Conversations with ICEBERG artists and collaborators on lockdown, working creatively through screens, and their reconfigured weekend of improvisation.
Like many artists and performance venues, the view from the beginning of the year was very different for ICEBERG collective (comprised of Zoe Katsilerou, Eilon Morris, Penny Chivas and Nicolette Macleod). Their fourth Weekend of Improvisation in Glasgow (WIG IV) – weekends which combine peer to peer exchange opportunities with workshops and performance events – was due to take place at the CCA in July. Instead of rescheduling, ICEBERG decided to move the workshops online as well as split into groups with other improvisers to create new screen-based collaborations. I speak to each group about their practices, their collaborations, and what ideas or reflections have emerged.
living in rooms: Penny Chivas with Sky Su and Skye Reynolds
3 different spaces, bodies. lives. Penny, Sky and Skye stare out but not directly at each other. Delineated yet bound together as they try figure something out collectively. They gravitate to the centre; elbows rest on top of chairs on top of ceilings.
Time speeds up. Skye leaves the room. Sky is in bed. Penny waits. A negotiation.
Penny: We’ve met pretty much every Friday afternoon at 5.30pm. Initially, when you put Zoom on and see the square that you’re in, you think, ‘I’ll stay within my square.’ We’ve had to come back to our physical intelligence: it’s important that I respond to the other dancers based on my kinaesthetic response, rather than centring myself within the screen.
In a dance studio, with its bare walls and light-coloured floor, the body is framed really well. I remember Janis Claxton always moving all jumpers from the sides of the room so she could see the work better. Now, with our couches and ladders, our body becomes part of the environment: it’s a reminder that our physical body is not always the most important thing at stake.
We’re really asking this community that we’ve been trying to build to come behind us, but I’m also aware that not everyone will feel comfortable opening up their personal spaces for people to enter virtually. As a wider artform, improvisation hasn’t truly grappled with what it means to be “accessible” and “inclusive” in our online practices or recognised that not everyone is able to participate in its current form.
Sky: Lockdown has helped reveal my practice. I have searched less outwardly for things to learn and gain; I have put things aside and looked at what is here. It’s what you avoid doing the most: spending time on your own and seeing what is inside of you.
I think a lot of being out ‘there’ and taking class centres on this idea of the dancer we’re trying to become. It can be a consuming relationship. What I’m describing is also related to a lot of things happening right now, which is about addressing a great imbalance. There is too much focus on individualism, professionalism, whiteness, patriarchy. But this has been a place of possibilities.
Skye: I came into lockdown in a burnout: I’d had a really busy year and I don’t think I had any days off. My improvisation practice got pushed way out, I wasn’t feeling it anymore when I was improvising. Lockdown has allowed me to reconnect with my practice, which I’m excited about.
There’s no going back. I think the world has changed and the values we hold as artists have come more to the fore. Whether it’s valuing how we sustain ourselves moving forwards, or you support Black Lives Matter, or you’re a feminist, or realising how poverty is affecting people. What we have been doing is negotiating changes through our practice.
lockdown collaboration: Nicolette Macleod with Tamar Daly
Framed in an ecstatic purple border with yellow waving hands, Nicolette and Tamar grin at each other through their phones. They follow each other, or not, weaving past bright sunflowers and into baths.
I don’t know what’s on going on, but I want to be there.
Tamar: We wanted to keep that ‘in the moment’ element which is at the heart of improvised art forms, so we decided to use the video-chat format and play with responding to one another and filming our interaction. We also wanted to highlight the context of the pandemic and expose the ideas we were playing with, so we created a stylised backdrop for the video which helped contextualise it.
The digital platform put us both out of our comfort zones, but the fact that we have worked together in the past gave us a common ground from which to voice something of our experience in this unusual time.
Nicolette: With my composition, I create pre-recorded soundscapes and songs as well as improvised works. In theatre there are often very clear briefs and perimeters, which I really like, but when I am working on solo compositions the work is often improvised and inspired by what’s around me. I recently did some live improvised vocal recordings under a beautiful high red sandstone bridge near my home. I like playing with the differences between natural, instrumental, vocal and manipulated sounds.
I’m interested to see how the online workshops are received for WIG IV. I have some experience of delivering sessions online and both Penny and Zoe have been teaching online through lockdown. There are extra dynamics that potentially emerge and it’s something we are all aware of. There’s also an etiquette with online workshops, such as letting people know when they will be on camera. In the same way that some people might have anxiety going to a workshop in person, they might have similar concerns when online. It’s important for us to acknowledge that and facilitate the sessions with this awareness in mind.
EAZ: Zoe Katsilerou and Eilon Morris with Andrew Morrish
A layered composition of projections and superimposed improvisations.
Zoe, Eilon and Andrew are ghostly figures standing beside each other. Is it the impossibility of them physically sharing a space that makes their apparent closeness more poignant? Eilon looks at something we can’t see. They’re in a place ‘just before things happen.’
Eilon: There’s a vulnerability in being in one space for a really long time. I’ve come back to quite simple things: what is it to listen to the wind, or the sounds of the street, and how does that inspire the creative process?
When teaching improvisation, it’s first about getting people to feel ok with themselves in the moment, to notice that critical thinking and judgement, and finding strategies for putting those aside. With that permission, you can see what’s actually happening rather than what you think should be happening or what you expected to or wished had happened.
Zoe: At the start of an improvisation, it feels like I’m standing on a trapdoor. When the improvisation begins it opens and I fall into darkness. Everything disappears and there’s just this moment: there is no time, the improvisation is not long or short.
I miss being in a room with people very much. I miss that sense of bouncing off each other and playing with the unknown. At the moment, the unknown feels overwhelming and outside of us, whereas in an improvisation I dive into it. And this is why improvisation can be a great tool. It asks us to courageously be in and interact with the present moment: what does this moment ask of all of us?
Andrew: With digital technology, people are looking within paradigms that already exist for how you’re supposed to use this technology, and that mainly comes from appalling marketing people, politicians, or television executives who are interested in persuasion. There’s no reason to try replicate the ‘live performance’ thing, but there is a reason to explore this technology in a way where you find the experience satisfying, and you need to take time to let that happen.
I’m committed to the idea that improvisers are set up for a world where people can’t travel. When the world has to change, when instead of having these huge cities filled up with apartment buildings and they start knocking them down, we’ll go back to villages. As an improviser, I can do a new show every day. People can come and they’ll give me carrots and chickens.
With the fires in Australia, the environmentalists were saying the loggers were wrong, and the loggers were saying the environmentalists were wrong. They were all using the fires as a weapon, and I was hoping that the scale of the disaster would make us say: we’re all wrong. We all have to find a new way.
WIG IV will feature four improvisation workshops run by each ICEBERG member, as well as screenings of the screen-based collaborations. Tickets to the workshops can be booked by emailing Zoe at firstname.lastname@example.org. Participants are invited to contribute a minimum of £3/£5 per workshop, or email Zoe at the above address if unable to financially contribute.