Using structure and technique, Gina T. Cacalano hopes to rehabilitate the image of dance improv.  | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Using structure and technique, Gina T. Cacalano hopes to rehabilitate the image of dance improv. 

In live dance, the use of improvisation has gotten a bad rap over the years. Unlike jazz music and stand-up comedy, where improv is widely accepted, dance audiences tend to shy away. 

One reason is that dancers are trained primarily as the instruments a choreographer uses to create art. When they do improvise, their approach is one of playfulness -- perhaps absent the recognition that what's fun for them to dance isn't always entertaining for audiences to watch.

Shows with dancers crawling under stage curtains and slumping all over one another has soured perceptions of the practice. But not all improvisation is bad improvisation.

Gia T. Cacalano, dubbed "Pittsburgh's Improv Queen" by one local critic, looks to change audience notions about what dance improvisation can be. Along with dancers Allie Greene, Beth Ratas and Jasmine Hearn, plus vibraphonist Jeff Berman and electronics artist Dave Bernabo, Cacalano presents 2010 The Next Installation, at Point Breeze's The Space Upstairs Aug. 20 and 21. 

With her background in classical modern dance styles as well as butoh and ballet, Cacalano says that over the years she became disenchanted with always having to be on a certain line and looking like everyone else.

"The no-rule factor in improvisation is much more inspirational for me as a dancer," says Cacalano.

Her approach to improv, however, does employ some structure. Like a chord progression in jazz, structured improvisation sets up a framework and guidelines for the dance work that allows for both artistic freedoms for dancers and a cohesiveness to a work's overall theme.

"There is always the element of choice and chance within the structure that we set up," says Cacalano.

In many new dance works, set choreography is the end product of improvised and edited movement. Cacalano takes the opposite approach: The "set" choreography is only the starting point, providing the initial movement phrases from which the dancers can deviate dramatically. 

"There are common threads, lines and triggers that the dancers will key off of, but there are no absolutes with regard to the movement," she says.

Following this past February's initial sold-out installation at The Space Upstairs, the two-hour 2010 The Next Installation will examine themes of space and time, and use text and manipulated sounds created by Bernabo, with original music from Berman.

As in her past works, the movement in the half-dozen works on the new program will indeed be improvised. But Cacalano promises a fine-tuned program with strong technique from the dancers -- inspired improv, not off-the-cuff noodling.


Gia T. Cacalano presents 2010 The Next Installation 8 p.m. Fri., Aug. 20, and 8 p.m. Sat., Aug. 21. The Space Upstairs, 214 N. Lexington St., Point Breeze. $12-15. 412-758-3265 or [email protected]

Using structure and technique, Gina T. Cacalano hopes to rehabilitate the image of dance improv. 
Courtesy of Cassie Rusnak
The no-rule factor: Gia Cacalano.

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