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Improv Work-in-Progress Takes Volunteers Back to the Future

State of the Arts


Published April 12, 2007 at 3:55 a.m.

On Easter Sunday, Hinesburg dancer and choreographer Selene Colburn held a work session for a new piece called "The History of the Future" in the Flynn Center's Chase Family Dance Studio. Colburn, 38, is the recipient of the spring 2007 N.A.S.A. grant - for "New Art Space Assistance" - which "provides Vermont artists with development time in which to create new and meaningful work," according to the Flynn website [see N.A.S.A. grant].

Colburn, who works as an assistant library professor at UVM, has a long history in the dance world, including performances of her own compositions at the Flynn and the Bay Area Dance Festival. For this creation, though, she's seeking the participation of nonprofessionals, volunteers from the community, to "aid in the development of improvisational movement forms."

Just what is "The History of the Future"? In her application for the N.A.S.A. grant, Colburn explains that it's a common business exercise in which managers are asked to imagine the future growth of their company in detail, starting from a posited end-point. She hopes to find a counterpart to this imaginative process in semi-improvisational dance, asking, "What happens when the end is in sight, but the beginning has yet to be undertaken?"

Reached by phone a few days before her first rehearsal, Colburn says she's "eager to get in there and start hacking around with the material." She plans to start the volunteers off with simple improv exercises that end with everyone performing the same movements in unison, explaining, "Really what I'm trying to do is create structures everyone can participate in that have an element of improvisation."

Colburn is particularly interested in "the mechanics of lifting and weight-bearing stuff," she says. Though she stresses that the work is in the experimental phase, she envisions a group performance that consists of "a wave of people clambering over each other."

In her grant application, Colburn notes, "Since my last public performance in 2004, I've experienced a serious injury that led to back surgery, and given birth to two children." On the phone, she explains that the changes in her body have required her to rethink her approach to dance: "For a long time my work was very aggressive and acrobatic, very physically demanding and, I guess, almost masochistic in some ways. I've been thinking about how to change my practice and make it more sustainable." In addition to working with a group in "The History of the Future," Colburn says she's "making a solo for myself that plays with some of the same ideas. I'm trying to figure out what that would be like for me now."

After a residency that includes six hours of studio time per week for 10 weeks, Colburn's work-in-progress will premiere on June 17 [see Flynn announcement]. She hopes to hold further "site-specific stagings" in the summer - "like on top of a mountain, or in a soccer field." Eventually, Colburn says, the dance may become part of a larger project that could include documentation by local filmmakers Bill Simmon and Rob Koier.

For now, though, Colburn is recording her progress on the Flynn's new blog - And she's still seeking volunteer participants who are "observant and committed" but need not have dance training. Contact her at