What’s Written Within is spelled out in dance

Top, from left: Carol Loud, Genevieve Abbot, Gail Tipton and Kathy Costanza, and Wendy Brophy. Front: Susannah Nickerson, Harriet Bernstein, Jesse Keller, Elizabeth Kurylo, Margaret Knight, and Sandy Broyard.
Photo by Sally Cohn

Top, from left: Carol Loud, Genevieve Abbot, Gail Tipton and Kathy Costanza, and Wendy Brophy. Front: Susannah Nickerson, Harriet Bernstein, Jesse Keller, Elizabeth Kurylo, Margaret Knight, and Sandy Broyard.

What’s Written Within is the name of a local group of dancers who focus on improvisational modern dance.

Sandy Broyard, the group’s director, picked up the phrase at a dance rehearsal. “It’s just moving to what’s written within,” she said about the phrase she once overheard a choreographer use to explain improvisation to her company members. “It has to do with impulses. It’s an expression that comes without a lot of self-concious thought.”

This Sunday, about 20 members of the group, plus a few professional dancers from The Yard residency dance and performance center, will present a program of short dances at the M.V. Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven as part of the center’s arts program.

The performance will include duets, trios, quartets, and group numbers created by the dancers with the help of the group’s three choreographers. The members range in age from 26 to 87 and the lineup includes both men and women with varying levels of skill and experience.

Ms. Broyard is a former Julliard student who has studied under renowned choreographers and has danced for many years. Some of the group’s members are professional or semi-professional dancers, and some are amateurs.

“We believe that everyone is capable of beautiful, expressive, artful dance,” Ms. Broyard said. “It’s really about the desire to move and dance… We feel that our dancing comes from our unique histories and the imprint of our life experiences.”

However, Ms. Broyard stresses that the group does not use dance as therapy. The members are dedicated to creating viable art. “It’s really an art form just the way jazz or acting improvisations are art.”

The group, which has been together for six years, takes dance very seriously. “It’s not just getting into an open space and fooling around,” said Ms. Broyard. “We have developed a technique of improv. Just like jazz musicians have to learn chords, keys, and progressions, the dancers have to learn technique and timing.”

Explaining the process of creation, Ms. Broyard continued: “This is how we work, just doing improvs, sometimes with a suggestion or prompt, refining our awareness of each other, using shifts in dynamics, timing, stillness, and surprise to create something that suggests a story or mood or interaction. As with music, we listen and if the music moves us we like it, perhaps remember it. The same with dance. There is a visceral response from both dancer and viewer where the same thing happens.”

At the Hebrew Center’s Harriet B. Freedberg Learning Center, the group will perform pure improv as well as restructured improv (based on pieces that came out of rehearsals) and structured improv. Ms. Broyard explained differences: “Pure improv involves both trained and untrained dancers picking up on each other’s movements and the whole being in a conversation, so to speak.”

The structured dances, according to Ms. Broyard, “have a range of improvisation that has been set and times when the improv is free.”

The group rehearses three times a week at the studio of assistant director Sally Cohn, a dance photographer, dancer, and choreographer. They have performed previously at the Hebrew Center, at The Yard, and at the annual Built on Stilts dance festival in Oak Bluffs.

The nine short dances that will make up this Sunday’s performance will cover a range of moods and colors, according to Ms. Broyard. Both she and Ms. Cohn tend to use the language of other art forms in describing their work.

“It’s very much like when you start a painting,” said Ms. Cohn. “Even if it’s the first time you’re putting something down, there are certain rules, certain structures.

“You’re one of the notes. One of the colors. It comes from a very unconscious place. It’s trusting that the body begins to know how to sing its song.”

Dance: What’s Written Within, 4 pm, Sunday, March 24, M.V. Hebrew Center, Oak Bluffs. $5 suggested donation. For more information, visit mvhc.us.