Yves Candau – Contact Improv @ WOW 2011

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann


We at Mascall Dance are so happy to have Yves Candau coming from Toronto to Vancouver to share his expertise in Contact Improvisation (CI), August 22–26, 11:45am–1:30pm.

The cost for all 5 of Yves’ CI classes is $66 + HST or… register for the FULL WEEK!

Please see our WOW page for Yves’ bio, his workshop description and for info. on how to register in these exciting classes:


OPEN TO ALL LEVELS of experience


1. How does your CI practice relate to your work as a performer, primarily interpreting other’s choreography?

Before getting into dance I studied martial arts, particularly Aïkido. I have now been involved with dance for a much longer period than the years I spent studying Aïkido. But those years have had a long lasting influence in terms of how I approach and live physical practices.

I would say that Contact Improvisation filled in (and expanded) the place that Aïkido had in my life. What I mean is that it is predominantly a practice for me: something that I do on a regular basis, which provides ongoing opportunities for physical experiences and explorations, and has gradually transformed me as I spend time doing it.

Interestingly my work as a performer and interpreter has often involved little partnering, which one would think is the main characteristic of Contact. While it may thus seem that Contact has had little influence over my work as a performer, I would actually say that, in a more indirect way, most of what I know as a performer I learned or refined through the practice of Contact.

2. Can you elaborate on these “indirect ways”? What do you think Contact has to offer to a contemporary dancer?

The obvious answer would seem to be that Contact is a good study of partnering. But in my opinion there is much more to it than that. In my own practice of Contact I would say that the partnering aspect of it is not an end in itself, but rather a means to stimulate and access experiences that would otherwise be impossible or unlikely. There is a lot I would want to say here, but to keep things reasonably short, I will focus on a few points:

Spherical use of space: Contact offers a lot of opportunities for disorienting situations, such as being upside down, leaning back… As one overcomes the initial fear and disorientation associated with these new spatial situations, and develops the ability to navigate through them, space becomes more and more spherical. A very clear example of what I mean by this, from another discipline, is the way Capoeira dancers play with space.

Organizing centers: This is a concept I have been increasingly interested in. Simple examples include points of weight support (through the feet or sit bones for instance). More generally it is about looking at the temporarily stabilized points or areas at which our bodies interface with the world, physically or perceptually, and how the rest of the body organizes itself around these to facilitate an activity. Think of the steady eyes of a cheetah chasing its prey for instance. Now coming back to Contact, the open interaction with the floor and partners is a chance to play with a multiplicity of unusual organizing centers: using the head or scapular belt for weight support, creating a pivot axis from a hand to a sit bone…

Tone modulation: There is a certain quality of muscular tone that one tends to develop through the practice of Contact. While the range of forces at play can be relatively high, when lifting a 200 pound dancer for example; the form also encourages one to cultivate a soft and round form of strength. An area of fixed tension which might not otherwise be obvious will become very clear as one interacts with the floor and partners. And interestingly this learning process is a direct result of first hand experience.

Unpredictability: As an open and improvised form with another being, Contact forces us to deal with a high level of unpredictability. I think this can be the basis for deep learning experiences: working through the apparent paradox of finding clarity of intention while remaining open and adaptable to a constantly changing environment.

As a last point I would say that Contact can be a powerful complement to more formal dance techniques, which will develop qualities and skills that are useful for any movement style.

3. What other practices have you integrated with the techniques of CI in your teaching? How do you see all of these relating under the umbrella of CI?

I am also an Alexander Technique teacher and this other practice certainly has a strong impact on my work as a dance artist, both as a teacher and performer of dance. While I would not claim to teach Alexander Technique in a Contact workshop, particularly because I believe the essence of it has to be taught one on one, it has led me nonetheless to a deep examination of my teaching practices.

The technique can be helpful in many ways: injury prevention, increased ease of movement and flexibility, improved posture or rather, for a more dynamic connotation, what I would call poise… But beyond these beneficial side effects I have found the Alexander Technique to be a marvellous tool for exploring the intricacies of our mind-body selves.

For it is as much an investigation of physical movement, as it is a study of the mental processes which give rise to movement. And I think of it as a form of meditation in action. Exploring and experiencing these cycles in myself has strongly influenced the way I aim to guide others to similar experiences.

4. What new information has teaching CI brought to you about CI? What can you tell us about the process of going from an embodied understanding of CI, as a student, to expressing the concepts verbally, as a teacher must do?

Because of the openness of the form, and the level of unpredictability that I mentioned, a lot of the skills gained through the practice of Contact are integrated at the level of reflexes. In the beginning many dancers also find that their thinking minds get in the way of their dancing.

In my own journey, while relishing the spontaneity of Contact, I gradually became interested in integrating my analytical mind back into the dance. I wanted to bring up to my conscious mind the “embodied understanding” that I manifested in the moment while dancing. So I started a process of deconstructing and examining my movement patterns, which had evolved more spontaneously through taking workshops and dancing at the jams.

This process has formed the basis of my teaching: bringing embodied experience up to a more conscious understanding, in order to be able to guide somebody else to similar embodied experiences. It has also helped me refine my own movement skills, as greater understanding brings new possibilities forth.

5. Take us through an example of what we will experience in one of your CI classes.

I am interested in working with a multiplicity of point of views, all collaborating to enrich a holistic experience of our living moving bodies. By point of views I mean various ways of approaching the reality of our living moving selves such as meditation, functional anatomy, guided movement exploration, practicing a specific movement pattern, watching somebody else move…

I think a key is to never let ourselves become too stuck in one way of looking at things, because any specific approach yields at best only temporary and partial truths. I like the idea of “working truths”, not to be carved in stone, but good enough to use for a while, as long as they stimulate new ideas.

To get to a more specific example, I have been very interested lately in looking at the pronation and supination of the forearm and the corresponding reach through the fingers. In a class I would start by showing briefly how the radius and ulna articulate at both ends, to provide a mental reference as counterpoint to the embodied experience of the movement.

From there we would move on to a guided exploration. This is easier demonstrated than described in words. But to point out a few things, there are interesting principles in terms of how symmetry tends to be static, while asymmetry spontaneously generates movement that easily mobilizes the whole body (by asymmetry I mean here the combination of pronating one hand while supinating the other hand).

After stimulating fundamental patterns in that open way, we would move on to practice more specific movement patterns, first on our own, then with a partner. This process would thus gradually build up, from awakening and reinforcing fundamental patterns / pathways, to more complex and varied situations. I would then aim to finish the progression with some open dancing time, to integrate the new information.

To finish, as I reread what I wrote, I feel that I want to add a little counterpoint. All these many words shouldn’t overshadow the fact that in the class the focus will be on embodied experiences: much less wordy, much more physical, and hopefully engaging our whole selves into the thrill of dancing.