Katherine McPherson’s dance-documentary, Force of Nature, exposes viewers to risk-taking behavior of the most positive kind. In it, Contact Improvisation artist Kirstie Simson explains how she learned to live life less carefully and more consciously through dance. And having spent about thirty years exploring a world where the abilities to observe, listen and palpate with sensitivity are King, Simson has a lot to offer long-time CI practitioners and newbies alike.
Early on, Simson explains that her inspiration came in the early ‘80s after attending a performance by CI founder Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson. “I had never been to a performance where I felt people were taking a real risk in going out there in front of people…and that risk was to reveal their humanity, and to in some ways celebrate their humanity with the audience,” Simson said. So she decided to take a risk, too – after only two lessons with Paxton, Simson began teaching contact improvisation to others.
Throughout Force of Nature’s 75 minutes, McPherson frames Simson’s informative and sometimes vehement words with video of the artist at work and at play. Footage from a performance in Scotland and an outdoor dance class in Italy feature extemporaneous choreographies that are enjoyably intricate and skillfully executed.
In an interview clip from 2006, Simson explained that contact improvisation helped her find her voice. “It was as if I suddenly was given a space to live in such a different way,” Simson said. “In practicing improvisation, you are practicing making your own choices…you become the creator, in that moment.” So why not transfer that bravado to the real world?
The completeness of Simson’s opinions and the directness of their delivery will speak to dancers and non-dancers with equal fervor. Topics like insecurity, creativity, personal growth and healing are addressed, in addition to more dance-specific and global issues. Like all great documentaries, Force of Nature informs and captivates viewers while challenging normative thought. Simson says, “[Contact improvisation] is not just another technique that you learn, but something you discover.” And if you are interested in broadening your creative palette, I would encourage you to discover this film.