Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals
Join acclaimed dance innovator, Margaret Beals, on her exploration of the art of improvisation. In this short documentary, Ms. Beals demonstrates the power and authenticity of improvisation as performance and also as a tool of discovery for any creative endeavor.
Throughout Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals, audiences are offered glimpses of Ms. Beals’ extensive career in improvisational dance. One of the first solo dancers to perform whole concerts without set choreography, she started her early career in the free-wheeling atmosphere of the 1960's club and cabaret scene and continued her pioneering journey through five more decades.
In this film, Ms. Beals draws from various artists to give fuller context to her thoughts on improvisation. Keith Jarrett, renowned jazz pianist, reveals insights into his own creative process. The action paintings of Jackson Pollock and the powerful black and white abstractions of Franz Kline are used to further illustrate Ms. Beals’ ideas and techniques. Also included are brief excerpts from the works of the great modern dance choreographer Martha Graham and the celebrated dance/theatre choreographer Valerie Bettis.
Meredith Monk, award-winning composer, singer and creator of music-theater-film works, gives an insightful introduction to this latest documentary from Impulses Dance Theatre Arts, Inc. The company's previous award-winning film, “Impulses” (1974) gave audiences their first experience of a collaborative concert featuring improvisational artists from the different fields of music, dance and theatre.
Dancing Without Steps expresses the principles that animate Ms. Beals’ art while offering her experiences of improvisation to a new generation of dancers and artists from all disciplines.
Meet the Moment... Join us for Dancing Without Steps.
For more information on Margaret Beals, please visit her website at www.margaretbeals.org.
Executive Producer: Impulses Dance Theatre Arts, Inc.
Artistic Director: Margaret Beals
Director/Producer: Adriana Davis
Original "Conversations" Concept Director/Producer:
Editor: Adriana Davis
Associate Producer: Kathleen Drinane Davis
Cinematographer: Sebastian Piras
Production Sound: Roger Phoenix
RE-Mix Sound Editor:
Produced in Association with:
D-Squared Media, NY
"Conversations" recorded at the CloudHouse Studio, NYC
Director’s Statement by Adriana Davis
When I first became aware of Margaret Beals’ artistry and her pioneering efforts to further the art of improvisation I was struck by the ways she stayed true to the movement, message and methods of letting dance flow through her work. It was the most compelling factor that
informs the meaning of this short documentary. The intensity. The dedication. The possibilities. Experiencing Ms. Beals’ dedication to living in the moment of self-expression as she accepted the risks, and rewards, of improvisation has given me a new take on directing and producing documentaries.
Over the last 25 years, I have most often directed fact-based, historical films rooted in personal stories of persecution, escape and survival of entire communities. “Dancing Without
Steps” offered me an opportunity to connect an audience to one artist’s emotional journey driven by the music, sounds and words in the moment they are conveyed. I reversed my usual
process of using history as a foundation for storytelling and instead allowed Ms. Beals’ natural storytelling abilities to convey her thoughts on improvisation alongside historical footage from
her long and acclaimed career as a dancer and performance innovator.
Luckily for me, Ms. Beals maintains a well-preserved storehouse of archival material documenting her more than four decades of performing life. Though some of the images and footage had been utilized in previous productions, those archival resources gave me a way to
do more than just show examples of Ms. Beals dancing. Rather, in this film I endeavor to establish a foundation to encourage young improvisational dancers and artists to find new
dimensions in their work sustaining the life of an art form that may soon be lost to time. Today, technology makes it very easy for us to constantly revise our work, performances and messages. It has been so refreshing to create a film that celebrates creativity in and of the
moment and see how those performances connected Ms. Beals to her future growth as an
The best documentaries let an audience enter the subject’s world and mindset while entertaining and informing. I hope “Dancing Without Steps” creates questions in viewers’ minds about incorporating improvisation into different aspects of their lives all while being
entertained by the diverse performances of Margaret Beals. As she often comments, “Dancing without steps doesn’t mean you have no plan or discipline. It means you allow the energy within us to shine beyond a planned series of steps or movements, so the audience feels more than sees or hears where you are.”
I hope you will enjoy that “in the moment” feeling throughout this documentary.
Dancing Without Steps ignites a discussion of the power of improvisation to influence dancers and artists in other mediums through the words and actual footage of Ms. Beals' pioneering works.
Artistic Statement by Margaret Beals
Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals has given me the rare opportunity to express the ideas and philosophy that have informed my work in dance, and especially in the art of improvisation as performance.
This film would not have been possible without the astute and caring vision and skill of my director/editor, Adriana Davis and the constant and creative support of my associate producer, Kathleen Drinane Davis.
The title of this film is a metaphor for my approach to the art of improvisation. Meeting the moment fully, in any art form or life endeavor, is, in essence, a spiritual act. It demands that your most aware and complete self be present, to meet and create that moment when your being and the ever present “now”, collide.
Being open and vulnerable to the moment takes a very different kind of discipline than that required for set work where steps, words, and notes have been pre-planned.
The disciplines demanded for successful improvisational performance are three. First, the continual practice of “meeting the moment” in many different circumstances. Second, the development of a technically proficient, easily available personal “language” of expression. And third, the constant effort of translating instantly what happens in that powerful “now” moment to the audience.
The art of improvisation in performance is like surfing. You must jump in without hesitation and keep swimming. You must meet each new wave, the constant “now” over and over, afresh. Sometimes you shape it. Sometimes it shapes you. Sometimes you are lost in it. Sometimes you are exultantly, found. But, at the end of the ride, something authentic, alive, and arresting in its immediacy has been created and leaves its smoky, indelible trail on the consciousness. The process has become the performance and the performance has revealed the process that is improvisation.
"Margaret Beals is an independent spirit. The short documentary Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals inspires viewers to listen to their inner pulse. Artists of all genres will appreciate Beals’s passion for authenticity.
Henning Rubsam, 2022
A downloadable press release is available below.
Dancing Without Steps is under consideration for festivals in the United States and Europe.
Margaret Beals - Biography
Margaret Beals, an American dancer, choreographer and theatrical performer, was self-taught during her early years. She later studied choreography with Louis Horst and Lucas Hoving, modern dance with Martha Graham, Jose Limon, and Paul Sanasardo; African-Caribbean dance with Syvilla Fort and ten years of ballet with Maggie Black. She developed an individual approach to dance through improvisation and later added the use of her speaking voice, developing a technique of performing poetry by speaking and moving simultaneously. This skill was used in her dramatic presentations of the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Sylvia Plath and Carl Sandburg.
In the 60’s, she continued her exploration of dance improvisation, performing at cabarets and nightclubs in New York and Chicago. She worked with the jazz musicians Collin Walcott, Badal Roy, Sam Rivers and Stan Strickland, among many others. Her continued passion for improvisation led her to form her own company, Impulses - three musicians, singer, dancer and lighting designer. Between 1969 and 1976 the group created fully improvised evenings in the style of jazz sets.
During the 70’s, Ms. Beals appeared with the modern dance companies of Jose Limon, Anna Sokolow, Jean Erdman, Lucas Hoving and Valerie Bettis. She is acclaimed for her interpretation of Ms. Bettis’ classic dance solo, The Desperate Heart (1974).
As a solo artist, she performed her own work, Margaret Beals in Concert, appearing at Jacob’s Pillow; the NY Dance Umbrella; the Delacorte Theatre; The Place, London; the International Festival de Danse, Paris; and the Het Theatre Festival, Holland, among other national and international venues.
Her full-length works include Stings (1976), based on the Ariel poems of Sylvia Plath; 39 Margarets (1980), a revue directed by Broadway’s Donald Saddler; The Teak Room, stories from a dancer’s life (1982), written and performed by the artist and directed by Tony Tanner; and Improvisations to Chopin (1985) with pianist Thomas Hrynkiv. In the 90’s, she created 4 Images (1993) an evening of poetry, music and dance, with flautist Judith Pearce, directed by Tony Tanner; and Pathways (1997), written and performed by Ms. Beals and directed by Obie award-winning playwright Lee Nagrin.
Recently, Ms. Beals presented Films and Stories, a series of evenings in which she shared films from her extensive career interspersed with stories about the creation of the works and her collaboration with other performing artists involved. “The films are a remarkable record of a remarkable career.” – Jean Tait, May 2016
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