The word Improvisation re-visited

Mid June this ad appeared on Facebook from The Netherlands Dance Theatre (NDT).

https://www.facebook.com/139752122830865/posts/1698290176977044/

The ad is promoting an online Improvisation Workshop by the dancers in the company. The add opens with an ABN-AMRO (bank) promotional clip, continues to a short video with the dancers giving a short description of their workshop, with the ABN-AMRO logo in every shot.

This is an ad that, if I were not in a global pandemic, would probably have been alarmed by the association of the word “Improvisation” with a bank. But I would probably have gone on with my touring life and let it go by. But we are in this global pandemic. And we are not sure what our futures will be. 

I am collecting writing  from artists about this ad. What does it mean to you and how does it effect your work in Improvisation? 

This is an invitation to react, to read and to write comments using this NDT / ABN-AMRO ad as spring board. Let’s re-visit the word Improvisation as a means to bring us together as a community outside the imperialistic art structures and corporate subsidies.

You can send your writing to katie@katieduck.com

As part of the 2019 Freakatoni Witchy Weekends, we did a collective article for the Amsterdam Alternative Magazine (AA) that hits  points that this NDT / ABN AMRO add reflects. https://amsterdamalternative.nl/articles/7764

Here are writings collected so far. I will keep up dating. 

 

Katie Duck

I appreciate that choreographers use improvisation as part of their process to set material for NDT. This has been happening since the 60’s. Since the mid 80’s there has been a slow shift to treat art as product and publics as consumerist. That has slowly excelled in how large scale companies and organisations for dance, such as NDT, have had to rely on economic systems that do not work well for choreographers who wish to do massive experimental work, (for example using terms like real time or live). The demand is repeatability and authorship aimed at the name of choreographer’s. And now in the millennia, the status quo has transformed art as product into art as brand and public is classified by the rising ticket prices. I sympathise that companies like NDT need to move with the mainstream in order for a large scale company to survive. In that process, improvisation can only take a marginal role in the practice and creation processes in the mainstream. What follows is experimental artists who wish to continue their research and practice with improvisation on a deep level need to find alternatives for their work outside the mainstream.

These experimental artists who have survived outside the mainstream, decades before this pandemic, have taken a microscopic view for how improvisation plays a role in their work and also their careers. They live from project to project, internationally touring with their own contacts, create short term collectives and/or long term communities. Improvisation as a composition study for these artists goes beyond  “to escape or find freedom”. For these artists it is their full time commitment and even their life’s work.

I find this proposal from the NDT dancers trivialising the intense amount of work that has gone on in this area of improvisation out side the mainstream. Most likely, these dancers in NDT will discover tactics, strategies and assumptions already well documented, well established years ago, with the delusion that “they have made a unique discovery”. And they will show this and do this under high exposure. 

I am sad that the creative history of the NDT, representing contemporary dancers and choreographers, surviving the ever changing status quo to remain mainstream, has placed improvisation in an opportunist moment. We are in the middle of a global pandemic, where choreographer’s have no work, and dancers are in studios on their own. We can not gather crowds at this time. So now you question “what is live”?

The good news is that experimental artists are fed up with the pretentious, imperialistic, corporate directions of the arts generally. This is evident in how social media has been busted open by improvisation artists during this pandemic in live stream performances and online teaching, receiving donations only in most cases, with all f their independent work cancelled until further notice. So It was a shock on FB and instagram channels to be tossed an improvisation workshop by dancers who are obviously tourists visiting this area of work, with a bank’s logo in every shot???!!!!! Naive elitism possibly, certainly corporate entitlement.

Was there no one paying attention on social media form NDT to know how naive it would make the dancers appear or how it would effect people who are not tourists but rather hard core experimental artist?  Hard core experimental artists who are battling the trend towards corporate aesthetics????!!!!

This motivates me as an experimental artists to act immediately, to love the dancer by participating politically, to endorse change NOW!

Vincent Cacialano (MFA)  Editorial Board-Journal of Dance and Somatic Practice

Dear NDT,

I am offering some feedback. The production elements of The Improvisation Workshop on NDT made the video much less engaging. I found the ABN logo and use of the sound track distracting, and trivialised what the “instructing”-dancer was saying. It put the work in a corporate frame that seemed clunky for such an established dance company. I wonder if the dancers made those production choices – I doubt it. I also found the title confusing re Improvisation Workshop. I felt I was working in a choreographic process for generating movement material, rather than an Improvisation class. I missed a sense of critically informed questions about Improvisation as a subject in itself. 

Dr Sharon Smith / www.gobsquad.com
Dear NDT
As much as I appreciate the bodies of these dancers and the
movements they are exploring/producing… beautiful movements… I find the ‘improvisation’ incredibly limited and limiting. It demands an almost completely internal, self centered focus. The aesthetic is very much owned by one and copied by another. There is very little choice and therefore really very little room for chance – more specifically, little or no opportunity for the real time liveness to get into and affect the choice making. This is a ‘closed text’. The audience, the gathered crowd are not considered, not part of what is significant about the writing. Therefore, if I may be bold, I love beans on toast, but this dance is to improvisation what beans on toast is to gastronomy. PS, I hope my improvisation NEVER gets endorsed by a bank.

Vincent Verburg  / Artistic Director Movementalist 

Dear NDT,

I would like to comment on your latest workshop, as a practitioner of improvisation – instant composition – a creator – performer and teacher.

I would like you to know there is such a big difference between the actual work being done by so many artist in the field and the work you are proposing in the workshop. These artist, like myself, choose improvisation as their field of expertise  not because of some escape or new discovery of movement in order to set into fixed choreography. There is a huge misunderstanding already for years in the field of dance about our work being done.

Let’s focus a little on what your talented well equipped dance artist are proposing here and what it actually means to improvise to us in the field doing real time – life art.

To do research into movement themes – explore ideas – find new ways of understanding how to move – where to move – how to construct – deconstruct in order for the movement in your case as a company set it into choreographic structures done under the direction of a choreographer – has been happening inside contemporary companies like yours for many years. This however is  Movement Research – which many choreographers – teachers – and companies are confusing with the word Improvisation. Somehow this mistake keeps happening over and over again.

To actually Improvise means the person on stage is the actual author – and agent of its own, there is no choreographer from outside limiting – telling – what is to be done within the moment. The authorship lies in between the different performers – from the light designers to the life musicians – actors – spoken word artist – dance artist all sharing the same stage having to deal with Co – authorship together – all sharing this ownership and being an agent to the moment happening life on stage.

The improvisation happening inside studios – for example with your workshop proposal is just a first step into understanding what it means to explore your own ideas of movements and structures – strategies – to further develop – which is within the scope of Improvisation just a first step. An artist who actually Improvises has understood this and manifested this and researched this before going on stage.

Let’s be clear that within our field of instant composition we have been dealing a lot with a misunderstanding of our knowledge, misinterpreted and often we have been marginalised – leading up to less access to prominent stages – funding’s – and therefor politicised into a small corner of the dance field. It’s enough that the field has benefited of our knowledge as engineers of composition.  For I understand the difficulty that our proposed life art is doing,

it endangers the well-established aesthetics in dance.  Stop abusing the word under a false pretext and selling it under the false pretences. Give credit where credit is due and use your knowledge where you are knowledgeable.

Erik van de Wijdeven

Hello NDT!

I write you this message with a concern of sorts. or perhaps more specifically, to convey a sense of disappointment. Please do not get me wrong, I am very much a fan of NDT and deeply appreciate the work that you do, the people involved, the craft and art that you practice so brilliantly. I believe you as an institution, are a strong voice and example in the field of art and performance in the Netherlands and abroad. For this reason my sense of disappointment is that much greater when I was served an ad from you, sponsored by ABN AMRO, on my instagram feed. To see a practice as delicate and sincere as improvisation in dance, so clearly and blatantly framed by one of the most capitalist and neoliberal banks of our country, without really further any in depth information or explanation as to the why and how this endorsement, pains my heart. I would even say that it comes across as ridiculous, a satire of sorts. Furthermore I believe the ad compromises the message and credibility of the dancers involved. Again, I am a big fan of your work, that is why I feel the necessity to react. I would love to hear a response. Otherwise, please keep up the good work, but without the ads. thank you and have good day.

Maria Mavridou

A few days ago I woke up and saw Improvisation being promoted as an online workshop by NDT and ABN AMRO Bank
Wow! I thought. Corona crisis is really transforming my world.
What happened to the bad reputation of Improvisation, my chosen field of performance practice?
What happened to all the past 15 years of being advised NOT to use this word when I talk about my work? 
Is this a good sign?
Am I supposed to FINALLY feel included with a word that is now becoming relevant?
Am I supposed to see it as a chance and an opportunity that such a thing could eventually give visibility to all the less-known and marginalised artists who chose Improvisation as a field of study and performance practice? 
Am I supposed to embrace with positive spirits and hope the young NDT dancers who are given a (fairly paid I hope) opportunity to dive into the unknown, play and experiment?
Oh yes, this last bit I would love to. 
Dear dancers, go ahead and I cheer for you!
And all the above I wish I could.
And I wish I could say: “Hey, I am waking up in paradise. This is a beautiful world where the Netherlands Dance Theatre and the banks are supporting experimentation and risk taking in art. Wow! In just a few months the world has switched to something utterly beautiful and promising. Give me more hope, I love it! “Yet, what about the highly demanding practice that happens to also use the name Improvisation? 
What about it being (also?) a deep, committed, confronting and often provocative area of work, a lifelong dedication of artists who keep studying, who keep pushing the boundaries, who keep asking questions again and again?

What about my teachers and artists who got nothing but crumbles? 
Artists who made me see that improvisation asks for a political stance.
Artists who made me see that my dance trained movement skills, my dancer’s attitude, presence, believes, ambitions, education, were the things to put under scrutiny and investigation, rather than commodifying them. Artists who still draw my attention, day in and day out, through Improvisation, to the importance of undoing and peeling off layers of those embodied believes. What about the lived history of this word, marked in every cell of my teachers bodies, passed on in the cells of my body too? 

Where are they? Why is it not them receiving support? Why is this delicate job given to people who seem to have little idea of what they are touching? “Let’s see where this takes us” they say. Great! Please play!! But, this is not just enthusiastic young people exploring in the studio with colleagues, neither this is one more of the thousands of live broadcasts from home that anybody can do for free, because we all have a social media account. This is NDT and ABN AMRO. I can’t pretend that this has no weight. Did the dancers choose any of that? How much space do they have to actually see where their experimentation takes them, under the umbrella of a big institution and money from a bank? And prior to this, did they even have the right conditions in their professional career to ask questions about what their approach is? I can imagine there is a lot of pressure for a dancer representing an established company. And right now with all of us at home, looking, thinking, commenting, more pressure is added. 
But, should I just forget it all and walk forwards happily with my head up?
Stay silent and think we have changed page? 
Think it’s not so important?
Shut up, Ignore, Move on? 
I am in conflict. A great conflict. A big fat laughing conflict.
Once again as always with this questionable word “improvisation”, but now different. I think today I woke up caring about justice being paid to words.
But yet again, did I become too old, too serious?
What does NDT mean with Improvisation today?
How is improvisation part of its vision and stance? 
Do they really want to make Improvisation be seen as an easy digestible “doe mee” product, meant for the crisis times only, as “a form of escape and freedom” as the dancers state? 
It makes me wonder. Escape from what? Freedom from what? 
It feels like an important area of performance and composition study is promoted in a shallow way. 
In addition, I can’t stop thinking that for some of the artists who chose it as a lifework, improvisation, rather than a temporary escape from the way we used to do it because things don’t work, has been among other things a form of sustained resistance to turning art and bodies into commodities. By creating open systems, by removing the choreographer and handing agency to performers, by questioning hierarchies in micro and macro levels. This has meant fragile and edgy positions for these artists worldwide.
 
Yet, what I see in the add is beautiful, young, trained bodies, dancers of an established company, inviting me to join them in a quest of escape and freedom, with a huge bank logo around them. 
As we are all part of an art field, each with their respective contributions, I wish to reflect on the differences.
Name, reputation and financial support from a bank means more exposure which means more influence to the minds of people.
I guess with that awareness we need to consider more carefully how this act affects the work of others and what Improvisation means.
I will definitely keep thinking.

Iris van Peppen choreographer, improviser, teacher Conservatory Utrecht

Dear NDT,

I noticed your video on facebook in which two NDT dancers share a workshop in improvisation accompanied with the logo of ABN. Quotes as “improvising is a form of escapism for us and a form of freedom” pass by. By seeing this video I observe two things that I find intolerable namely the use of the ABN logo and the way “improvisation” is presented. Firstly I’d like to say that this video is showing little solidarity with all the dance artists that can hardly make ends meet and in particular the artists that have developed themselves in the craft of improvisation as a discipline. With this video NDT is undermining the craft of improvisation and using this discipline in an opportunistic way with this simplistic and namely naive approach to improvisation over the backs of all the artists that have been pushed to the fringes of the fringes of the dance field for the past twenty years. By the way sponsored by the ABN. The quote “ improvising is a form of escaping” is contrary to what improvisation means for many artists today and takes this discipline down, a regression to the seventies where ‘ anything goes’. In this video improvisation is merely a simple movement research, a way to collect material. Yet improvisation is so much more: next to movement research and a form of self expression it is a craft for real time composition: the ability to place material in time and space. It seems like that the NDT is not aware of the pluriform field it is positioned in and the lack of historical awareness of how improvisation has been developed into the actuality of today. If improvisation is as important for NDT and their dancers as you claim to be I would call you to do your homework, to show your solidarity with the field by inviting experts to teach or to exchange with improvisers and to embrace this discipline within your culture, and yes with sponsorship of ABN please. If not then my advise is: Let the cobbler stick to it’s last! 

Thalia Laric

When I watch this I feel sad, because improvisation is so deeply misunderstood. It’s not the easy way out when one wants to feel ‘free’, but rather a deeply political action of agency, accountability and self-authorship that resists capitalist reproduction under the dominant status quo. Artistic composition that engages true improvisation is a political statement. This sits uneasy in a government funded institution with decades of defined imperialistic aesthetic. 

Yes, many things can be considered improvisation, but the areas of composition that are most concerned with improvisation have a long lineage and intensive body of knowledge. There are some very brilliant improvisation artists in the world, but they are also mostly in the underground, dissident, marginal and UNFUNDED spaces. Governments and banks do not fund true improvisation – because minds that are free and events that are unpredictable threaten corporate stability.

I found it really hard to watch this ‘improvisation’ class, because real improvisation is about agency. In this video the dancers are in complete unison, the material offered is not opening any avenues for independent movement research, but rather connects to an aesthetic that can certainly be replicated. It’s more of a rehearsal; the older dancer is choreographing material and the younger dancer is interpreting his ideas, she has a very narrow margin of agency. She could be replaced and it would make no difference. 

Yes, improvisation is absolutely choreography, in that it creates dance, and yes, all choreography must in some way undergo a process of improvisation, even if it is only about figuring out the steps and teaching them later – but improvisation is so much more that that – it’s about making one’s own choices and having something to say about the world. When teaching/leading improvisation the idea is to open up possibilities for others to say their say. improvisation must move beyond aesthetic, otherwise its just choreographing/directing/authoring on others’ bodies. 

The whole point of improvisation in dance is to liberate the dancer and to get rid of the choreographer. Improvisation is a revolution in dance because it liberates the dancer from the role of interpreter and gives them agency over their own creative expression. NDT dancers are hired as interpreters – the company has an aesthetic of lean-athletic-contemporary-balletic, that’s their brand. Their dancers are not asked to have opinions – this would be too threatening to their marketing campaign, it would usher in a new world order where individual artistic agency might compel us to create each time anew, to commit to artistic process, to everyday re-question, re-look, never fix or reproduce. If a corporate bank supports this I’d say we may be looking at the end of capitalism, this is optimistic. The road ahead is long, and improvisation is neither a quick fix nor a repeatable, consumable brand. Love, always

Manuela Lucia Tessi
Dear NDT

I have attended many of your performances, especially in my first years in Holland, and I remember liking your work and admiring the craftsmanship and beautiful dancing.

I want to offer feedback on the trailer and the online improvisation workshop you did. Let’s please not mix up movement research and choreographic laboratory with improvisation: it is too often done and creates confusion. I’ve encountered this type of confusion in the institutions, and big companies, that often refer to improvisation as anything that is not set in time.

I would call the online workshop that you offered a choreographic laboratory, an exploration of some movement tasks. Quite far from movement research even, as the investigation in the body came already from a pre-determined aesthetic of the movement. It feels to me you had already in mind how it should look like before it was made.

The dancer executing the tasks was almost in complete unison with the dancer proposing the task, in unison of phrasing, shape and even style. I did not see any agency (perhaps what you refer of as “freedom”) in her choices. In short, you were rather making a piece ON her. A nice piece. But do not call this improvisation.

I do appreciate that many choreographers use what they call “improvisation” to create material. The problem is that the outcome of the process is then set in time , finalized , polished, packaged, ready to sell and be consumed. Product.  In a process like this the dancers are often seen as ‘tools’ in the hands of the choreographer. Even worse, the illusion is that they are an active part in the creation. The choreographer then appropriates their choices and signs the work as theirs. I’ve lived this throughout my education, and that was enough to know that this way of making does not resonate with my own politics.

When artists refuse from the start to be part of this production machinery, and rather invest in the authoring of their own work, they are truly pursuing a career through the instability of “freedom”. By being part of an underground community, a niche, their work is often dismissed and unfunded. Many times I’ve been warned against the use of word improvisation when writing a funding application or when presenting work to the curator of a venue. I’ve had a hard time to propose movement research and technique classes to large dance studios and institutions because my reputation is that of an “improvisation dancer”, this has previously been unfashionable.

It seems all about institutional name dropping and I’ve seen my work and that of incredibly talented colleagues devalued and struggling to survive in a context that prioritises status and branding over depth of research. Where is the content, where is the work??

Why improvisation has had so far, (let’s admit it) such a bad reputation with the funding bodies and institutions is another discussion, but to see it now revived, banalised and branded in such a way as a sort of life-buoy when everything is sinking, is a slap in the face with the dent of a big green corporate logo.

Most hurtful to me is when in the trailer and workshop mentions Improvisation as “a form of escape, in times like these when we don’t have anything else”. Seriously?! I’m glad you find it ‘handy’.

The ad goes on to describe “freedom of expression, a way to reconnect to ourselves”

Why would an artist lack freedom of expression and connection to self in the first instance? Why would one be an artist at all if one did not have this to start with? Escape… freedom… from what?? Are you referring to the corona crisis, or rather to a status quo that deprives the artist –making them into an interpreter, robbed of an authentic freedom of expression and connection with self?

If a dancer-artist has an interest in improvisation with a desire to self-express and find themselves, I would redirect them to a cathartic or therapeutic form of dancing. Improvisation however, is much more than this, it a rigorous study that requires a lifelong investment, not to be dismissed as something that “everyone can do” (why not have a body not trained in dance in the online workshop rather, so we really can see that everyone can do it??).

Dear NDT, I do hope your desire to improvise will stay true when the storm is over. Investing years and years in the study of improvisation is a choice, not an escape route in a difficult time.  There is a long list of valuable artists you can collaborate with, I would be delighted to help sending you their names and do suggest you research their bodies of work.

Raul Saldarriaga

(video link to his talk on improvisation) 

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1390541188001159&id=932042283851054

Silvia Bennett

Covid19, the lock down, the economical crisis,the fear of other, Art is the latest on the list of government measures, especially experimental art that was always barely considered. People feel their freedom threatened, and their future uncertain. 

Many advertisements from banks, multinationals, insurance companies etc.. use people’s needs to create an offer. Be careful what kind of offer .. do you really think you can offer freedom and a way to escape In this specific period of time?

Be careful to not sell sand in a desert..

This time needs reflection, resilience, rebellion .. certainly the practice of improvisation is all this, it is not to escape, is to stay, it is not freedom, it is independence and critical conscience. 

Feed people’s lives with improvisation in all its most complex facets and if you don’t know them, feed people’s lives with the art you know more deeply, because we need to share and be fed, but please don’t give us sand .. we are thirsty.

Jonathan Nagel

Improvising is nothing exclusive or elitist. In fact every person on earth does it every day. To me it is similar to cooking food. Something we all need to survive, to live. However, for many, cooking food might bluntly mean shoving a frozen pizza into the oven, or boiling some pasta with readymade sauce, while for some it means a dedicated and passionate research about the delicacy of flavours, herbs and spices.

When restaurants had to close as part of the lockdown, we could see on social media lots of pictures and videos of people who for the first time in their lives had been baking their own bread. I am happy for all of them, it is great to deepen one’s understanding about where our food comes from and how it is made. Yet, it would be hubris to compare these first-time baking experiments to the skill of masterful chefs and gourmets.

Not everyone who has ever opened their mouth is a great singer, and not everyone who moves their body is a dancer. Any skill comes from years of research, study, experimentation, practical application as well as exchange and discourse. I do not mean to exclude anyone by saying this. Everyone has the right to personally grow and expand, learn and broaden their skill. But always with the implication to start from a point of acknowledgement and respect towards what else has been done in this field before.

It is great that the NDT investigates in the world of improvisation, and I do not doubt that they have used improvisation as a tool before. But obviously it has not played a big role in their work so far, and them promoting and offering to teach improvising, displays more than anything else a big amount of ignorance, disrespect towards others in the field, and eventually very little understanding of what they actually do.

In the arts we observe an ever-growing competition and polarization between styles and approaches: improvised vs set work, traditional vs contemporary, entertaining vs confronting. But the current state of the arts is so vulnerable, that we should better support each other, acknowledge that different ways of working are equally valid and valuable. Each approach has a broad history and implies life-long study. We better learn from each other, rather than thinking we know it all and adorning ourselves with borrowed plumes. Love

Tiia Veneranta (Movement artist, Dance of Life® teacher, to-be dance/movement therapist)

The dance company NDT and the bank ABN AMRO have been collaborating since 2012. It is not surprising then that a new improvisation workshop by NDT is funded by ABN AMRO. Although it does sound questionable that a contemporary dance company receives bank funding, I do not think that it is inherently wrong. I do not wish to diminish NDT’s offering or the dancers’ work per se either.

However, the following equation is problematic: Global pandemic that has left hundreds and hundreds of artist without livelihood, not to mention those whose life’s work is in improvisation and real-time performance and struggle day in, day out even in normal conditions => An established dance company receives bank funding for an improvisation workshop.

Improvisation is a misunderstood rigorous study, full of questions and obstacles. Were there knowledgeable people in the process deciding about funding an improvisation workshop? Would the workshop make justice to the rich and diverse world of improvisation and real-time performance? 

Devising work with improvisation and tasks is nothing new; I take it for granted that contemporary dance companies have at least varying degrees of shared authorship in their works (this should also be visible in promoting these works but that is a separate topic). What is the specificity of this workshop? The advertisement hints towards a generic task-based movement research class. Does it have an aim or focus – other than “an escape”? Dancers requiring an escape from the confines of their (hopefully fairly) paid jobs as interpreters; great, break free! Or dancers requiring an escape from the pandemic-madness; yes, make your own work, own your dance!

There is almost no improvisation taking place in the video clip from the workshop. I saw one person giving input to another one, dictating nearly each move, tempo, style. I saw a director and an interpreter, not dancer-artists working together. I also saw myself and my dreams from the past. 

Love to all, 

Hannah Kiel
One word, “appropriation.” One month ago, George Floyd was killed in the United States and suddenly the whole world woke up to the fact that the Eurocentric worlds loves black culture but doesn’t love black people. Because alas, we have let too many bodies be murdered under the rug of the economy for so long, and we still use blackness to our financial advantage and appropriate every last drop of the spirit of black excellence to this very day….
Now with that in your mind, I will address what actually needs to be talked about, which is “improvisation.” This is not just a word, consider that there is already an existing field of professional movement/sound artists spending all of their own pocketed resources, without outside support, to develop the field of performance improvisation every single day… we are watching you and we see in your technique that you are appropriating our field—A field that has paved the cement for the whole city of dance to rest it’s buildings. Your shallow exploration of improvisation is reaching masses because of the bank’s endorsement, and you are choosing to advertise “improvisation” as a means of “escape”. Escapism is the core of whiteness, because white people have the privilege to retreat and look away from inequalities. The fact that this was endorsed by a bank does not surprise me in the least, because this is the same way white people appropriate black culture and get the banks to endorse mediocre art simply because of their platform of whiteness. NDT must realise that you are the whiteness power structure of the dance world, and you must now face how you have used marginalised voices to your advantage. 
I do not choose the field of improvisation to escape; just the opposite. I improvise to connect to all entities in my presence, I choose to improvise to confront my own limitations I need to take accountability for. 
Though I am a marginalised artist myself, these words are not for my sake, for the specific field of dance improvisation has a rich history to back my words up. The names I drop could haunt you, many prominent pioneers of improvisational techniques are even still here on earth alive today.
Now, with all that being said, it is a great thing that you are encouraging people to use their bodies, to explore themselves and to be creative. But you do NOT deserve money for that, especially via zoom online. Please reallocate your funds back to the students. They of all people should not have to pay to support an organisation (NDT) which is ALREADY SUPPORTED BY THE GOVERNMENT, INSTITUTIONS, AND SEVERAL DONORS. The field of improvisation has none of that, and you are stealing food from the mouthes and the hands of our teachers who spent their whole lives studying and developing this field. 
 
Izabela Pacewicz / dancer, movement artist, Chi Kung teacher

I came to Amsterdam from Poland, from little town in which among most of theatres and dance groups choreography, form and steps where most explored and present in the dance world, most appreciated and recognized. The word improvisation did not exist and any form of breaking from the form was considered dangerous and strange. Not interesting, difficult to follow, weird, unknown. I decided to leave my home town in the search of what felt more truthful and trustworthy to me and to find out if improvisation somewhere else did exist and had it’s space in the world. And come here to Holland, to Amsterdam not knowing yet how deep and profound research has been done by artists working in this country and in Europe in the field of improvisation. Few days after arrival I land it in Bimhuis for the Monday Match. Did witness the work. Was touched and speechless. The Improvisation was alive, screaming with its strengths throughout the bodies of performers penetrating our as audience bodies, leaving us in a strange, but how wonderfully uncomfortable state of being that trembled and questioned what we thought was what we knew. It was that night that I decided more firmly that Improvisation is what i want to study, find out more about it and research this whole area of movement, body, time and space.It is now 13 years that I live in Amsterdam and it is truly transformative experience and process. I’m still feeling quite fresh and like a baby in the whole Improvisation movement that is taking place all over the world. The more I step into it, the more I do not know. The more there is a need to question and challenge my own assumptions and let myself be taken by the process of unknown and to discover and listen to always speaking body. It’s often rough, confronting, asking for courage and trust. Being able to open and to be touched by what is in us sometimes avoided. See and listen. Respond. Notice.
There is so much more to be discovered and piled away. And it’s only possible with support and  movement of different artists and teachers that are here with us, doing the work. Making sure we have space and circumstances to gather and to witness. To let go and to grow.I really hope that people who made this video, the ones who came up with the idea of the workshop and the dancers themselves will take the work that has been done in this country seriously and with 
consideration and respect to those who did and are working for decades now to make sure we live our lives openly and courageously instead of living blindly.
Wish you all the best, all the love and keep researching.
We are not waiting for any answers.
 

Tashi Iwaoka

Dear NDT
Concerning the ‘Improvisation’ workshop ‘promotion’ video, I’ve got something to say.
Please imagine the below.
You see an online ad saying a ‘Contemporary Ballet Dance workshop with The National Opera’
It’s sponsored by Gassan Diamonds and the logo is everywhere.
Two opera singers from the National Opera appear in the video and what you see is some very basic ballet steps with a little hint of their own interpretation of what dance could mean to them.
One of them says ‘This Contemporary Ballet Dance workshop is vital to us. Because singing was restricted I found another way to sing, sing with my body through movement that was my escape from the restriction. And to claim my freedom to sing.’
It’s all fine and beautiful, as long as this particular individual is concerned.
I can be even happy for this person – finding a new channel to express her/himself and get paid (hopefully) well by Gassan during this difficult time.
And yet, when the term ‘Contemporary Ballet Dance’ is added onto its claim there are some very questionable things in this.
I hope you, NDT or some dancers of NDT who might read this – or anyone who is passionate about dance as their profession or means of life – share my point.
I continue to write more, to point out something you, NDT and some of the dancers may not get it via the above analogy.
When I first saw the promo video on FB, I was not that much disturbed by it other than thinking they (the dancers) were naïve and disgusted by the cooperate manner that was presented.
Yet, as much problematic as it appeared to me, I was also curious to know what they would actually do in the workshop. So, I subscribed myself to the NDT At Home. As I was subscribing, I read the quote from one of the dancers appeared in the video on that webpage.
It says;
“Especially these improvisation workshops are extremely important to us. They are nurturing us in times like these where we don’t really have another escape. It’s a form of escape for us, it’s a form of freedom for us.”

This triggered me instantly.
It was beyond being just naïve.
After reading this quote, what I had first thought as naivety became ignorance and arrogance.
I found it even imperialistic.
Why?

The dancer could say such a thing because it was not necessary for him to think his political position in relation to the whole dance world (including the meaning of taking part in the online workshop termed ‘Improvisation Worksop’ as an NDT dancer) and to know the reality of the vast variety of other sort of dance forms existing/striving for their existence.
Regardless of how much control or power he had in this online workshop thing, he should have some sense of awareness about it.
If he’d had that and still said such thing and agreed to use it on the webpage for promotional purpose under the title ‘Improvisation Workshop’, then, his action is certainly ignorant or arrogant and becomes even imperialistic –  framed and supported by NDT the big institution backed by ABN AMRO the cooperate bank – to claim their freedom in the field they’d had not much idea of nor interests in knowing the diversity and depth in it prior to their claim, and here the worst part, as a means of escape from their restricted reality in their usual field. (I used they/their as the quote is used as a promotional text it belongs to NDT as whole rather than him as an independent dancer)
This whole dynamic gave me an image.
A small bunch of privileged, culturally high-positioned people coming to a small region of its country, where is usually neglected by them due to its very different cultural practice, in order to claim their freedom because they’ve got a trouble in their usually well-protected territory to claim it there – as a means of escape from that trouble, which in fact the whole country was having the same trouble, and the small region was actually hit worse than from where they ‘escaped.’   And naming their way to claim their freedom ‘Improvisation’ taken from the name of that region they moved in temporarily. 

Does this sound imperialistic to you?

I strongly doubt if the dancer was aware of any of the things I’ve mentioned here when he got an offer to do that job, when he was dancing for the camera, when he was saying the quote used on the webpage.
It’s not his fault he wasn’t. Yet, he is certainly part of all this.
Probably, he didn’t think it would create such an issue by saying that. Maybe he was simply doing his job as an NDT dancer.
But now it’s here.
It’s good that he has a chance to think about all this now.
If he doesn’t care about any of those, then, he is indifferent, ignorant, maybe not necessarily arrogant but certainly stays imperialistic as part of the machine.
I’m not attacking him personally here.
I’m trying to point out some of the issues in this big structure which he had a part.
I’m not claiming I am right.
I’m asking us where do we stand and what does that mean to each one of us, so-called ‘dancers’ or ‘movement artists’ or whatever the label might be.
We need to keep questioning if we are to claim freedom – and the responsibility that comes with it (and please read other writings here in regard to this).
Thank you for your patient to read this far.

Ellen Knops 

Really…WTF?