It’s not too often that we just appreciate watching people move. Their movement is mitigated, subordinated, by something else that we’re supposed to find, layered over or under or within the body – a story, perhaps, or a message. In theatre, we’re distracted from the actors’ perambulations by their words, and in dance by added music or the desire to make each pose or plie a part of something larger. It’s not too often that we just appreciate the miracle of our own muscles and skin or recognize the magic of hearing feet battle with the ground beneath them.
In the Brown Studio on Feb. 17, though, that’s just what the audience has gathered here to do. Sitting on rows of chairs and couches, with nothing to come between them and the performers, they wait for the performance to begin – except it already has. Members of the movement improv group Six Meters writhe across the dance floor, some sitting on top of others, some forming groups that make earthquakes when they move. One, Cameron Silliman ’18, launches herself towards my friends and I, grasping the side of the couch we sit on and muttering something I can’t understand over the planned cacophony as my friend laughs and I shout in surprise.
“Six Meters to me gives the ability to use your body and voice in creative ways that go outside of the conventional ideas of movement and singing,” Silliman later said. “It allows total freedom which brings out new ways of expression through your body.”
Soon, the opening warm-up comes to a close, and the group’s ten members rise. Director and college dance lecturer Susan Creitz introduces the group, stating that it’s “only for the brave and the crazy and people who have to move.” Creitz, an artist herself who is trained in dance improvisation and has established dance companies in New York, formed Six Meters in 1998 and pulls its members from her Movement Workshop for Dancers and Actors class.
“This course supplies a basic ‘vocabulary’ which guides us and helps us understand what we are doing,” Creitz said. “Then during auditions, I can assess who I think will work well in a group and individually. A member must be courageous, strong on many levels, inquisitive, generous to fellow members and the audience, sensitive, smart and, of course, able to create worlds on the spot.”
Entry into this ensemble is no small feat, a fact that becomes clearly necessary as one views their performance entitled “Everything & the Kitchen Sink.” During a segment called “Pretty/Silly Songs,” group members fly around the stage to a beat set by Creitz until a sudden crash signals them to stop. They then begin to sing whilst holding their last position, some choosing to scream out popular hits while others merely describe what they’re doing to mysterious tunes. As laughter erupts around me at this odd twist on something akin to musical chairs, something inside me – perhaps that “total freedom” Silliman mentions – longs to join them.
“Truths emerge that seem to enliven and help people. We want to share this with the public,” Creitz said. “… In movement improv we follow the body as much as we can … I think that all forms of improv support each other and are basically the same. We use the miracle of the body with its cellular memory to draw on, giving us an infinite amount of experience and material.”
These questions and leads manifest in the various sections of the group’s performance, all of which explore the body’s capacity to create from little to no extraneous input. The final piece in Part One of the show, entitled “Objects as Sound,” begins when Winfield Maben ’18 picks up an umbrella from a disembodied kitchen sink sitting on stage left, stuffed full of miscellaneous novelties. He opens the umbrella with a flourish, prompting an awed gasp from the audience as he twirls and taps its ends on the ground. Soon, though, the umbrella has had enough – it breaks, fabric detaching and leaving only a metal frame behind. Unfazed, Maben begins toying with the umbrella’s bones, clacking them against the floor and exploring their newfound oddness.
As the audience claps, he saunters offstage, replaced by Silliman. She picks up a wooden baton and taps it around her, as though she’s using it to test the safety of her future steps. Eventually, she drops the baton and seems to turn on it, tentatively approaching it, picking it up, and recoiling from the snapping sound it makes as it reunites with the floor. Each performer makes their chosen sounds visual, reacting to the noises they create. Creitz recalls the process she and the group as a whole went through to arrive at these unique ideas.
“The rehearsal process for Saturday’s show actually began at the auditions where the soon-to-be members sensed and viewed what were their common strengths,” said Creitz. “Then during our class times together on Wednesday and Friday we worked on many premises, concepts [and] specific exercises that helped us to be clear in what we were doing. A plethora of ideas is common in an improv group but presenting them in a cohesive manner is the challenge … As you see, this type of improv takes just as much mental preparation as … physical exertion.”
This physical aspect comes to a head with Part Two of the show, “Slides.” In this section, an old-fashioned projector presents slides created by the group’s members. Each is made of cut and arranged color transparencies, creating a kind of frozen kaleidoscope on the Brown Studio’s walls. One or more group members volunteer to interpret or interact with these images, some choosing to improvise dances while others devise stories.
Shantell Cruz ’19 becomes the double of her shadow, and though the two move in tandem, they seem to be distinctly separate entities. Seamus Good ’18, faced with a hypnotizing spiral that spins and moves as Creitz turns the projector, chases his slide across the room, trying and failing to catch up with it. Michael Masse ’18 runs towards what seems like a door or portal in his image, frantically attempting to make it to the other side as Creitz cheers, “You can do it, laddie! You’ve done it before!” Raucous laughter erupts.
Perhaps the final moment in the show exemplifies the spirit of Six Meters best. With the projector turned towards the ceiling, the final blocks of color are out of everyone’s reach. The members quickly huddle together, holding each other and circling underneath the false skylights. Masse emerges from the middle, and the rest hoist him towards the image, his face illuminated as he gets ever closer. He reaches out – and the studio goes black.
This is that “truth” that Creitz so eagerly wants to share: the truth of working together to come as close as we can to something just out of our reach. Though we might not ever get there, though we might stay forever reaching up to a projected light, held by the weight of those who support us, the least we can do is try.