On Tuesday, Feb. 24, almost 30 students belonging to the Improvisation Group of Lawrence University (IGLU) and the Ensemble Thinking dance class gave a performance in the Wriston Art Center Galleries. Their goal was to explore the relationship between motion and sound.
In the largest room in the back of the art gallery, tightly-packed rows of chairs stood in front of the art exhibits on the walls. Lawrence students and faculty members listened as Instructor of Dance Margaret Paek gave a brief introduction while performers got into position.
IGLU is an alternative improvisation group whose members take pride in their diverse performances. Earlier this year, they prepared a performance involving several simultaneous micro-operas. In past years, they have improvised soundtracks to silent films and played on homemade instruments. IGLU is led by Lecturer of Music Matt Turner, a cellist who dedicates his personal studies to creative improvisation techniques.
For this performance, IGLU was joined by several student dancers. Students enrolled in this three-unit course get to “develop awareness and listening skills for relating to others, build a common language, and practice collaboratively creating dances.” Both ensembles’ instructors, Turner and Paek, worked with the students during their Monday-night rehearsals.
For the majority of the event, small groups of five students took turns giving five- to ten-minute performances. Each group had a mix of dancers and musicians; some musicians chose to leave their instruments behind. The performances were jarring; only after a few acts had passed did the patterns and themes begin to crystallize.
The first five-person group’s sound was generated by brass instruments, voice and a long white tube. They stood in silence for a few moments before suddenly emitting an ear-splitting blast of sound. They sustained it before gradually pulling back to a more moderate dynamic level and adjusting pitches to form consonant harmonies. They continued expanding and contracting, stepping in and out but staying largely in the same place for several minutes before fading out one by one.
The following small group made a tortured crawl from one corner of the room to another, dragging their bodies along as if they had almost no energy to spend. They seemed to be struggling to reach a constantly-moving point of focus on the floor. Their sonic output was comprised of their strained exhalations and sophomore Devyn Gay playing violin.
Another team formed what could be called a human tree. Standing in a cluster, they whipped their arms around and changed directions to face imagined beings circling them. No instruments were involved—instead they hummed and vocalized in response to each other’s twitches. A hop elicited a cry and a slouch was answered by a low drone.
Finally the members of all five small groups stood together on the floor as one large ensemble. Their plan seemed to involve performing elements of their original acts while interacting with the other groups. Each person’s role changed constantly—from watching to singing to dancing—as they responded to different actions. They became a living, reacting being which breathed on its own.
Each group did their best to showcase direct and abstract relationships between sound and motion. Audience members were occasionally confused, but they were generally impressed with the wide variety of performance techniques demonstrated. The exploration of motion and sonic response is ongoing. IGLU invites students to join if they wish to be part of such performances in the future.