Oberlin Dance Department Celebrates 50 Years of Contact Improv

March 9, 2022

Amanda Nagy

Dancers performing.
Guest artist Jurij Konjar leads a Winter Term workshop on "Dancing the History of Contact Improvisation" in February 2022.
Photo credit: Clarissa Heart '20

This summer, Oberlin College will host practitioners of Contact Improvisation—a form of partner dance centered around weight-sharing and physical contact—during a five-day festival of events from July 7 through July 11. 

Critical Mass: CI@50 celebrates 50 years of the dance form, as well as Oberlin’s historic importance as one of the longest-running academic programs for the study, practice, and development of Contact Improvisation (CI). The five-day festival will include jams, workshops, panel discussions, performances, and a display of archival material. Registration opens March 22 at 9 a.m. 

Event organizers invite participants to engage in rigorous dialogue detailing histories and experiences within communities practicing CI in the past, present, and future. 

Like traditional improv, there is no script or choreography in CI—dancers instead find and follow the points of contact between them, the floor, and each other. By definition, Contact Improvisation is the opposite of social distancing, but event organizer and Professor of Dance Ann Cooper Albright says it’s important for people to get back in touch (literally) after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. 

“It is a form that is based on physical contact and the sharing of weight with a partner,” Albright explains. “By attuning to the sensations of that movement connection, two (or more) partners navigate the play of momentum across bodily surfaces and through space.”

Related events
  • Leading up to the summer festival, the dance department hosted a Winter Term project and performance showcase with students and guest artist Jurij Konjar on reconstruction of the seminal CI piece Magnesium, with funding in part from a grant from the John P. Murphy Foundation (Cleveland, Ohio). 
  • A tribute to the life and work of Oberlin Nancy Stark Smith ’74, a pioneer in CI, will be on display at the Mary Church Terrell Main Library from May 6 through July 31. Stark Smith was one of the most pivotal voices, educators, and improvisers in the world of Contact Improvisation, coediting the publication Contact Quarterly: a vehicle for moving ideas for 45 years.
  • At the college’s Allen Memorial Art Museum (AMAM), an exhibition traces the 50-year history of Contact Improvisation. Collective Gestures: The Impact of Experimental Performance at Oberlin in the 1970s juxtaposes archival material with works from the AMAM collection to highlight the importance of embodied practice for visual artists as well as dancers. The exhibition features paintings and drawings by Yoko Ono, Theresa Antonellis, John Cage, Robert Motherwell, Judit Reigl, Athena Tacha, and other artists. The show is on display through July 17 in the Ripin Gallery. 

This project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment of the Arts. To find out more about how National Endowment for the Arts grants impact individuals and communities, visit www.arts.gov.

The National Endowment for the Arts logo.

Additional support for Critical Mass events and programming is provided by the Office of the Dean of Arts and Sciences, Oberlin College, and the John P. Murphy Foundation, as well as the generosity of an anonymous donor and an Ohio-based family foundation focused on arts and education. The dance department extends special gratitude to the Office of the President for funding a series of travel grants. Visit Oberlin College Endowment for Dance to learn more about supporting dance at Oberlin.

Contact criticalmassci50@gmail.com to join the email list and receive more updates.

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