why a one-hour improvised solo?

… asked someone.
Why not?, thought I.

photo: maría ferrara

If the core of the question is “one-hour”, for sure, audiences are more and more used to short formats and our attention is challenged by duration itself. A one-hour performance could merely be a string of shorter performances in succession, but it could also have a different character, a different depth and breadth. Duration is a compositional element in itself and experience is conditioned by time, so:
a) A one-hour performance can definitely be a risk with some audiences.
b) A one-hour performance can definitely be something worth trying.

If the core of the question is “improvised solo”, as opposed to improvised duet, trio or multitudinous ensemble, I am guessing the underlying doubt is whether the performer can keep the audience engaged on their own. I suppose it’s a matter of where the attentions of performer and audience meet. A single performer may generate sufficient contrasts and variations in dynamics to be able to sustain the fly-away attention of a certain audience. An audience may generate sufficient attention to sustain a minimalistic rendition rich in subtleties. And many combinations in between.

Another issue that was raised was how much is a solo actually improvised, given that, without a partner, there is nothing taking the performer unawares. This is presupposing that there will be nothing unexpected unless another performer generates it. However, what is happening in the time-space of the performance is not only generated by the performers, but all kinds of occurrences and elements sharing the same time-space. Furthermore, “unexpected” is not so much an intrinsic quality of an event, but rather dependent on the expectations of the observer. An “expecting” mind with a “been there, seen it, done it, got the t-shirt” attitude can happily pass over the most extraordinary and astounding of events, whereas a mind that takes each moment as a completely new encounter is open to noticing the unanticipated details or, even more, capable of not anticipating, and remain on its toes.

Having said all this, I find the suspicion that the performer is not really exploring an unknown landscape, but rather sailing through their comfort zone, not to be completely unfounded. The question now focuses on “improvised” itself. Part of the improvisation is noticing what is happening and part of the improvisation is responding to what is happening. And in both cases, it is easy to choose what we are familiar with, without being aware of it. Our brain is built to be economic whenever possible, which means reusing knowledge and responses: recognizing vs. cognizing, reacting vs. responding. Ease can be easily (!) confused with flow.

The task of improvising involves questioning impulses and avoidances, which make us notice and not notice certain things, do and not do certain things. This task is not easy it may bring with it a sense of losing oneself a little and can never been achieved completely. It cannot be an aim, but rather an orientation. Peeling off the layers of what one thinks/feels/perceives one is and going deeper to discover new aspects of one which may be welcome or not. Going beyond the self that one knows to broaden its boundaries and let oneself be less oneself and more… self? Whatever it is, the task is equally challenging in a solo, duet, trio or multitudinous ensemble. If it is not undertaken, the only difference will be the number of people sailing together on a happy-go-lucky trip through the comfort zone.

Dedicated to Meltem Nil and her first 60 minute solo on November 15th 2014 within the Petunien series in Berlin.

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