The improvisational dance group What’s Written Within originated when a woman teaching a class at the Yard urged everyone to simply dance from “what’s written within.” True to the name, this improvisational modern dance group creates expressive, intimate dances. It also includes dancers ranging in age from 16 to 88.
On Sunday, March 23, What’s Written Within will perform at 4 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center as part of the Arts at MVHC program. This will be their third annual performance at the Hebrew Center’s arts program. Sandy Broyard, along with Sally Cohn, are directors of the performance.
The group began dancing six years ago and has grown to include 20 core members. The dancers rehearse three times per week, year-round. Guest artists for this year’s performance include Jesse Keller, Alison Manning and Holly Jones from Dance the Yard, and acoustic guitarist Bruce MacNelly.
While Ms. Broyard considers herself more of a facilitator than a director, many of the dancers feel differently.
“Sandy’s direction holds us together,” said Harriet Bernstein, with enthusiastic agreement from the other dancers. She added that Ms. Broyard’s “rich, early modern dance background,” motivates her.
Ms. Broyard was introduced to improvisation while studying dance with Mary Wigman in Berlin in 1961. She later worked with Jack Weiner at the School for Creative Movement in New York city, “exploring and defining the elements of dance improvisation,” she said.
“We believe everyone is capable of interesting, expressive, passionate dance,” said Ms. Broyard. She emphasized that the dancers encourage each other to find their own voice.
The youngest dancers are twins Dylan and Skyler Cole, 16-year-olds who attend the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School. The group’s oldest dancer, George Cohn, recently celebrated his 88th birthday.
The group members all agree that working with people that are much older or younger is an important part of the experience. The dancers are constantly inspired by the movements of their oldest and youngest collaborators.
Harriet Bernstein said she finds the range of ages in the group awe-inspiring. “There’s no hierarchy,” she said. “The rest of the world is so hierarchical, but this is not.”
Some members were or are professional dancers, and some are amateurs. They have experience in many different dance styles, including ballet, jazz, belly dancing and theatre. Susan Puciul, an amateur dancer, said she enjoys the freedom and playfulness that comes with improvisation. “I find it grounding, yet transcendent,” she said.
“Improv gives me permission to be authentic and to dance from within,” Ms. Bernstein said. “It serves us in the rest of our lives and is truly fulfilling.”
“Being able to create in the moment is wonderful,” added Susan Tirabassi.
The dances created by What’s Written Within can be deeply personal and moving, but many are also fun. Much of the excitement comes from knowing that the dancers are improvising, motivated simply by their emotions and by each other.
“Dance belongs to everyone,” Ms. Broyard said. “We hope to inspire the audience to find their own dance in whatever way they can.”