The documentary film, Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals, directed by Adriana Davis, focuses on the exploration of artistic improvisation. Margaret Beals and her dance career are showcased along with Keith Jarret, a well-known jazz pianist, accomplished painters Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline, and the talented choreographers Martha Graham and Valerie Bettis. These accomplished improvisational artists take the viewer on an inspiring journey which gives them a sense of personal empowerment, makes them question self-perception, and leaves them with a longing to discover the fulfillment of creativity.
The film creatively inspires the viewer by depicting artist improvisation. Improvisation, one of the truest forms of self-expression, as explained by Beals, gives artists the ability to open themselves to a higher power. This higher power is reached when the artist lets go of self-control and, without impulse control or thought, allows their creativity to flow through them. By making themselves a vessel for innovation, artists are empowered and open to another dimension of talent. Using this free frame of mind, the artist creates a unique improvisation which will never be repeated. This exhilarating artistic explanation is emphasized by Beals’ various powerful improvisational dances and free movement.
While the film mainly focuses on dance, it emphasizes that artistic improvisation is readily available to be used in various art forms including music and painting as the venues of improv. Beals explains how she combined different forms of craft improvisation when she founded her company Impulses. She is shown collaborating with other talented improv artists such as impromptu dancing with Keith Jarrett, an accomplished improvisational jazz piano player and improvising alongside the improvised paintings of Franz Kline. The painter Jackson Pollock also demonstrates the talent of improvisation.
Watching Beals dance while she narrates her internal process of improvisation, the viewer gets a sense of electric creative empowerment. As explained by Beals, and exemplified through her creative talent, when improvisation is utilized, the artist gains a strong sense of self-confidence. By ignoring self-perception and critique, and allowing themselves to mindlessly create art, artists are able to surprise themselves with their own talent. In other words, the artistic experience of improvisation grows their self-confidence and personal abilities. In this way, the film relates to the humanity of individualized judgment and raises the question of whether self-perception is the biggest thing getting in the way of personal success.
The film offers an intriguing window into the mind of an artist, while still leaving mystery as to how the artist truly gets to a place of complete loss of control and creative freedom and fluidity. Ms. Beals, along with others such as Keith Jarrett, and Franz Kline, demonstrate the abilities that artists possess in order to connect to their improvisation. The film combines interview style commentary paired with shots from the past of Beals dancing, exemplifying this creative freedom. The explanation of improvisation leaves the viewer with the sense that improvisational art is best explained through experience. In this way, the viewer is left with a sense of wonder.
The documentary film, Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation with Margaret Beals, directed by Adriana Davis, is an intriguing and inspiring film that leaves the audience with a strong sense of self-awareness, and personal empowerment. The film's use of accomplished and talented artists highlights the endless possibilities of creativity. This film is truly enriching and uplifting.
Dancing Without Steps: The Art of Improvisation will be playing at the 2023 New Jersey International Film Festival on Saturday, June 10, 2023 – Online for 24 Hours and In-Person at 5PM as part of a double bill with the documentary on photographer Linda Troeller entitled Healing Waters by Derek Johnson and Ali Scattergood. Adriana Davis and Margaret Beals will be present to do a Q+A after in the in-person screening! Go here to for more information and to buy tickets.