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Steve Paxton the inventor of contact improvisation (or “contact improv”), a form of dance characterized by two or more people moving together in almost constant and spontaneous contact. Since his initial experimentation with the form, Paxton has also investigated solo improvisations and has created set choreography.
Paxton was a member of José Limón's company in 1960 and danced for Merce Cunningham from 1961 until 1964. He began his association with other artists of the post-modern movement in New York during the 1960s. In 1962, he became a charter member of the avant-garde dance collective, Judson Dance Theater. He also belonged to the collective Grand Union.
Some of his important early works include Proxy (1961), Physical Things (1966) and Satisfyin'Lover (1967). Like his post-modern contemporaries, Paxton's choreography questioned the established parameters of dance and used movements like walking and running, which had not usually been considered part of dance vocabulary. This lexicon of movements is danceable by most able-bodied people unlike more exclusionary forms of dance, including ballet, that require proficiency in technical feats only an elite few are capable of executing.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Paxton worked with the group Freelance Dance. In the 1980s, Paxton performed in public infrequently and usually only appeared in improvised solos. More recently, he has worked with blind and disabled dancers. He also continues to collaborate in works such as Long and Dream (1994) with Trisha Brown and Night Stand (2002) with dancer Lisa Nelson and musician Robert Ashley. Paxton remains an active participant in improvisational performances and solos. He has appeared as part of the improvisation initiative Crash Landing; worked with dance artist Katy Duck; and collaborated with The Lisbon Group. Two of Paxton's works, Flat (1964) and Satisfying Lover were performed as part of the White Oak Dance Project's PASTforward tour in 2000-2001.
Paxton continues to lecture, perform, choreograph and teach around the world.
Novack, Cynthia J. Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. Madison, Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
Paxton, Steve. “Drafting Interior Techniques.” Taken by Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader. Eds., Albright, Ann Cooper, and David Gere. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 2003: 175-184.