Meet the Artist: Anne Cooper
There’s a new development – a distinct co-mingling of our two conversational strands, improvisation and training – in MascallDance’s fall class offerings. A new January 2014 training intensive takes this further, as seven artists of Nijinsky Gibber Jazz Club involved in the Public Research process, lead nine classes over three weeks of January, merging training and improvisation from seven different perspectives.
Photos: Chris Randle
MascallDance welcomes Vancouver-based dancer, choreographer, improviser and teacher Anne Cooper, co-teaching a series of contact improvisation and experiential anatomy with Jennifer Mascall this fall.
Cooper has studied CI with leading teachers of CI in Canada and the United States, and has taught the form for over a decade in pre-professional, adult training and community contexts. She’s also an avid ‘jammer’, hosting the CI jam at EDAM. Upcoming: Anne performs in New York this spring with a group of American improvisers led by Nancy Stark Smith (one of the original ‘instigators’ of contact improvisation).
As a choreographer she has produced over 20 dance pieces. Most recently, her full-length What I Imagined was presented by The Firehall Arts Centre ( “…one of Vancouver’s best kept secrets “- Donna Spencer) and her work ‘Jane‘, was presented in ‘we all know Jane‘ at The Dance Centre, with choreographers Ziyian Kwan & Vanessa Goodman.
Anne is a dancer of both choreography, and choreography + improvisation. She dances with EDAM, and has performed the works of DanStabat, Kinesis Dance, Lola Dance, Karen Jamieson Dance, SMcKDance, Serge Bennathan, MascallDance, Co.Erasga, Ziyian Kwan, Le Group Dansepartout (Quebec), and Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, among others.
How do you go about working together on a class?
When Anne and I plan the class, it feels like we have five dances. The first is the burst of ideas which we had a month ago. Then there is a solo, when we work at filling in those ideas from the overall plan. Next we talk, and merge her plan and mine and that really feels like a duet in contact. Both plans emerge from different forms of training; me/anatomy and Anne/contact. Then we partner in the class teaching; and then we dance again, reviewing.
What sorts of things does this teaching duet provoke in your teaching choices?
Teaching together, as I try and understand what we are each thinking and why, opens up what I think.
In preparing, I find I’ve tended toward what I’ve read about the earliest contact practices, and out of that we merge these ideas. How can experiential anatomy information permeate into things like falling, for instance, and help us practice? I draw from all the contact improvisation teachers I’ve had and my experiences of their approach to CI.
I plan classes to prepare someone new to contact improvisation and/or someone more experienced to work safely together by the time we reach the part where weight exchange begins. What will they need, in body and also attitude, to engage in this thing together? Something I read in your writing about the “utter practicality” of working with another body versus more abstract work twigged with me; Jennifer’s experiential anatomy information is also practical.
Anne Cooper in “no comment” (2012) Choreography: Chick Snipper Photo: Chris Randle
Physical safety during weight bearing and range of motion, preparation – warming up – is the key component.
I do think it’s possible to warm the body/mind up very quickly with something like a series of progressions we did one class with Jennifer. She led a progression that went something like from curve on the floor to experiencing the reflex to open & extend, to modulating one’s muscle tone while on the belly reaching fingers& toes a little up & behind you, to using an organ to tip you into a roll… I felt we were warm then, and shortly after, began to work together in contact.
In the August 2013 WOW student journals, Ashley Johnson talked about “what if you can’t feel it?”
Yes. These classes raise the question of how we offer a student means to deal with finding themselves diverted or thwarted, at times when they’re not finding an experience of the sensations the class directs them toward.
Sometimes we can spend a long time working with the sensation of, say, an organ, receiving information from the teacher’s directions, and find we don’t experience what is described – an organ for example. Something intended to draw you deeper into sensation can potentially take you right out of physical sensation and into the thinking mind or some other state – worry, perhaps, or irritation or feeling stifled and so on. The student can then pretend to feel something for the sake of participating, or continue to follow along in hopes of bringing about the desired intent. Certainly in my own dancing life there was a time that this could and did happen.
Trying too hard…an obstacle in itself. How do you address this in your own practice?
Now I don’t feel concerned if I don’t experience something as it is being described. I don’t mind spending the time. Sometimes I do feel sensations I can differentiate – say organ as different than bone, blood as distinguished from the lighter fluids. Or, if I’m not having sensations, I don’t let it stop me, hinder me from deepening into what I am experiencing. This comes from having a range of ways I know I can move into dance.
It’s the teacher’s task to ensure no class participant is left unprepared (and possibly distracted by concern that they’ve lost their way or failed to attain key steps in the class progression). I’m interested in ways to frame this form of warm-up that equip the student with a “back door”. For instance, if they encounter a block in their warm up and are then put into contact improvisation, it’s useful to know one can warm up successfully playing with the work of someone else.
Anne performing her solo work “jane” Photo: Chris Randle
Cultivating self-observation and skill in using what arrives in one’s path.
For instance: I noticed that working with attention in the bones tends to put me in a slightly goofey, playful, humourous state/mood, quite directly–whereas I notice I don’t feel that at all with the organs. –you know–the ‘funny bone’.
Maybe the teacher guides the dancer in ways to balance the effects of different systems on state/mood with the parameters of safety. Maybe it takes your classes in different directions than usual?
Contact improvisation is a very specific form of improvisation. However, I love finding time in the class for them to apply a contact principle to a format where there is space between their bodies. I might then open this into a wider improvisation: they might come & go from contact improvisations in duets, or in a group, or dance on their own. It has been said – and I also feel this – that the sense of being in such a group is more magnetic than overtly social. (Of course, even as I say this I find I am asking myself what those words mean, and what factors might make up “magnetic” or “social”.)
So many things in contact improvisation training are physical and mental components that engender safety from injury in weight sharing with another person. I always want to balance this with a sense of their own impulses.
Somewhere in the class I ask them to pay attention to their own breath and their attraction to areas in the room, or their moving or stillness. They have to notice they have impulses and honour them as (whether they follow the impulse or not) it’s a part of the dancing.
They have to learn to safely give their weight or fall and roll to the floor and so on– and once they are dancing together – the physics of the situation are there and they are also following physical and creative impulses that come from the pleasure of moving–on whatever scale-whether it appears as large-scale moving or more distilled.
Anne Cooper performing her solo work “jane” Photo: Chris Randle