Mouths ready to recite poetry; legs angled to dance; fingers poised to play music; minds itching to improvise. Together, Body Slam artists will perform on Sept. 28 at MAI (Montreal, arts interculturels). Body Slam is a collective of dancers, musicians, poets and circus artists who explore human nature, through live improvised performances. Gregory Selinger, a former Concordia contemporary dance student, is the artistic director of this collective.
The idea of creating Body Slam came to Selinger when he was picked to perform six shows at the Montreal Fringe Festival in 2011, the first of many subsequent performances. He had planned to perform with friends, but a few days before their performance, Selinger realized that his partners would not have time to do it. At that moment, the idea of live improvisation arose.
“It seemed like the best bet was to kind of let people present what they wanted to present,” said Selinger.
The show became easier to organize because different artists could just drop in, and they didn’t have to do all of the six performances. Some performers could only be there for one or two shows.
Attending a Body Slam allows you to “get to be part of a moment where artists are taking real risks,” Selinger explained. They create their performances in front of the audience. According to Selinger, it makes each show very different than that created in studios. Every performance is unique – sometimes they plan a little what they want to do, sometimes not, but they always try to get inspiration from the public.
During one of their first big improvisations, for example, the artists were stuck and could not find an idea. Then a cell phone rang amongst the audience and the performers simply started improvising off of the ringtone. Artists also once asked audience members, before the performance, to write a suggested title for the show. They randomly picked out three of those suggestions and improvised from them.
Body Slam has changed across time. At its onset, small groups of artists would create unrelated short pieces. Some of them were prepared before the performance. They had a stage manager who determined whose turn it was to be on stage. When the stage manager could not make it to one of the shows, the structure of the organization changed. They started improvising the entire show together and stopped presenting unrelated short parts.
“I felt that there was more coherence to it,” added Selinger.
The recruitment process to find artists is a “little all over the place,” said Selinger. He met the 20 artists he is working with from Concordia, from the Montreal dance scene and from a little bit of everywhere. He even recruits artists he meets on the street. Just a couple of days ago, the artistic director told The Concordian, that he invited a girl who was playing the piano near Guy-Concordia metro to join them on their project.
There is still some preparation that goes into creating the shows, however. Though the “ideal is just to jump on stage…to completely be in the moment and not have rules to follow,” Selinger says he has to be careful and still keep a little bit of structure so it doesn’t become chaotic. They now have weekly practices for artists to get to know each other and to practice structures and exercises of improvisation so that they feel more secure on stage.
Body Slam will take place Sept. 28 at 8 p.m. at MAI located at 3680 Jeanne-Mance St.