Pre-script: Please do read ‘Improv fright – I’ below before reading this post.

At the intensive first week of the Gati Dance Residency this year that I was privileged to be able to attend as a guest resident, the focus had been on learning how to generate movement. So as you can imagine, there was improvisation involved. As soon as I heard that Chris Lechner was one of the mentors, my body had the same panic reaction that I mentioned earlier. Chris had been my teacher at Attakkalari, and I knew he was all about improv!
It was on the third or fourth day that I felt it, and Chris felt it too. “You had a breakthrough today”, he said. I knew I had. It was a tiny thing on the outside. But it was huge for me. Anyway, the breakthrough happened because I succumbed to my fate, really. I knew I could not get away from the secluded place where the residency was being held and I knew I could not, for my own sake and self-esteem, sit this one out. So I just closed my eyes and followed instructions.
I learnt a lot about improvisation as a result of opening my mind to the possibility of improvisation finding a place in my mind and body. Everything I previously dreaded suddenly made sense after I felt like I’d lost the fear. Of course, these realizations might be obvious to those who don’t fear improv, but for me (and hopefully others like me), these realizations are enlightening!
I had been afraid of not having time to think of something. My teachers were always telling me ‘Let go’, but I never had. It was that succumbing to fate that they had meant, perhaps. Because I really just stopped worrying momentarily, and just closed my eyes and did something! It sounds simple and easy, but it wasn’t. I had to let my body overtake the mind. And I realized – not thinking too much helps!

I had wanted perfection and I didn’t like the uncertainty of it. But improvisation isn’t about perfection and what makes it exciting, I learnt, is precisely the sense of uncertainty. If improvisation is about discovery and exploration, then the whole point is lost if you’re not uncertain to begin with, right?

With improv, for now, I am happy with closing my eyes and pretending that no one is watching. I can really then go into myself and feel something. The fear of being watched while I explored the unexplored had at some point led to some unintended ‘faking’ – you don’t want to disappoint, you want to impress – and in that worry, you forget to really do the task at hand. And this faking had always troubled me a lot. I had always been able to point out if someone was faking it while doing Bharatanatyam, or any other dance form. And I knew that when I ended up faking it, I was equally transparent. Moreover, I didn’t feel right about it. Closing my eyes took care of that problem, mostly. Because it allowed me to shut the outside world and open up the internal one.

As far as feeling exposed and vulnerable, that still happens to me quite a bit. And not just that – I find I have trouble giving weight entirely to someone else. I do sometimes have trouble ‘letting go’ entirely. I also do still lose my connection with the task once in a while, and I definitely do occasionally generate extremely dull material. But all this doesn’t trouble me so much anymore. Because I have an idea as to why its happening. More importantly, seven out of ten times, I’ve managed to “Let go, Aranyani!”