In Conversation with Dancers Irene and Kieran.
When we stumbled across this beautiful contact improvisation video, we just had to know more about the people and the practice behind it.
Contact improvisation, as we’ve discovered, is a form of improvised dancing and the exploration of one's body in relationship to others by using the fundamentals of sharing weight, touch, and movement awareness.
It plays with the artistry of falling off balance, counterbalance, finding the shelves of the body, learning the mechanics of the body in order to handle someone else's weight or be lifted.
So, we set out to interview contact improvisation dancers Irene Sposetti and Kieran Mitchell to unpack this incredible form and practice.
Where did you both meet?
Irene: I met Kieran in a contact improvisation jam session in Berlin last year. It was a really nice period of dance where we got to know each other and explore the form.
Kieran: I met Irene at a jam at Marameo in Berlin last year. The Contact Improvisation Festival in Freiburg had just finished so many dancers came to Berlin afterwards, including us. I remember feeling like I’d found what I was looking for when I first danced with Irene. It was so comfortable, and we were so compatible together. She is an amazing dancer and human. This video of us was shot on the day after we met, having danced together only twice before. I think there is a strong similarity in the way we both approach the form.
What is contact improvisation in your own words?
Irene: Contact improvisation is a dance form, an ever-transforming movement vocabulary involving weight sharing and partnering which express in improvisation.
Kieran: It’s a dance form that focuses on touch and weight sharing. The practitioner is always trying to access the floor through their partners body. It allows two people to connect through dance and merge together as one entity. This process involves deep listening to the body’s movement.
Where do you practice?
Irene: Wherever I am. For now, in Europe and Asia.
Kieran: In studios around the world where people practice contact improvisation jams. A jam is an organised meet up of practitioners who come together in a free-form environment. This generally happens in parks, people’s houses or more commonly in the studio.
What brought you to the medium?
Irene: My first encounter with contact improvisation was in Rome, where I studied with Italian choreographer and dancer Simonetta Alessandri. From there I moved swiftly to Paris to continue my studies in theatre and dance. There I had the opportunity to deepening my understanding and embodiment of contact improvisation. I met many great dancers and teachers who very much influenced my future professional life as a dancer, researcher and pedagogue.
Kieran: I studied modern dance and ballet as a child. I went to a performing arts high school where I auditioned as a dancer. The school had a strong focus on choreography and a heavy emphasis on instruction rather than improvisation. This turned me off dance practice for several years and I only really danced for pleasure in recreational settings after that. Then I heard about contact improvisation and saw a genuine way to connect with others through dance. I went to a class in Sydney and fell in love with the form.
What is it about the form you are drawn to?
Irene: Contact improvisation is dance which develops in a culturally innovative and international community where I find a lot of freedom and affinities in the way I can embody, investigate, learn and share with others. It’s a place where I can question, transform and co-create without being bound to a given fixed form or method.
Kieran: It’s spiritual dimension, which involves the dissolving of self and identity. The form is therapeutic in the sense that you can deal with issues relating to touch, rejection or trust. I like its communal aspects where practitioners meet up and practice, sometimes in complete silence, allowing for strong bonds to form. It’s also good for fitness and it helps people to understand themselves on a kinaesthetic and sensual level.
Do you find aspects of the movement confronting?
Irene: No. I keep a clear level of awareness at all times. I define my own boundaries and needs within an improvised dialogue with my partners. By being constantly alert, it offers me the chance to understand my limits and my responses even in a very fast exchange. I love the challenges and the risk taking involved, whilst also caring for my own safety. I very seldom do anything that I don’t feel like doing during a dance. For this reason, I never linger in confrontational spaces, opting rather for simple changes if needed.
Kieran: Contact improvisation involves a certain kind of caring physical touch. When someone is new to the form this can be difficult to navigate. Sometimes dancing reveals a chemistry or sexual attraction between two people which can be confronting.
Where is your focus when you practice?
Irene: My focus shifts. It is a malleable tool which carves directions and brings to light discoveries. It is not bound by control but lead by presence, curiosity and intuition.
Kieran: I am listening to the body that I am dancing with. I am listening to my own intentions. I am listening to my breath, and to the point of contact between my body and my partners body. There’s no room for thoughts that aren’t related to consciousness within the body or the present moment. A mental mandala is drawn at this point of contact as it expands outward to meet presence in the body.
Contact improvisation has a focus on physical touch, awareness, mindfulness and flowing movements. What do you think these characteristics bring to you?
Irene: I love to be aware, present and in a heightened state of alertness. I love the deep-felt sense of gravity shifting in space through touch. It makes me feel alive. It opens in me channels of creativity, playfulness and physical intelligence at play.
Kieran: All of these characteristics are related to being aware and in the present moment. The flow and momentum of the movement helps me to develop mindfulness, particularly in relation to resistance and touch.
Is it a trust experience?
Irene: Trust is a word most students and beginners say when discovering contact improvisation. Now days I wouldn’t use that word myself to describe my experience of dancing. Trust for me is a wide subject. It’s the state which underlines my breath, my silences, my words, and the way I walk life. Trust is the way I relate to people, the way I deal with losses and gains, and the way I listen to myself inside and out. Dancing in improvisation and partnering can be a very direct way of revealing our personal relationship with trust.
Kieran: One learns to trust oneself. If you are comfortable falling by yourself then it becomes easier to trust the person you are dancing with. You develop relationships with the people you dance with and this involves learning each others capabilities. Trust either develops or it doesn’t but trusting yourself is primary.
How has contact improvisation informed your life?
Irene: It’s as if my life, dancing and contact improvisation simply merged. Life is now a never ending flow of creative interactions, which change and refine. Contact improvisation has taught me to express trust and authenticity and to be profoundly engaged and detached. To also create, research and play.
Kieran: Since taking up the practice, I have an increased awareness to the subtlety of body language. I genuinely feel happier and have shared connections with other people who recognise the sanctity of the moving body.
What’s next for you?
Irene: I will try to find ways of creating long-term projects which focus on the education and investigation of the practice. Something close to nature in an international context.
Kieran: I plan to be in Berlin next month. I have been living in Sydney for the last five months and I miss being able to practice contact improvisation every night of the week. Berlin is one of few cities where it’s possible to do it throughout the whole year. Because of this, it acts as a magnet for great dancers from all over the world. I miss Berlin, the city and its creativity. I look forward to collaborating with friends and teaching contact improvisation to others. I am always looking for someone who can teach me something new.
Film | Rune Ambro & Kieran Mitchell
Dancers | Irene Sposetti & Kieran Mitchell (film)
Kieran Mitchell & Eliza Cooper (stills)
Photography | Kristen Lindesay