Andrew Morrish on Solo Improvisation

Photo: D. Beecroft 2017

One of my main memories of attending a workshop with Andrew Morrish is the playful atmosphere of permission, in which creativity just seems to ooze out of everyone. It was wonderful to have a long chat with him, go deeper and learn about his values and his thinking around improvising as performance. Here is the distilled essence of that conversation, for sure motivating and inspiring! Andrew will be teaching in Berlin on February 2nd-4th 2018 and in other European cities until April. Check all his dates here.

Q.- I’m interested in this quote from your website,

“For me the artistic destiny of Performance Improvisation lies in extended solo performances”.

Can you tell me more about this?

A.- With solo we don’t have the complication of whose art it is and I like taking responsibility for the art I make. Improvisation is being used as a set of tools by other art forms, so now I’m turning it the other way around; I see improvisation as its own form. My job is to find the content in front of the audience every single time. Some people don’t even know this exists or is possible, and that’s why I’m articulating on behalf of improvisation as a separate art form. Dance is about movement, music is about sound and I think theatre is about psychology. For me improvisation is about making art with now, about making this moment the most important thing. I’m not there to tell people how I feel, I’m there to make art with what I feel. Sometimes this means I say things I absolutely don’t believe because the moment requires it and there’s some shadow in my value system that is being expressed then. It is all driven by my need to communicate, not just my need to find something new, or not to be bored. That triggers something in me which gets the whole thing going.

Q.- If improvisation were a separate discipline of its own, could it be so improvised that any skill -dance, music, theatre- could come in? And if so, how do you find the balance between structuring these interventions and letting things flow?

A.- Yes. As a human there’s a dancer in me, there’s a musician in me, there’s an actor in me… I’m trying to check through all my systems and allowing them to interrupt each other. Just like in a good ensemble, you have to make sure that the quiet little voice gets its chance. In terms of structure, I love temporal structure, that everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. That means that everything I’m doing has three parts, so I’ve got three things to work with. It’s a great way to multiply content and to open up spaces in which I might decide to change. Also every piece has a beginning, a middle and an end, and the beginning also has a beginning, a middle and an end. So I can be at the beginning of the beginning, the middle of the beginning… etc. you can go completely bonkers eventually! For me the beginning is about noticing and immediate sensation. The middle is about making what you notice more explicit, turning it into content. The end mind involves stretching your consciousness over the whole thing. This is the structuring mind that allows me to step back a bit and make a strategic decision. Once this is understood, then these three ways of working become tools you can use at any time in a piece. Mostly I’m finding and making material, and only every now and then I notice a pattern or remember something. This end mind is what manages the danger of doing a bad improvisation and in a 55-minute piece I use it only for three or four minutes.

Q.- How do you relate to the idea that improvising is about being free?

A.- I give people permission to start from there, but if you’re still doing that thirty-five years later, there’s something wrong, that’s only first level. I don’t even know what it means either. I engage with constraint towards creativity, not freedom at all. You say, “you can’t go there”, so you go somewhere else and see what interesting bits you can find. The difficult improvisations are usually the best ones. I think for years and years I was training to make it easy, but then… easy… becomes lazy.

Q.- What pushes you out of “easy” or the known groove?

A.- Something will, like your own frustration eventually. You don’t need to invite difficulty. Life and performing are difficult, so it will happen. The question is, whether the difficulties undermine you or come to the foreground and make everything more interesting. What helped me was a practice of saying, “Everything’s equal”. I look at everything as “Here’s material. How do I make it interesting?” Perceiving difficulty also means that vulnerability is coming up and you really want to welcome that, “Fantastic! That part of me who’s not a smart ass and doesn’t know what to say is speaking now!”

Q.- How do you deal with this vulnerability?

A.- If the safety of what I normally do is really an adaptive response to being in front of that audience, it’s fine. If you don’t let yourself do that, you may feel very exposed afterwards, and if you do that too often, you start going, “I don’t like doing this”, and then you stop altogether and you don’t grow. Taking the long view helps me with that.

The beginning of knowledge is a feeling that there’s something more.

The best you can do is let that uneasy moment be seen. Gradually that door opens up and five years later you’re playing in there.

Q.- Another quote,

“I’m getting more and more pleasure in playing with the texture of feeling”

What is this texture?

A.- When I say texture I mean the combination of something next to something else. If I get a feeling that I’m being mono-texture, for example eighteen minutes talking about one thing, that makes me anxious. That’s not how my mind actually works, so I must be doing something to myself to stay there. For me that’s bad improvising, holding on beyond the vitality of something, rather than allowing interferences and shifts. In the beginning I generally let myself jump from one thing to another without finishing anything, so a texture emerges for me to work from. What’s happening in my brain is how a relaxed brain naturally works: it jumps from one thing to another. I think all the other brains in the audience go, “Yeah, that’s what we do! That’s what brains do!”, it kind of makes sense, even if they don’t know what it means. People will often say, “it’s amazing how everything gets tied together in the end in your solos”. But I don’t think so, there are lots of dead ends. They’re doing the connecting.

Q.- What can you say about the humour in your performances?

A.- I make people laugh and I don’t think I’m funny. Maybe there’s something ridiculous about the way things are organized inside me. I love that laughter, it works like a lubricant which is opening the process to go further, because I’m interested in more than that. I was always happy if the audience cheered, but I was much happier the day they cried, so for about seven or eight years I worked on emotional range, making sure that I was touching more than one emotional quality. I don’t think it’s visible from the outside, but I think the strongest member of my ensemble is the movement awareness; it’s the most reliable and familiar, and it’s the one I can articulate best. The long term shape and form of what I’m doing is my responsibility, so I’ve got to keep practising to keep the texture of what I’m doing shifting.


contigüidad – rizomas y calor

photo: Mariya Boyanova

La primavera pasada empecé a pensar en la recurrencia de la linealidad en la composición instantánea: lo uno lleva a lo otro, que lleva a lo siguiente. Un continuo de conciencia fluyendo hacia delante como un río. ¿Podría uno componer en el momento utilizando un modelo diferente? ¿Qué tipo de modelo sería?

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Zeitgenössischer Glanz – the process

the glimmer of the everyday made dance.

May 27th and 28th 2016
Studioboerne45 – Börnestraße 45 (Berlin-Weißensee)

Dance: María Ferrara
Soundscape: Justin Buckley
Choreography: María Ferrara & Ingo Reulecke

06.05.16 – In transit, rehearsals under way!


mf – Berlin – 2016

The society of information – that’s ours! The ever-increasing amount of information available and the way and speed with which it is often pushed our way leaves us with little time and a lack of focus. Information is on the rise… at the expense of knowledge, that is, experience. Our capacity to observe rather than see, listen rather than hear, and perceive rather than recognize is greatly impoverished, making life a blunt, numb, bland event. On the other hand,

engaged looking and listening allows the wonder inherent in every fragment of existence to reveal itself.

This implies a return to the basic yet profound feeling of being alive, an empowering reconnection to life itself.

At this point in history it is superfluous to say that dance is not a limited and specific amount of gestures and motions. And yet, what is the difference between dancing and all the other movements we make throughout the day? I set off on the mission of being “dancingly aware” of my movement in various situations, and found household cleaning to be a rich field of investigation involving a wide variety of tasks. As a result of a shift in my attention, what had seemed plainly boring until then, suddenly bloomed and I found myself in a state of wonder and discovery that was lively and playful. What a powerful resource to sail through the less-favourite scenes of existence! Then I wanted to take the case further: Would these movements actually be productive to make a dance? My first investigations encouraged me to go further and to want to make a piece. Thanks to the funding from the area for Art and Culture of the Pankow District Office of Berlin and the residency from K77 Studio, I have been able to do so, with the collaboration of choreographer Ingo Reulecke and Justin Buckley‘s sound composition. The piece will premiere as part of the Performing Arts Festival Berlin organized by LAFT Berlin.

The evening will be a double bill shared with Michael Vorfeld, who will be playing Lightbulb Music. I have always been impressed by how far Michael has gone with his fascination about electricity and light. Lightbulb Music is a delightful unveiling of the secret life of these prosaic objects and the flow of energy that we so nonchalantly switch on and off so many times a day. It is wonderful to have this item in the programme, also based on everyday materials and greatly inspiring.

Seeing the radiance of the ordinary is not a matter of making it big with fanfares and razzmatazz, but rather of coming down and in, of intimacy and closeness. Alexander Frangenheim’s Studioboerne45 not only covered all our technical requirements, but offered us a non-theatrical setting with everything on view and no division between performers and audience where we will all be able to gather around to celebrate the details of quotidian affairs. It would be a pleasure to see you there and share all the sparkles, twinkles and glints of these evenings with you.


18.05.16 – Making of.


still from rehearsal video by Carlos Bustamante

The title is not an arbitrary wordplay. Zeitgenössischer Tanz – contemporary dance – has evolved from several sources, an important one being the work of postmodern New York choreographers in the 60s. They shook up ideas of what dance was in terms of form and content. Already in the 60s Steve Paxton was making Satisfyin Lover, exclusively out of walking, standing and sitting, and Simone Forti was performing Crawling. They shed light on everyday things and open up our perception to things we usually take for granted. If it wasn’t for their work and spark of inspiration, I doubt that I would have considered such a far-fetched idea as making a dance piece out of cleaning.

The first step was to choose movements and isolate them. What is “a movement”? Where does it start and where does it end, when it is embedded in a functional sequence? Partly, there is a biomechanical answer, based on its preparation-execution-recovery. Another way to cut is to choose what interests me and leave the rest out. The smaller the pieces, the less recognizable the gesture becomes. Another way of isolating movements is in terms of body parts. When I wipe a surface, the most obvious action is happening in the arms, but as I researched I became more curious about what the other body parts were doing, and found counterbalance, stabilization and also rest interesting. I could  use the whole body or I could use only certain parts, from more to less obvious.

I observed these movements as I carried them out “in the field”, trying to become aware of their biomechanical logic and then practised them out of context. Without utensils, friction and resistance, the movements changed. I did not want to do pantomime, but rather let the body find the appropriate path for this new situation, so this gave me second-generation movements. From here there were three directions. First, stringing movements together one after another, with the idea of Yvonne Rainer’s Trio A in the horizon. Second, going into one of the movements and opening it up through improvisation: repeating it, doing it back to front, changing the directions, the amplitude, the level. These variations fed into the movement strings. Third, opening up the “world” of the movements, that is, improvising more on the level of associations and letting the dance develop and transform away from the original movement. This also generated segments where the body plays freely with these associations, unbound by realism.

Ingo’s collaboration has been essential. On the one hand, because the richness of references and inspirations he has provided. He has also paced my work by keeping an overview and bringing into attention what the next stage could be. I have had all the space and intimacy I needed to follow my zaniness and mine deep into the research, knowing all the while that when I met Ingo outside the well, we would go through my findings and sort things out. As the work has developed, his outside gaze has also been vital to keep a balance between staying rooted and flying away, between concretion and imagination, between dancing the movements and carrying them out.

Cleaning has not only supplied the movement, but has also informed the lighting design, the choice of an object or two and the soundscape. The latter is a suggestive composition by Justin Buckley, who has undertaken his own cleaning investigation to gather field recordings. Justin has also kept away from merely documenting reality while at the same time not straying too far off the source during the creative process, and his soundscape provides another level of textures to the piece. (If you are curious, you can listen to a fragment of the first version here). The contributions of film-makers Beatrice Madach, who will be documenting the piece on video, and Carlos Bustamante, have been inestimable to fine-tune the lighting, but also as outside gazes, generously offering their feedback at different moments in the process. Jagna Anderson captured from the beginning the spirit of what I intended to do in the beautiful flyer photograph, and her elegant work has inspired the choice of costume. The bones of the piece have already been assembled and, as rehearsals continue, nuances that had to be put aside during construction reemerge and add detail. Now is the time to polish the clarity, and fade the edges, and to let everything find its place.

floor light

still from rehearsal video by Carlos Bustamante

The production of the dance piece Zeitgenössischer Glanz was funded by:


Performing Arts Festival Berlin is organized by LAFT Berlin in Cooperation with the venues HAU Hebbel am Ufer, Sophiensæle, Ballhaus Ost and Theaterdiscounter. It is funded by the State of Berlin Senat Chancellery (Cultural Affairs) by means of the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) within the Programme “Stärkung des Innovationspotentials in der Kultur II (INP II)”.

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