Glimpse 4 was a practice in observing a process. A culmination of a 10-day research practice, it provided the opportunity for attendees to participate in the Underscore, an improvisation score developed by Nancy Stark Smith, one of the founding participants of Contact Improvisation.
Even though the audience, seated in a circle around the studio, did not actively move or participate, its existence in the space functioned as participation: the Underscore, practiced globally, is not traditionally observed outside of active participation, so observing the improvisational score became just as participatory as actively moving within it.
Aside from the Underscore I attended, Glimpse 4 also included two community Underscores and a Contact Improvisation jam. Two evenings of the Underscore were presented for observers, but, fittingly, culminated in a completely participatory one. The events were produced by Leah DelPorto and Brandin Steffensen, with remote direction by Nancy Stark Smith. The performers were Katherine Cook, Anne Cooper, Scott Davis, Leah DelPorto, Elise Knudson, Rachael Lincoln, Brandin Steffensen, Anne-Gaëlle Thiriot, and Ronja Ver.
The evening began by attendees entering a studio at Performing Dance Center, with chairs and cushions arranged in a circle, a table of snacks and beverages, a station for artwork, drawing, and reflection, and dancers mingling. From the beginning, everything felt authentic, like the attendees were each active members of the improvisers’ community. Conversations were not forced in a performative sense, but the dancers genuinely engaged everyone they spoke with. Attendees were invited to move around the periphery of the studio, with a specific directive to not enter the dancing space, but to still be involved. After an introduction typical of an improv jam (sharing names, pronouns, and physical limitations, including those of both the dancers and the attendees), the Underscore began.
I entered Glimpse 4 aware of the Underscore, but lacking previous experience practicing it. While I observed multiple steps throughout, it was remarkable to note how cohesive the evening felt. Cues were taken internally and from the other performers, both physically (such as Scott Davis sprinting across the room, the other dancers immediately following) and verbally (Ronja Ver articulating that three duets were happening to catch the other performers’ attention).
While the movement and score were both intriguing, most interesting to me was taking stock of my own experience. Yes, I was an observer, but the experience was designed so that everyone in the studio was equally involved, whether they were moving or not. As a movement practitioner, I experienced a number of sensations: frustration at not being able to join the full movement experience, pleasure when I contributed to the architecture of the score, surprise at noticing unexpected relationships develop, and even contentment at being purely an observer.
Due to some variables, I was unable to observe the entirety of the Underscore, so my experience feels unresolved. As such, I welcome further thoughts on resolution and reflections that I will unfortunately not be able to offer here. I wish I had been able to participate in the entire evening, both because I felt disruptive in creating an absence - which speaks to how well the evening created a community in the space - and because I wished to hear the dancers’ perspectives on being observed during a traditionally unobserved experience.
Natalie Gotter is a performer, choreographer, instructor, filmmaker, and researcher. She recently completed her MFA in Modern Dance at the University of Utah and is on faculty at Utah Valley University, Westminster College, and Salt Lake Community College.