Something Smashing on the art of Improv

The people behind Something Smashing, Edinburgh's newest dance and music improvisation night, sit down to chat about the difference between planned performance and improvisation

Feature by Roisin O'Brien | 11 Apr 2019
  • Something Smashing

When did Something Smashing start, and why?

Graeme Wilson: Our first one was in April, 2017. I work at the music department at Edinburgh University: We had a network called Concurrent that aimed to bring together improvisers from different disciplines. As part of one of those events, I’d been put in touch with [dancer] Alma Lindenhovius. Something Smashing came out of conversations following that… Alma has moved on now, so it’s myself and Skye that organise it. (Dancer Tess Letham will also be joining).

Skye Reynolds: I used to try to set up platforms for dancers to perform in public in unusual spaces, and improvisation is one of my practices. It was really difficult, because in Edinburgh we don’t have a lot of what I call ‘dirty platforms’ to show work in a formative state. There really aren’t many public outlets for dance improvisation. People don’t want to pay for it. It rarely gets booked, unless you’re right at the top of the scale.

What's the format of the evening?

GW: The spaces we’ve used so far don’t tend to have a designated stage. We try to keep people in the same informal area (there is a performance space marked out in the middle). The format has been to have three sets, about 20 minutes each. There is never just one person on stage… we try to always make sure there’s dance and music happening at the same time. 

Do the audience get involved?

SR: No, I know in a couple of sets I’ve done there’s been a bit of encouragement for the audience to get up, and sing a little bit, but it’s not a participatory thing; it is a performance event.

GW: Although, we are keen to get new people to come along, so if people do contact us we’ll try to find out a bit about them and about their practice and think where they might fit in.

Who are the types of people who perform? 

GW: When I’m looking for [musicians] for Something Smashing, I’m looking for people that have an interest and willingness to engage with dance... You can play with another musician with your eyes closed but we would say at Something Smashing that you’ve got to keep your eyes open because you should be changing what you do as the dance changes!

SR: There’s a lot of common friends and a lot of those musicians have been coming to dance improvisation events as dancers... so there’s this little pool of people, and sometimes they abandon ship. We’ve got a couple of musicians who love moving and this is beautiful.

What can audiences expect from an improvised rather than planned performance?

GW: What people seem to get most from it is the sense of drama – you know that the people onstage don’t know what’s going to happen. In some cases, they haven’t met each other before, they just find each other on stage. If a dancer suddenly comes on as a motorbike (which somebody did the last night), the musicians are thinking: 'What are we going to do now?!'

SR: Most of the people who I know who are improvisers, including the musicians, they’re all people who are prepared to let go of their material... And that openness, it means you’re available for comedy… For all of us, there can be real moments of nervousness but generally as people participate more and more, there is a relaxed and open feeling to the night. Everyone is excited for what it’s going to be, rather than being impressive – though of course, they are impressive!

Something Smashing, Whitespace Gallery, Edinburgh, 18 Apr