Improvviso III (1984)

Piano improvisation
Choreographic improvisation by Elsa Piperno
Performed in Ischia in August 1984

Philip Feeney’s introduction to contemporary dance was through working in the early eighties for Teatrodanza di Roma, founded by Elsa Piperno, former dancer of London Contemporary Dance Theatre, which was at the time one of the foremost companies in Europe. Piperno, with the aid of the American dancer/choreographer, Joseph Fontano, can be credited with bringing contemporary dance of the Martha Graham style to Italy. Certainly working with them was an inspiration for Feeney, who at the time was studying at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia with the noted composer and teacher, Franco Donatoni. In fact the freedom that he found in working with dance was the perfect foil to the strict structuralist methods of avante-garde compositional techniques.

For several years Feeney worked with Elsa Piperno as pianist/composer in a series of summer schools and courses which often led towards what would now be known as a sharing, where demonstrations of modern dance technique would share the platform with small choreographies and short improvisations. Improvviso III was one of the latter, performed as the highlight of an intensive two week course. Piperno, a highly skilled and inventive performer of improvisations, was accustomed to working with top musicians, most notably the pianist, Antonio Coppola, and developed a fine understanding with Philip Feeney, whose robust and creative improvisational technique was already attracting note. This particular improvisation began explosively with sixteen powerful chords crashing out from the piano, dissonant and angry, and continued without any letup. Its impact was clearly noted; the critic from Il Mattino remarked that “Feeney is a savage!”

Given the climate, the course was held outside, with the piano placed under a fig tree for maximum shade. Unfortunately this resulted in the composer constantly having to dodge ripe figs falling from the tree. It is true, improvisation is manifestly a dangerous place to inhabit!