When dancer Kimi Eisele is in the shower before a Movement Salon performance, she's sometimes tempted to plot out her moves.
But she always manages to suppress the impulse.
After all, planned choreography is a no-no in improvisational dance. Rehearsals are out, too, and so are music and words composed in advance. Along with the other dancers, poets and musicians in the Movement Salon improv troupe, Eisele makes it up as she goes along.
"Whatever anyone throws out in the first minute, it's what we have to work with," she says.
Nevertheless, the artists do abide by a few rules: They must "pay attention to one another, to the space and to the time."
Movement Salon makes its second theater appearance this Saturday in From Scratch, an aptly titled evening-length show at ZUZI's Theater. The art will be created on the spot, with the performers inventing spoken-word, music and modern-dance movement.
This time around, the locals have invited The Architects, an improv troupe with a national rep in performance circles, as the headliners. Movement Salon will perform for about 20 minutes—hence the need to pay attention to the time—and then The Architects will take to the stage for 45 minutes.
"They are our mentors," Eisele says about the artists who inspired Eisele and dancer Jen Hoefle to start Movement Salon in the first place.
The Architects are a group of four women, though only three—Katherine Ferrier, Pamela Vail and Lisa Gonzales—are coming out West for the Tucson show. The quartet met at Middlebury College, in Vermont, in the late 1980s. Though they now live in different places around the country—three are college professors—they still collaborate and perform in the United States and abroad.
Their work has won them critical notice. A writer in Tampa hailed their creations as the "intersection of movement and poetry." A Houston dance critic said that they "manipulate space, time and words in uncanny ways. Their ease, confidence and humor are a joy to watch."
The Tucson dancers first met up with The Architects in 2007 when NEW ARTiculations Dance Theatre commissioned Architect Jennifer Kayle to create a new dance for the troupe. Kayle traveled to Tucson from the University of Iowa, where she's an assistant dance professor.
"She set a Barbie piece on us," says Eisele, who also dances with NEW ART and is now the troupe's co-artistic director. Following The Architects' improv principles, Kayle had the dancers come up with many of the moves themselves.
The resulting piece, the outrageous "Beauty Heads," inspired Eisele and Hoefle to delve further into improv. They both signed up for The Architects' regular summer intensive at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., where Architect member Vail is an instructor and artist in residence.
"We woke up to this amazing form," Eisele says, "and we started our ensemble."
Since then, other Movement Salon members have made the pilgrimage to Pennsylvania to take the workshop. "Almost all of us went last summer to deepen our practice," Eisele says.
Current members include poets TC Tolbert of Casa Libre en la Solana and Lisa Bowden of Kore Press; musicians Vicki Brown and newcomer Connor Gallaher, just 20; NEW ART dancers Katie Rutterer and Eisele; former ZUZI dancer Hoefle; and independent dancer Greg Colburn.
Since their start three years ago, the members have met once a week to create new movement, text and music. They began performing in odd spaces, such as the old Tooley's Café on Congress Street, and made their theatrical debut a year ago at ZUZI.
"It was great to give ourselves a theater venue," Eisele says. "The stakes felt higher, but we have the same set of practices wherever we are. Whether in a parking lot or theater, we apply the same rules."
One difference is that the ZUZI Theater comes with all of the standard stage trappings, including lights. Carie Schneider will light From Scratch, providing another improvisational element: She can turn the lights on—and she can also turn them off.
"Carie is also an improviser," Eisele says. "She can decide to end our session. There's an element of surprise."