Play Blog

Contact Improvisation Dance Session

Northern School of Contemporary Dance –  February 2013

In February we were invited to lead the Leeds Improvisation Exchange at the Northern School of Contemporary Dance.  This is a collective of dancers from Leeds who set-up monthly sessions led by guest dance artists, where adults who are interested in improvised movement and dance can come along and exchange space, time and physicality.


As a pair with backgrounds between us in dance, visual arts, theatre and play we found it to be a real treat to be able to plan to lead the session together, to combine our different art forms and play with our own ideas.  We were very conscious that we wanted to offer something more play-based than dance-based as we are interested in how play strongly evokes impulses in humans to move, dance, create and interact.  We also wanted to offer the participants the opportunity to discover possible new sensations through playful, spontaneous movement – led strongly by the body rather than the brain. We also wanted to explore how playful structures with a visual arts starting point would evoke movement and dance in new & interesting ways. And we also wanted to simply share some of the things which we liked ourselves.

And so we planned a range of games and simple structures for individuals, pairs and small groups which we hoped would get the play going quickly and would be accessible for non-dancers and dancers.  We began individually with focus on the body, then introduced play structures, and then introduced some visual arts explorations.  With some familiar props (such as hoops, fabrics and balloons) we gave starting points with simple language – move, follow, go with, go against, pull, share, push, surprise… and invited participants to explore taking different roles: supporter, explorer, challenger, challenged, companion…


We were delighted to see that the participants bursted-out into play and became very physical very quickly with little hesitation.  This gave both positive aspects and challenges: There were some amazingly rich interactions, lots of spontaneity, exuberance, laughter, shared dances and instinctive movements.  On the more challenging side, we had 16 fully spontaneously moving adults in the space, all of different ages, sizes and backgrounds: things felt very full!

We had lots of discussions after about what adult movers in deep play need to be supported and what we need to be look out for as facilitators.  We identified that we always need to be just as clear with boundaries and giving reassurance with adult movers (even those as physically confident and aware as ours) as with our younger groups in order to create safe and inclusive conditions, as we were strongly reminded of the wonderful power of play and how it is emotive, rich, human and also raw.

As predicted, we planned too much and ran out of time for all of our games.  Rather than rush things too much we decided to open-out the final drawing structure – where we drew onto large pieces of paper with long bamboo pencils with and without contact to another participant – and to carry this over into the Improvisation jam session where it could be explored over lots of time.

Many reflected that this activity especially was very absorbing and more relaxing as the pencil became a part of the body and began to carry the body away with it, rather than the other way around.  And in having contact with another mover meant that we were both connected to the paper and to the movement and life emerging from it, and so it had many layers of sensation.


The large movement scape drawings jumped-out like individual maps.  We taped these onto the walls and these provided a textured backdrop for the improvisation score which the participants could refer to for starting points and to develop personal scores.  We noticed that many would dip in and out of this at first, and then afterwards the movers theirselves became the evolving canvas for each other.

Madeleine from the group commented:

‘I really loved it – didn’t know I had it in me to play as much!  And I can’t believe how long I danced.  When I got home, I ate and promptly fell asleep by the fire!  But slept so well… lovely’. 

‘… the ‘maps’ set up such a good starting point for the jam.  I kept referencing them so never felt stuck for inspiration’


Sketching the Moving Model inside the Luminarium

Grassington Festival – June 2012

1Grassington Festival hosted Exxopolis, one of the Luminaria created by Architects of Air.  Exxopolis is a sculpture, which people can walk inside and feel a sense of wonder, light and colour, the structure takes its inspiration from natural geometry and Islamic architecture. Kim and Bryony were keen to offer a playful experience within this unusual structure – exploring the labyrinthine tunnels and cavernous domes filled with saturated and subtle hues and vivid reflections of liquid colour.


The Luminarium became our space of inspiration as we developed joint movement and drawing tasks focusing on slowness, stillness, molding, opening, folding into the Luminarium surfaces, travelling and finding tracks across the middle space. We invited 3 dancers and 16 sketchers to explore this new environment, publicised as a life drawing workshop with a difference – where the life models were dancing. Visual artists Bryony Pritchard and Carine Brosse guided the drawers through dynamic drawing activities inspired by the Exxopolis structure and the dancers Kim Glassby, Gerry Turvey, Madeleine Wuidart and Alison Clissold, were given 3 movement scores each 25 minues long with pauses between.


The first score began with the dancers as a part of the Luminarium structure when the drawers arrived who found their favourire place to rest and draw. The bodies were molding, opening and folding into the surfaces of the smaller pods. Playing with stillness and resting places, the dancers took position around the edges, connecting with different body parts, finding leaning, molding and resting places. This first score offered opportunities for dancers and drawers to spread out along the skin of the Exxopolis structure and tune into their bodies and their drawing eyes.


The second score worked with the open environment, inviting the drawers to sit in the centre, with the dancers around the edges, separate, emerging from the smaller pods. The dancers interacted with the dimensions of the space, also the changing light and shadows, and ways to travel within the space, moving out of the pods and joining other dancers into the centre within and around the drawers.


The third movement score rearranged the space with the drawers around the edge and an open space in the middle. The dancers explored crossing across open space in pairs, threes and fours, making sure the circle was never empty, taking responsibility for the space. Gradually the dancers moved more closely together in continuous yet slow movement in a shoaling effect until finding a resting position. All the time the drawers were capturing movement in the depleting light and temperature as the rain came crashing down outside Exxopolis.


To see a short film of the session please click here

It was a really wonderful experience to organise and develop for Grassington Festival. We think the quotes speak for themselves:

“It was a really magical experience, I think it worked especially well with our different and unique ways of moving and bringing these together, and how we moved to give the artists lots of really interesting options for drawing.”

“A wonderful opportunity. I have lots of thoughts about development.”

“It was a privilege and I loved it.  It gave me so much energy.  I do hope we can all repeat this experience, or something similar.”

“Fantastic! Hard to believe that the dancers were not choreographed! Please express my thanks to them and let them know that everyone I spoke to thought they were great.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed the Sketching the Moving Model workshop. I managed to see the results of 3 other people at the time and it was exciting to see how different people had managed to rise to the challenge! I do hope you can arrange something similar next year.

Dance Session – The Unquiet Head painting exhibition by Clare Woods 

The Hepworth Wakefield art gallery – November 2011


We were invited The Hepworth Wakefield, to lead improvised movement session for adults inspired by the temporary painting installation The Unquiet Head by Clare Woods. The exhibition explores our psychological relationship with the landscape: our fascination and fear of it’s uncontrollable nature.  Clare Wood’s paintings use the motif of rock formations found within Yorkshire’s rocky landscapes such as Ilkley Moore and Brimham Rocks.  We noticed how Clare uses body imagery in her titles and then discussed how so many body words are used in our language to describe physical places:  Foot of the cliff, mouth of the cave, eye of the storm…  We felt that this idea would be a great basis for physical storytelling, and would offer an exciting creative starting point for the workshop.  We also took a research trip to Brimham Rocks, where we played and moved amongst the rocks in order to develop and embody our ideas, and we then devised some movement tasks and scores for the workshop based on the above.



A wonderful group of adult movers attended the afternoon. We spent a fabulous 2 hours moving in the space, it’s a rare opportunity to have so much space to move in the gallery – a perk with having painting shows! One activity focused on creating and exploring the titles of Clare’s pieces, which conjure up visions of emotive places you might scramble through. We focused on our body parts as emotional landscapes and then took this into movement. Here are some names of landscape we explored: Quivering Thigh bone, Deathly Ankle, Presence Hip bone, Terror Cheek, Edgy Nostril, Vast Thigh, Trepidation Backbone, Shimmering Spine, Enclosed Tip, Ominus Knee.



We later worked even more physically in groups exploring the idea of our bodies as an evolving landscape – giving and taking weight, carving-out spaces and creating surfaces – in which to move through, around and along.  All participants commented that they enjoyed the challenge of working so physically whilst having the backdrop of the wonderfully grand art pieces to lift and inspire them.


Here are some quotes from the session:

“Great opportunity and use of the gallery. Beautifully facilitated, fantastic to move in the space.”

“Great opportunity to move and dance in Hepworth. Would appreciate more sessions. Very well facilitated.”

“Well thought out planned and supported. Two facilitators worked well and blended well.”

“Thank you for allowing experimentation to happen.”

“Loved loved loved it. Big thank you.”

“Thrilled to move and be inspired by paintings, Every month would be fantastic.”

“I’ll look at the paintings differently – I feel more connected to them.”

“I was worried about the public watching, but after a while I forgot they were there.”

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