Library Dances

I went to the very first event of this weekend’s DC Improvisation Festival today. It was at noon at the downtown library, and therefore easy for me to get to on my lunch break. When the weather is warm, DC does a wonderful job of making cultural performances available to us worker bees over the lunch hour.

I went to this event with absolutely no preconceptions of what it would be–I wasn’t familiar with the name of the group and I really don’t know much about this type of improv dancing at all.

Library Dances was performed by the Quicksilver Dance Company, an improvisational dance group for seniors sponsored by Arts for the Aging. It was a site-specific piece at the MLK Library in downtown DC. In the large entry hall housing the computers and circulation desk, there was a small stage in the middle with chairs set up, theater style.

When I arrived, a man was standing in front of the stage, playing the violin. When he finished, he introduced himself as one of the directors of Quicksilver, and explained that they were going to do some improvisation related to libraries, books, and reading. He scattered a number of books on the floor of the stage.

For the first piece the man with the violin said he would only play and not look at what was going on on stage. The dancers– 5 women walked around the books and then eventually started picking them up, reading them, interacting with them and with each other. By the end of the piece they had built the books into a big pile.

The second piece was with three dancers. The man read two quotes from literature about libraries and said the dancers would interpret any part of those quotes.This time he watched the dancers as he played and the music interacted with the movement.

The third piece had two dancers, plus the violinist went on stage and interacted with the dancers not only with music but also with movement. Two quotes again were read, this time about the role of books (one that I remember was something about how books are the bees that carry pollen from one mind to another– this was charmingly acted out by the lady in the green shirt).

The fourth and final piece had all 5 dancers on stage again. This time, they were to each pick up a book and read some words of their choosing, and add onto that with movement. The first woman started by reading the title of a book ‘The Dip,” causing a chain reaction of dipping motions on stage. Another title was read out that was something along the lines of “The harmony of the body: an introduction to biophysical anatomy.” The dancers had a lot of fun with that one– one was already lying on the floor, and two others posed her legs and arms in various ‘harmonious’ poses. The other two dancers did a bit of contact improv against the wall, trying to keep their poses in symmetry with each other. The balance between the two groups, one humorous, the other graceful and studied was a nice outcome.

The best moment was a passage out of a book about ballet about how the arabesque is one of the most important elements of ballet. Being of varying advanced ages and physical abilities, most dancers were not able to effectively get into an arabesque in a traditional sense. They went into arabesque leaning against the wall, lying on the floor, and propping each other up. They all ended up connected to each other in some way and the violinist sounded his final notes.

This being one of my first exposures to improv, I’d like to share some of the thoughts that Library Dances provoked in me–

  • Technique and form are not always important. Beauty can be achieved through intention and happenstance. Kinetic energy between bodies moving both at random and in reaction to each other can create art.
  • I love seeing things where dance is not limited to the young and limber of body. I’m certainly nowhere near the age of eligibility for membership to Quicksilver, but it’s wonderful to know how dance can bring joy to both the dancer and the audience at any age.
  • I wasn’t sure how the site-specific theme would play out on a stage, which seems like a more structured and formalized environment– but they did a nice job of incorporating motifs related to libraries, books, and reading in a meaningful way that was only enhanced by that stage being in the library.

The DC Improv Festival continues throughout the weekend. Go to for a complete schedule.