Jennifer Mascall and The Nijinsky Jazz Club have been making improvisational appearances throughout the city in a process called Public Research.   The research is directed toward creation of a new Mascall work titled  The Three Cornered Hat (premiering 2014).  


Nijinsky Gibber Jazz Club members Darcy McMurray and Chris Wright appeared at the Word On The Street Festival


Justine Chambers and Jennifer Mascall spent 15 studio hours working with material derived from Public Research, and shared a discussion with TALK. 

Here are some images from Word On The Street,  and excerpts from Justine and Jennifer’s conversation:


I wondered if you had any new thoughts about improvisation, after these 15 hours?


Well, I’m thinking about the source of improvisation.  Yes, I improvised, but there’s something about the source being so specific that I find I don’t have the feeling of invention I often do, be it in composition or some other thing. 


I feel this all the time… Invention is our craft –a skill we work away at, a necessary facet of communication (which sometimes actually blocks communication.) Whereas working from different sources is another country entirely. 

For us to arrive as a dancer – a performer who is improvising – we need to have found the source in ourselves.  We must find for ourselves the source for that particular performance or score, in addition to the general source work (where we are currently researching).  I wonder if it’s the source for that day or that time –  as well as the source for that work.   I wonder, are these separate?



I don’t think we can actually separate source from a particular day of the process.  Whatever happens in the process shows up in the work in some way, whether it’s attitude, or the relationships you have on stage with each other, or your relationship to the choreographer,  and how that translates to a relationship to the audience.  I feel I can’t separate sources – though some days we certainly felt we had.  Some days I was sure;  a source was clearly fuelling what I was doing.  The next day it would be different or gone, and I’d feel  “aww geez, what the hell is the source?!”  There was something about losing it…

At the beginning of this work week I had the feeling that I’d lose things.   But this shifted, through you pointing out that “these things can just change”, that “it’s about unveiling and constantly moving through the veils.. or asking what’s behind that?”  Or when you said “go to a different place, go to the edge of it….then how does that change the body?” 32I find improvising in this way, without trying to compose (I mean, you were trying to compose, maybe, but I wasn’t) is super vulnerable; all of a sudden I didn’t feel  I could rest on my craft.   In fact I felt my craft was getting in the way of what we were getting at.  

When I tried to make movement – or  tried to start to choreograph – or whatever it is I do inside of an improvisation to try and be interesting (and  there’s that notion of whether or not I am interesting inside of an improvisation)  I was wondering if craft was impeding source.


I don’t sense that, but I did see that different sources (if we want to use that word) consistently provoked different kinds of movement.   As a choreographer, I look at that and think oh, yes, that’s the origin of this phrase.  


I see the rhythm is that we’ll research, and then we’ll choreograph, and then you’ll re-improvise with the choreography.   We’ll make the choreography enough so that it’s the principle of what that particular source makes you do. 


And I can also be in the here-and-now, responding to what’s happening in the moment.


This way of working  is sort of double – twice baked- improvisation… it’s Biscotti!  

We have to figure out the choreographic parameters and enough invention within that for you to feel you can play around with the steps of the choreography as much as you play around with the source.   I think that’s what we’re doing.



That’s what I think I did in the work that I made with the Gamelan. I was bound to the steps, because I knew  the steps were really important to the people who commissioned me. I didn’t enjoy it muchI felt somehow  blocked and bound until I was faced with a Balinese audience –  that doesn’t give a shit about me and what I’m doing and just thinks I’m weird.  Their response to what I was doing brought the work alive, and then I could improvise.


Interesting – so it was the permission by the audience to let you improvise.


Yes, because in the original commission with the Gamelan, an implicit value was placed on steps, high legs, turns,drops to the floor, all these things.  Before going to Bali,  as I was performing I was ticking all those boxes.  But once we got to Bali, it became about space between me and whoever was in the space with me…555257_10153037670780416_789886105_n                                                                                         photo courtesy Justine Chambers

the audience,Gamelan, the Gamelan children, whatever came… and the very clear choreography on music got sort of blown out.  But if I hadn’t had that choreography or that source or those ideas I was working with, I couldn’t do it. It was possible because I was improvising inside that realm.


Probably drawing from different phrases used at different times. 


Yes, depending on what the moment asked for    or if the floor came up and there was all of a sudden packing tape wrapped all around my foot, I mean I  had to deal with that, and not try and hide it or cover it but had to actually deal with it.  


Earlier today I got sort of bunged up in the choreography.  Now, as we talk,  I feel that the choreography is going to stay alive by it being biscotti.  I can be improvising inside exactly what that choreography is – it doesn’t mean deviating, necessarily, from the choreography but rather making space inside the choreography to do what’s happening in the moment. 



You described a stretched out time-frame with the Gamelon piece,  one part where you learned the music, another where you invented, another where you made it up to the music, then did them together  until it’s capacity was reached, then the next step.  Here we’re doing the improvisation, finding the source and making the steps all at once.  It would be, at the very least, luxurious to do it that longer way. 


When I have the sensation that I don’t always arrive at the thing we’re working for, and we’re adding another step – part of me worries,  but another part thinks “ ahh well, maybe that doesn’t matter, actually.   Maybe it’s more about how all that information percolates down through my body – and that is going to take time.”  So I am not sure that it needs to be incremental like that. 


Of course, when I feel overwhelmed,  I just want to do this one thing and nothing else for three hours…but there’s something about adding those other things that allows me to know where we’re going.  Even if I can’t achieve, can’t get there – or don’t see what you see, don’t feel these things you are seeing in my body –  my sense is that it’s ok,  it will arrive, it’s just the when – I mean hopefully by next July! 


NGJC ConversationThursdaySeptember  192013 

Word On The Street, Sunday,  September 29 / 2013