sweet reunion of my body to the space that taught it so many ways to move freely at such an impressionable age – a place that helped mold me as a dancer and as a learner of dance. Thank you Marcia, Meryl, the GA dancers and the Moving Arts Collaborative dancers for such a rejuvenating afternoon!
The Moving Arts Collaborative with Meryl Green has been meeting every week for almost 30 years in Greenwich, CT – for more information on the class, contact Jane Milliken at (203) 637-7723.