Placid, softspoken, laconic, danger-choreographer Steve Paxon seems anythings but spectacular. Yet there is alreadys a sense of eventfulness in his vicnity, a special "presence" he radiates. In the early '60s in New York, he was one of the most charismatic of the dance revoultionaries whose iconclastic performances startled and sometimes shocked spectators, including dancers. Yet he was then, and is now, a sort of apostle of the ordinary, a prophet of non-spectacular, non-threatrical, non-stylized human movement, to be explored and valued for its own stake.
Paxton has performed previously in Washington, at the Smithsonian, at Wolf Trap, and at the Washington Project for the Arts (WPA). This week he's back, with a small troupe of his own, giving lecturers and workshops at WPA and George Washington University. TOnight and Saturday evening at WPA, the group will present culminating performances in the idiom they call "contact improvisation."
Paxton has been working with contact improvisation for about six years, and it's clear that it represents for him not just a "style" but a whole way of thinking about dance. "Most dance improvisation one sees," Paxson says. "Seems to be some kind of search, among all the welter of possibilities, for an ultimate in personnal expression. Contact is different. It is first of all, a form, a learning process, not just a random quest."
Part of the inspiration for contact improvisation came from Paxton's studies in martial arts - aikido and taichi chuan. There is an emphasis on relaxed flow and swing, a sensing of the body in relation to gravity and monentum.
Contact is done mainly by twos.
"Contact is a duct form," Paxton says. Many of it has to do with the sharing of instincts, the instinct of self-preservation, for instance, both for oneself and one's partner. We move in relation to gravity, but there's no premium on being upright - the falls or spins in the air we get into need a complete trust in one's partner."
Because it's a duet form, Paxton explains, it has a "quanlity of spreading" from one devotee to another. By now, there's a cross-country network of contact enthusiasts - they even have a magazine, the Contact Quarterly, published in Northern Vermont near where Paxton makes his home.
In performances, which are entirely improved, "We hope," Paxton says, "the audience will experience how the movement feels in their own bodies. A good performance should give the audience a kinesthetic ride, so to speak, on the dancers - a real workout. While they'r sitting in their seats."