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Free Falling

Improvisational dance teacher Karen Nelson shares her mastery with the Triangle

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"Being alive is an improvisation," master teacher Karen Nelson observes. "So we're already fully qualified." Then she pauses, thinks, and poses a perfectly sensible question: "So how do you teach what we already do?"

She's the right person to be asking. After 25 years of practice that has taken her across the globe, the Washington state-based Nelson is something of an institution in the arcane field of dance improvisation. From mid-1980s work with protean experimental movement researchers like Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson, Karen Nelson has incorporated a wide range of influences, from meditation to martial arts, in her solo and group collaborations.

This weekend she's in Raleigh, teaching in the Even Exchange Dance Theater's fourth annual Improvisation Festival. The series of four weekend workshops at ArtsTogether, culminates in two Saturday evening improv performances at 8 and 10 p.m., and a community jam session Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m.

"It's not to teach people how to do it," Nelson says, "it's to teach people to look at how we do it. The teaching is more about awareness, and bringing awareness to what we already do."

It may surprise some to know that, like music, improvisational movement forms have "scores"--sets of rules and parameters that the participants follow. When Nelson describes the score for contact improvisation, she says, "It's a specialized internal state dealing with sensitivity to balance, weight, momentum and sensation. It's about sharing your center of balance--even more than sharing, because it's about giving it away."

Nelson notes that when two or more people share balance, "you're putting your center outside of yourself, and so is the other person or people. You're dealing with the situation of falling, and the question there is 'How do I survive this, literally? How do I survive this state of falling?'"

Dancers are welcome to explore these and other questions with her, this Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 828-2377.

Choreographer Jack Arnold was struck by the surreal quality of Robert Broderson's paintings when he first met the artist in Durham in the 1970s. Broderson's work is now included in the collections of the Smithsonian, the Whitney Museum, the Carnegie Institute and a number of other galleries and museums. It's also in a series of Web site collections (including www.ls.net/~carol/). His paintings are populated by strange human figures, frequently with dark eyes and luminous faces, which at times are nearly chalk-white. The pallid palette does not convey coldness, however--at least, not always.

They're a fitting inspiration for white as a permanent spring, a work Arnold will premiere this weekend in the NCSU Dance Company's spring concert at Stewart Theatre. It's based on Broderson's images, a recombinant pop song by Brooklyn's Howard Fishman, and eccentric composer Gavin Bryars' settings of the poems of Lebanese poet Etel Adnan, from whose work the title draws its name. In three sections, Arnold explores an afterlife that, apparently, takes some getting used to. This work looks at social structures in a place, though timeless, where situations nonetheless change.

Arnold shares the bill with the premiere of Melissa Chris' The Jade Rabbit, an imagistic take on Asian myth and legend. And company director Robin Harris revisits her two major works from the past two years, How To and 30 and 73, before the company performs her work at the American College Dance Festival at Washington's Kennedy Center on May 15. EndBlock

Contact Byron Woods at byron@indy week.com.

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