Dancer Insight: Improvisation in Artifact

What’s it like to improvise throughout an entire ballet with up to 25 dancers following your lead? Find out from Soloist Rachele Buriassi.

Caralin Curcio, stager Kathryn Bennetts, the Company in rehearsal for Artifact

Photo credit: Lillian I

Rachele Buriassi rehearsing Woman in Gray

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer

It has been an amazing experience learning the role of the Woman in Gray. This is a very important and extremely challenging role. She is essentially responsible for the whole ballet. People often think that it is an easy role because the dancer doesn’t wear pointe shoes and it looks like she is just walking the whole time. However, it is one of the most difficult roles because the dancer is actually improvising throughout the entire ballet and every performance is different.

There are moments when you have to do arm movements and the whole company has to copy you. You have to make sure your movement is very clear and precise so they can follow along. Sometimes there are 20 dancers in a line and you can’t do arm movements that go to the side because they will hit each other. You have to constantly think about each member while improvising. There are so many little things you have to be aware of and at the same time you have to free your mind so you can improvise.

Ballet can be very structured. What has your experience been like working on improvisation?
We have been working with stager and former Ballet Frankfurt dancer Noah Gelber. He’s taught us so much—we spend at least two hours a day with him. He’s given us many ideas on how to improvise. Improvisation is so much harder than I expected. When I first started I found myself doing the same thing over and over again. It gets better the more you do it, but you never feel fully comfortable. When you are improvising, you don’t have time to really think about what you’re going to do next. You can’t really prepare, you just have to do it in the moment.

I think the hardest part in this ballet is the finale. During this part, the whole company is on stage and you come out from the corner. Once you’re on stage you start improvising—upstage, downstage, across the stage—and then you end up in front of all the dancers. You turn around, clap your hands, and then you just have to start improvising as the entire company follows you. You literally feel like you’re giving every ounce of your energy on stage in that moment.

It is such a beautiful feeling because you get to go on stage and do something different every time. It is just so amazing, so unique, and so special. It is not physically tiring, but sometimes I would come out of improvisation rehearsal and be three times more tired. You’re using your mind and body at the same time. It is different when you are responsible for just yourself rather than when you’re responsible for 25 other people because you know if you lose focus then everything will fall apart. It’s terrifying, but also amazing.

Rachele Buriassi as Woman in Gray in rehearsal for Artifact.

Photo credit: Lauren Pajer


It is an honor to have the opportunity to work with William Forsythe. Learning his ballets makes you a better artist and it takes you to another level. Sometimes you have been dancing a certain way all your life, but when you dance in his ballets it makes the same movement look so much better. His choreography makes you feel differently and it pushes you beyond your limits. When I dance his works I feel so much bigger, as if my arms are three times longer. I always feel like I know my body better after dancing in his works. As I am learning the role of the Woman in Gray, I feel like I learned new things about my body that I didn’t know before. And I can use this experience even in classical ballet, in class, or anywhere. It is incredible how working with him opens your mind.