Saturday, July 24, 2010

Improvising with Karen Montanaro

Ian with Karen Montanaro. All photographs by Justin Moore, check his Flickr page for additional photos from the July 10, 2010 Improv Org Event

I met Karen Montanaro this past spring at the Arlington Center for the Arts where she was performing a set of improvisations to the music of Ginger Ibex a chamber music/progressive rock ensemble featuring pianist/composer, Sharon Crumrine and violist Betty Widerski. I had met Sharon in a coffee house where I had been auditioning actors for a staged reading of Total War, apologizing if my reading lines with actors was disturbing her, where upon we she mentioned her band, it came up that we knew many of the same musicians and that I was a mime.

That's when Sharon asked me if I knew Karen Montanaro. I only knew Karen by reputation and as co-author with her late husband, the celebrated mime, Tony Montanaro, of Mime Spoken Here. One of the best books I've read on mime theatre, which is probably one of the reasons I never got my copy back after I loaned it out!

Months later I found myself in Arlington. Having arrived early, Karen recognized my willingness to get on a stage and invited me to sit in with her ad hoc ensemble that this evening included the twin dancers Billy and Bobby McClain. We had a good rapport and so I stayed on stage for much of the show.

Mali Sastri, composer and singer for Jaggery was also in the audience that night. Not only did she join in improvisation, but it inspired the theme of her next Org event: Improv Org. Org is a series of performance related events at a location I shall not disclose that Mali organizes-- and she prefers to keep to a theme. I'd like to think that the city has many many more such "secret" event series for artists to perform in between public appearances.

With Johanna Bobrow who was sitting in on violin with Ginger Ibex that evening.

So sometime later, after Mali had started to put together the line-up, Sharon emailed and asked me if I would like to dance with Karen again. I agreed immediately, and along with Naomi Davis, became part of Karen's ad-hoc dance troupe. We were originally scheduled to perform in the garden, but because of flash floods that hit the Boston area that day, we were relocated indoors to the attic loft known as the Cloud Club.

From top to bottom: Johanna Bobrow, Ian Thal, Naomi Davis, the other part of Karen's ad-hoc dance troupe.

In between songs, Karen would often discuss her philosophy of improvisation: that no matter the body type or the level of training, each and every body had a certain poetry that could express itself if simply allowed to move. Eventually, she brought members of the audience to improvise with us.

The evening would include a story by Evan O'Sullivan, a raga sung by Molly Zenobia, Guitar Circle New England and a jam featuring members of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, Jaggery, Amanda Palmer and others.

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