This is a study of identifying themes and playing with them in contact. Contact improvisation, because it involves such extreme interdependence between two actors, presents a challenge in terms of staying with a given theme. How does one stay with something when one’s movements are partially under the control of another? This problem is usually met with an abandonment of the principle of sustaining and developing themes in favor of some sort of constantly disrupted present activity, repetition of known patterns of behavior or choreography, or an abandonment of physical interdependence. I revision, here, the idea of a theme as a set of intentions as opposed to a pathway of movement through the space. We can stay with an adapting intention more straightforwardly than we can stay with a specific pathway through space when we are heavily interdependent with someone else in an improvised setting.
If we conceptualize a theme as an intention, we can think of this as a mechanical action, as maintaining a state of being or character/subvoice, as an emotional imperative. One can make a theme more specific by fixing aspects of body tone, intended speed and effort, use of eyes, etc. It is good to go into this study of themes after spending some time with the curiosity scores, holding one’s awareness in fixed dimensions for spaces of time, to train the mind in specificity on intention in contact.
Some scores for developing a stronger and more sophisticated use of themes. (these scores are actually quite simple, but can open up some profound doorways for contact explorations, both for paratheatrical exploration and for stage performance).
- Find a Theme (in trio): a fast paced exercise best done with a timer. A watches as B and C explore. B and C have 30 seconds to find and identify for themselves a theme in contact exploration. They then have 30 seconds to develop it, distill it, make it more specific. They find different themes and don’t verbally communicate about them until it is over. They don’t have to obviously match and it is probably best if there is not an explicit attempt to match. Score can be chosen instantly or one can explore in a less structured way for 10 to 30 seconds before a theme is chosen, letting possibilities drift by before one specific one is chosen. Distilling, amplifying, making more specific has to do with narrowing the theme further and further in terms of speed, intensity of intent, emotional quality, texture, effort, attachment level, use of different parts of body, etc. After the minute is up, the three come together for 1 minute of feedback: the actors identify their themes and the watcher names what they saw. This should be repeated 3 times, then the 3 rotate roles, so that after 18 minutes, each should have done it 6 times and watched 3. After a couple of rounds, the actors should think to vary their themes type and vary their choosing process and time. If two in a row were mechanical have one that is sensation or emotion based. If two in a row were picked immediately, noodle around for 30 seconds before picking one, let it develop. Palette cleanse between each micro-exploration. This is an exercise in decisiveness, clarity, which comes from being willing to drop in and out quickly (let go of current organization more immediately).
- Theme and Variation (in Trios): A watches while B and C take 1 minute to identify and distill themes. In the next minute, they vary an aspect of the theme: take it faster, change spacial levels, add or subtract emotional content from a physical score, change level of attachment to the theme (hold it more loosely or get more desperately attached to the theme). In the third minute, return to the original variation of the theme. Take 2 minutes to discuss as a trio, then return to rolls and repeat 2 more times before cycling roles.
- ABA – A 9 minute exploration in duet, take the first 3 minutes to quickly identify a theme, distill it, vary it, play with it. In the next 3 minutes identify a new theme and segue into it, distill it, vary it, play with it. In the last 3 minutes, return to the first theme. (This exercise can be expanded as your imagination takes you … ABCA, ABACBA, etc…
- Open play with themes working with clarity, specificity of duration, return to previous themes, distinct themes and/or blur of themes, etc. Keep a sense of investment in process as you keep a compositional mind, live composing states of investigation in time.