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Are they really making this up in front of my eyes?

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The LA Improv Dance Festival exploded onto the downtown scene last week with classes and jams from Tuesday on though the weekend. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, audiences were treated to some amazing performances by the workshop faculty and local dancers/improvisers. I was lucky enough to get there on Friday night for the In-Site Collaboration Performance.

When performers find their groove in these improvisations, it’s hard to tell that they are improvising. It looks like they’ve been in the studio rehearsing and practicing a set choreography when, in fact, they’re responding in the moment with their bodies and minds. I think this is very fulfilling for both the audience and, I assume, for the performer. And, a little bit more exciting to know the work is actually being created right in front of us.

The full cast of performers on this night was great--riveting, committed and accomplished--and the overall event was entertaining and enlivening. For this reviewer, there were two highlights in this first show: festival producer Jones Welsh and San Francisco-based improviser/director Kim Epifano. Mr. Welsh performed in four of the evening's six works and displayed the wide breath of his talents.

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In "I Remember You," Jones and Stephanie Cohen wiggle and dart around each other, sometimes looking like young people frolicking, other times like long time friends who stay connected over the distance. To prerecorded music by Philip Glass and Bobby McFerrin with Yo-Yo Ma. the piece was sensual without being sexual, delicate yet deeply grounded and sweet without being sappy.

Teri Carter and Gabriel Orshan introduced an entirely different type of male/female relationship in "Born Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow . . . ." For most of the dance, the two maintained a solid distance between themselves, gnarled their hands and fingers and twisted their bodies into tense and uncomfortable standing shapes. Images of a newborn testing the connections between mind and body came to mind as I watched these movers. Unfortunately, the music choices listed as a sound compilation weren't very interesting: prerecorded 4/4 rhythms and synthesizer sounds and melodies.

Welsh came back with pal Dusty Hyland and brought us to his own personal gym when the two men collaborated (with audience input) in "Guy Time." As the two men performed a series of acrobatic muscle and strength-building feats, they casually discussed their (hetero) relationships with women. With one exercise out-doing the next, the performers revealed their tremendous physical prowess against the talk of their emotional and social inadequacies. Funny and easy-to-relate-to dialogue accompanying extraordinary actions.

"Labyrinth," originally performed in a site-specific outdoor maze in the Bay Area, enlisted the experience of five local improv veterans (Derrick Jones, Nehara Kalev, Carolyn Stuart with Cohen and Welsh) in Kim Epifano's creation. Moving the audience into one of the smaller spaces at the expansive building, the work included live didgeridoo music by Stephen Kent, bells and performer vocalizations with harmonious lighting effects (unfortunately uncredited). Short solos, processions across and through the space, gentle lifts and tender lowerings and long printed skirts for all evoked the appearance of a community ritual. Let's hope this improv group returns for another solstice-like event next year.

Also on the program were Stuart and Cohen's quiet "Sub Merge" and Welsh's set-destroying "Fly Bye."