nytheatre.com review by Lois Spangler
August 15, 2007
I'll be honest: when I heard the phrase "improvisational dance," I was skeptical. Dance is a very structured medium, it's about form and movement telling a story, and not often about the spoken word, which seems to need to be paired with improvisation to work.
Sometimes, I love to be proven dead wrong.
Movement Forum's The Game is a series of scenarios and games in which nine dancers assist and compete against each other to be the last one standing at the end of the show. It's as simple as that. But what arises from that one premise is an astounding lesson in communication, drama, and storytelling.
Before I continue, however, I do want to say that at times I felt lost watching the show. I knew there were rules driving each game or scenario—the only problem was I couldn't tell what they were. As an audience member, I felt unfit to judge the dancers because I didn't have criteria by which to judge them.
I suspect, though, that this is intentional, because there simply came a point where I had to stop thinking and simply watch, perceive. Each dancer has his or her own style of movement, his or her own grammar of postures, rhythms, and motions. Communication is spontaneous and playful, and sometimes very deeply moving. Siblings reconcile, wordlessly. A woman selects her date from among three bachelors, who woo her purely through dance.
The use of familiar cultural concepts—like The Dating Game, or a wickedly tricky game of Twister, where the colors are not on the floor, but worn by each dancer—makes it easy for the audience to take in something as abstract as storytelling through motion. Pantomime is one thing, but dance, when its movements arise from honest communications from the heart, loses its symbolic, representative feel and becomes the message itself. One of the stated goals of Movement Forum is to break free of the constraints of choreography, and in The Game I can see why. Choreography suddenly feels like a limiting device, a way of shoehorning an idea into a vessel that may not be the right shape or size to receive it—which is why improvisational dance is so striking. A mood, a decision, the shift in power during an argument—all of these things arise organically, and out of sound, space, and movement, drama appears.
The Game is well worth watching—and well worth watching more than once. Theatre is about communicating a story. Not only does The Game do just that, but it does it in ways that are unique and original, and it does it differently every night. No two shows are ever alike. Movement Forum's promise is sincere: What you will see has not been choreographed.