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Improvisational dance relies on technology, audience

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Anna Brown Massey’s improvisational dances often draw inspiration from the audience. Credit: Courtesy of Harry Pocius


Most people attend a dance show to watch the performers. But “Secret Frolic Live” will let audience members participate.

The improvisational dance performance encourages audience interaction through the use of responsive media systems.

Anna Brown Massey, choreographer and master of fine arts candidate, will perform alongside five other students studying in the Department of Dance. Massey said the performance will incorporate each dancer’s background, ranging from contemporary American dance and classical Indian styles to Broadway performances.

“I haven’t said to performers, ‘Do my moves, do them just like me,’ but instead there’s an improvisational element so that people can draw, I hope, from their unique lineages,” Massey said.

“Secret Frolic Live” will integrate multimedia aspects from its setting in Ohio State’s Motion Lab, which is shared by the Department of Dance and the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design. The black box space includes mounted projectors, cameras and a console of computers that can manipulate film in real time.

Massey said the technology available in the motion lab, which she has deemed “The Sensorium,”led her to investigate control in dance. She said she wants to see performers and audience members feed off of each other, rather than the usual setting of dancers following strict choreography and the audience members strictly watching.

“Questions about agency and authorship are always arising for me, particularly with dance, because of this idea that usually you’re watching a dance happen and then as an audience you don’t have much choice or agency,” Massey said. “But nor do dancers, and I think that’s where it comes from. Dancers are often told what to do with our whole bodies, including how we do our hair, if we can cut it, how we dress.”

As a result, the amount of freedom provided to performers and audience members distinguishes “Secret Frolic Live” from other dance performances, Massey said.  

“In this piece, I’m certainly the choreographer and director, but I have a way of letting go of the shape of it to some degree — it’s always in degrees,” Massey said.

Maddie Leonard-Rose, a fourth-year in dance and performer, said the improvisational element of “Secret Frolic Live!” lies in the dancers’ interaction with the audience, as each of the six showings will seat only 12 audience members.

“There’s an ongoing sort of ‘saying yes’ quality to the work that we’re doing together as a group of performers and collaborators because the piece is in evolution, and we don’t know totally what it’s going to be without our audience members with us,” Leonard-Rose said.

Although she has worked with multimedia and improvisational performances before, Massey said the fluidity of “Secret Frolic Live!” has been especially thought-provoking.

“This piece is challenging for me in that there’s a lot of imagining rather than the ability to go over a phrase or material like you would in traditional theater or dance,” Massey said. “Instead of ‘Do that again,’ it’s more like, ‘Imagine again.’”

Massey said she expects the performances to evolve with the audience, making each one different. She said she hopes the interactive nature of the piece will create an intimate environment that differs from most people’s everyday life.

“I’ve been working with this term for a few weeks of ‘escalating empathy,’” Massey said. “I’m interested in this feeling of fellowship among people and building a community in the room that might possibly continue beyond or, at the very least, a sense of community that continues.”

Previews of “Secret Frolic Live!” will be performed on Feb. 15 at 7 and 8:30 p.m. and there will be showings each night Thursday through Saturday at 7 and 8:30 p.m. in Sullivant Hall. Each performance requires tickets, which are available for free on the performance’s official website.

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