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Improvisation in Theatre and Dance

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Improvisation in music can be defined as the process of composing music and at the same time singing or dancing in front of a live audience. It is characterized by the performer replacing the precise composer’s ideas with unplanned ideas at the spur of the moment to suit that particular audience. It requires a comprehensive knowledge of melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements of the composition (Hodgson & Richards, 1974). Although improvisation was traditionally associated with music and dance, it has been incorporated in modern theatre art. Improvisation is an integral element in dance and theatre arts. This paper discusses the role of improvisation. 

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Improvisation makes performers take an active role in composition by transforming certain aspects of a composition during performance. It therefore stimulates development of spontaneous creative ideas (Sabatella, 2000). Choreographers’ and performers’ imagination is improved in picturing line, physical shape, movement and form in performance. This makes performances to be livelier.  Concert dances that have traditionally embraced improvisation such as tango have proven to be more creative and dynamic than those that do not incorporate improvisation such as ballet (Bailey, 1993).

Improvisation is an important tool in training actors and concert dancers. It helps to sharpen their stage presence and sense of timing. Concert dancers’ and actors’ performance is judged by their ability of improvising in reaction unanticipated circumstances while on stage. It is therefore important to incorporate improvisation in the training of actors and concert dancers.

Improvisation enables performers of dance and theatre to adopt in different unexpected circumstances. For instance, when the time of performance has been reduced or stretched, performers can vary the scope and content of the performances to fit the amount of time they have been allocated. Additionally, in instances where space, time, design of light and prop have been altered accidentally, improvisation is necessary since there may be limited time to plan another performance (Pallant, 2006).

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Improvisation leads to development of new ideas. It is a creative process which makes it central in developing new works of art or finding new approaches to performance. In concert dance, choreographers often use improvisation to feel and see what is physically achievable and incorporate them into movement in performance. It therefore leads to new ideas instead of repeating what they have done in the past or simply copying what they have seen in other performances. Improvisation has also been used by directors and actors in staging acts with the intention of bringing a new perspective or eliciting new ideas to a scene (Newton, 2005) .

Improvisation enhances a performer’s understanding of performing art in general and of a particular piece of art. Improvisation is vital in exploring both dance and theatre. Improvisation of dance explores space, time, design of light and prop, rhythm, sound and harmony (Bailey, 1993). Improvisation of theatre explores elements such us characterization, movement, vocal range and plot (Newton, 2005). Improvisation aims at bringing an individual’s personal understanding into the movement. This helps in bringing an in depth awareness of a particular work of art and performing art in general.

Improvisation enables performers to connect with the audience. Audiences’ perception and reception of art differs depending on age, social class, cultural background and experience. If the performer has knowledge of the audience, he or she can use improvisation to customize their performance to suit the expectation of each group.  This can be achieved by varying the scope and content of each performance. If it is done properly, it generates satisfying emotional responses from a particular audience (Hodgson & Richards, 1974).

Improvisation has always played a central role in development of music and dance. Its adaptation in modern theatre arts has enhanced its growth. Improvisation leads to development of new ideas and creativity, increased stage presence and connection with the audience. It has also been an important training tool in dance and performing art.

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