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Improvisation done well is an underappreciated art form. In performance, an improvised composition might come across to an audience as pretty similar to other pre-planned pieces, but any musician will tell you that it’s a hell of a lot easier to read notes off a page than to figure out, in the moment, what sounds good—particularly when there are other folks already playing.

Most people seem to be familiar with the concept of improvised music, but dance is a whole other thing. It’s the same idea: Maybe there’s a pre-determined structure, but otherwise the artists are reading each other, listening for their own impulses, and trying to figure out what works well, all in the moment of performance. In fact, you can argue that improvised dance is even more difficult: There are far fewer obvious cues, like rhythm or key, that help the performers get in sync with each other. Instead, it’s largely about being keenly aware of what else is going on in the space and responding as clearly as possible.

Daniel Burkholder, a Washington-based dancer and teacher, has spent plenty of years honing his improvisation skills and sharing his knowledge with company members, collectively called The Playground. Most recently, he and the group spent three years working on a loosely structured, improvised piece on the topic of water. Now that that project’s finished, he’s got a number of other performances planned, all of them incorporating improvisation in some way.

This weekend, Burkholder and other company members will be showing off what they’ve been working on in an informal performance at Joe’s Movement Emporium that’s titled “Ad Libitum.” Through a variety of movement styles—sometimes subtle and spacious, other times charged and dynamic—the group is promising to delve deep into the subconscious and demonstrate some intense physicality.

Shows are Friday and Saturday night at 8 p.m.; tickets are $12, or $10 for students and seniors.

Photo by Christine Stone Martin