Improvisation has been part of dance seemingly forever, beginning with the give-and-take between dancer and choreographer during the creative process. But now improvisation has become a whole new influence, with a wholesale use seen most notably in Gia T. Cacalano's abstract dance brushstrokes and Pearlann Porter's movement interpretations of jazz music.
Young local dancers have also picked up the ball with new formats, such as Jasmine Hearn's The Citrus Series, in which dancers gather to "jam" or just move to their own beat and interact with others in a relaxed fashion. She started these dance jams while a student at Point Park University. She would set a place and a time, often late into the night after rehearsals, when dancers could freely move and groove in a safe environment.
This trend could be yet another blurring of dance boundaries, going far beyond the intermingling of styles or the use of multidisciplinary art forms. The Citrus Series could be called a performance in a very specific way in which the artists "perform" for and with the other artists.
A recent version of The Citrus Series took place Thursday at PearlArts Studios, 201 N. Braddock Ave., North Point Breeze. The stage was set, so to speak, with softly colored lights and Herman Pearl, long an expert at providing dance music as a DJ.
Ms. Hearn furnished a different structure for the evening by inviting two Pittsburgh icons who began their careers here with the now-defunct Dance Alloy -- Jennifer Keller, a professor at Slippery Rock University, and Gwen Hunter Ritchie, an independent teacher and choreographer.
Their contributions to the Pittsburgh dance scene have been immeasurable, and these days, given their busy schedules, it's rare that we get a glimpse of them at their craft. They were there to serve as guides in contact improvisation, a technique originated by Steve Paxton in the '70s in which the point of contact between two dancers could serve as the start of a movement exploration. It was also the source of the original jams.
The dancers were instructed to dive into a "river" where the currents of movement would flow down the center of the floor and then split apart. "The floor is your very first partner," as Ms. Keller put it. She explained that this "quiet dance" focused on feeling how the hands and feet made contact and peeled away from the floor, then demonstrated with Ms. Hunter Ritchie. They seemed to anticipate each other in original and fluid ways by searching out the negative space.
Then the dancers took on an ever-changing series of human partners. One would direct while the other would follow. They made light contact, like the tentacles of jellyfish without the dangerous side effects, and they focused on the quality of touch and taking time to respond.
In another exercise, one partner resisted, producing a whole different quality, one that was more contentious. They then added another layer in which the partner could say "yes" or "no." The dancers began to evolve as they relaxed into an atmosphere of caring and sharing, the movements gentle but, at the same, more authoritative and expansive, certainly the goal of any performance.
The group then formed a circle where the performers could use their contact technique, engage in more contemporary solo work or just become an active onlooker. It was mesmerizing as the lines continued to blur among creativity, performance and the audience.