The piano in my 16-person home is located in the center of activity - the room connects together the front entryway, the kitchen, the dining and living rooms, which are the majority of the communal spaces. Despite playing piano since I was 14 (for 16 years), I've always been extremely shy (even anxious) about playing with other people around, so I typically play when I don't think anyone is around to hear me. Inevitably with that many people, someone occasionally walks in mid-piece, catches me off guard, I lock up, and my fingers start to stumble all over a piece I can play perfectly well.
Fortunately the people I live with are absolutely wonderful. From time to time, rather than just walk past me playing, someone will start skipping and twirling and dancing to what I'm playing if it calls to them. In these moments I find my joy at seeing them overcomes my anxiety. In that space curiosity arises, and I might start to vary how I play the piece to see if I can encourage them to dance a particular way. Or to really tune into how they are moving and align playing accordingly. Similarly, when a guest is playing the piano, I'll start to dance to it to see what type of relationship we might establish with musician and dancer as co-performers.
The more I dabble in this, the more I've wanted to host events that explore the dynamics of creation between musician and dancers further. Below are some recordings and learnings from a first attempt during an informal gathering of friends on my birthday.
Some variables we played with were:
- Style/genre of song (baroque, romantic, ragtime)
- Number of people dancing at a time
- No structure VS prompts on how to relate to the piece or to others
Too many props can be distracting - too much creative opportunity
Limited props, especially that don't have a very obvious use (i.e. balloons), are a nice helper to get people outside their self-critical thoughts
Having the dancers in close proximity to the pianist really adds to the creative coupling
Especially fun when the dancer comes directly next to and around the piano
The ratio of people watching vs participating changes the activation energy for shy individuals
Things to climb and twirl on (poles) are AMAZING
The performer giving an overview of mood (e.g. a moody calm sea birthing a chaotic storm) creates an initial alignment between performers
For prompts, started to see the effects of different categories
- General style prompts that each person internalizes and interprets in their own way
- Rules or guidelines that encourage / dictate interactions with others
Experiment with influence of space. Want to try a more majestic space like Grace Cathedral, Church of 8 Wheels, Lighthouse.
Play with number of people, and ratio of performers to non-performers. Find more pianists with a variety of skill levels. Get more detailed feedback from performers and dancers about their experiences, opportunities.
Intersperse performances with light-hearted dance classes. Perhaps exercises from improv, dance instructors, community building.
Thanks a boat load for willingness to get weird to Hilah Shenhav, Beau Gaerlen, Adrienne St. Aubin, Greg Ferenstein, Michelle Cutler, Andre Watson, and Andre's friend I can't remember the name of.