For those who dote on agendas, schedules and stopwatchers, improvisation's a dirty word. But for those who are itchy for a little risk and tolerant of the occasional blind alley it's very liberating.
The Washington Project for the Arts' weekend-long celebration of spontaneous movement and music offered three contrasting strains of improvisational work; the wacko theatrics of D.C.'s own Free Association, a self-conscious, technique-oriented display by Philadelphia's Group Motion and New York artist Mary Overlie's spare, cerebral chatterings between performer and audience.
Free Association is rather like a heightened version of a drunken game of charades. Margaret Ramsey, in leopard skin, plays a fed-up housewife. Jack Guidone laughs maniacally. "Up against the wall, you redneck mothers," sings graceful, deadpan Barbara Mueller. Steve Peters makes love to a chair. Beth Easterly moons, hops, spaces out on the periphery. And David Freivogel, one-man band, churns out musical fodder for the performers' ever-changing antics. Wonderful stuff.
Group Motion's interactions seem a lot more inward and controlled. Pure, intricate movement is their forte, and their versatile musician's serious work is his best. Attempts at comedy come off aimless or contrived, spontaneity and hilarity are not necessarily synonymous.
Mary Overlie stresses concentration on the part of herself, her partner, Wendell Beavers, and the audience. Her dances -- some of them improvised, others set -- deal in small tensions, cricks in the back and feet, sublte jokes, barely discernible exchanges that can only be appreciated if you're tuned in. Her confrontational tactics are achieved without music or flashy costumes; all Overlie needs are her rubber-band limbs, a direct yet innocent gaze and a beaconlike presence, and the magic just happens.