The Dance Apocalypse and Nadia

Improvisation Investigations

Cross Pollination Residency: December 14-20, 2015


The wild improvisations with Adrienne Mackey, Nadia Botello and The Dance Apocalypse (aka Gabrielle Revlock and Nicole Bindler) fused electronic sound, scene and movement.


Gabrielle Revlock & Nicole Bindler (The Dance Apocalypse), Adrienne Mackey, and Nadia Botello joined forces for a week-long Cross Pollination residency to explore the intersection of their disciplines: contemporary dance (Gabi and Nicole), voice and theater (Adrienne), and sound design and experimental composition (Nadia).

During their residency, the group engaged in a series of improvisations and exercises, exploring questions such as the balance between performance and sound, the relationship of artist to audience, and how to encourage audience members towards different takeaways from watching the same show. Towards the end of the week, the group merged these explorations together to see what improvisational form resulted.

The following is a window into their work. It’s impossible to include all the explorations, but this collage of photos, informal video excerpts, descriptions, and paraphrases of the artists’ statements should offer you a sense of what kinds of questions they asked, how it felt to explore each other’s forms, how they adjusted variables to further investigations along the way, and the results of putting it all together.

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Movement and Vocalization Explorations

As a warm-up to using their voices and bodies, the group started with a set of brief improvisations: five minutes each of voice and movement and then ten minutes of the two combined. Nadia recorded the audio from each to draw from later.

Afterwards, they discussed the exercises, particularly what it was like to work in a medium other than one’s own.

Gabi: I felt aware that my voice isn’t very strong.

Nadia: I was pretty conscious of my fear of vocalizing, and worked hard to overcome it.

Adrienne: I often feel like I can do vocal or physical improv, but can’t have both be full volume at the same time. I had lots of instincts to sing onto bodies, and I didn’t want to move.

Nicole: I only wanted to move at some points. I think it’s okay to just drop into your own discipline sometimes.

Nadia: I really liked doing this, even though neither movement nor voice are my disciplines. I normally just freeze and listen when I hear sonic moments I love, so I was trying to turn off that instinct and engage with listening actively and making sound at the same time.

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Trading Forms

Nadia’s discipline was somewhat excluded from the vocal/movement improvs, so the others wanted a chance to see what it was like to work with sound composition as well. Nadia explained a program she often uses called Forester. In it, an algorithm she created layers audio samples on top of each other and then builds loops and reverbs, alters pitch, and more. It’s an unpredictable and heavily intuitive process. She went on to note that she sees her artistry as less about electronic composition and more about listening and sensibility of sound and its vibrations.

To give the others a chance to explore Nadia’s process, they tried improvs with a different person running sound on Nadia’s computer each time.


In the first round, Adrienne never looked away from the computer screen as she built a soundscape, while the dancers stayed super locked into each other and focused on physicality.

When Nicole took over sound, rather than playing it continuously she incorporated silences and regularly looked around to check in on how the movers were responding. Afterwards, she noted that she felt like her knowledge of the program was so rudimentary that she couldn’t do very much.


Like Nicole, Gabi allowed for some moments of silence and kept a pretty close watch on the movers to respond to them. At one point, she threw down a yoga mat to add a big and unexpected noise that was present in the room in a different way than the computerized sound.

Afterwards, they all reflected.

Adrienne: At one point, I realized I felt like what I was doing as a mover was very screensaver-y. I started to wonder what the opposite of screensaver is and pushed to set an intention, whether or not it was interesting.

Nadia: I had the same sense. Maybe the dancers don’t have that problem because they have more of a repertoire of moves to pull from.

Gabi: I felt like the sound was really dominant. I’m curious about a simplification of the layers. Can we create a new relationship between movement and sound?

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The Spectrum from Everyday to Otherworldly

In the next set of experiments, they dug into Gabi’s question and explored ways to equalize sound and live performance in a single score rather than allowing one to dominate the other. In the first round, Gabi and Nicole moved only when there was silence and froze whenever sound came in. Nadia continued creating sound using only randomized samples from the recordings of the earlier improvs.


Nadia: This was tough because I couldn’t predict what was going to happen with the sound loops, so I couldn’t be as responsive as I would like. I ended up trying to match feeling rather than specific dance moves.

Adrienne: When the sound came in, I became very aware of the ways Gabi and Nicole weren’t totally still, and when there was no sound, I became very aware of the ways in which the room is not totally silent. I’m thinking about what it’d be like to do a very naturalistic scene and then have the sound sneak in to abstract it.

So they tried it. Gabi and Nicole set up a couple chairs and a table with snacks and started talking about the integrity of chocolate-covered blueberries. Then, Nadia started adding sound, bringing in existing tracks in addition to the recorded soundscape so she could have more intention and control over what she played. When music began Gabi and Nicole shifted out of their pedestrian conversation and into dreamier, more abstract movements as if in a fantastical world rather than reality. When the sound went quiet, the conversation resumed and movement went back to normal.


The music often contrasted the conversations that were happening. Gabi and Nicole were pretty taken aback by the music’s entrance into their dialogue, so everyone agreed that they wanted a better cross-fade between the abstract and pedestrian sections. They explored the form again, this time starting from music instead of conversation and focusing on smoothing out the transitions. Here’s an example of one of the cross-fades between sound and dialogue:

This round offered a solid improvement in the cross-fading, with the performers experimenting with how long they kept talking or dancing as Nadia’s sound crept in or out. The group also all loved a key moment when Nicole blurred the line between the otherworldly space of the music and the more mundane dialogue by saying something unrealistic in the middle of a conversation: Gabi was talking about how she thought she might’ve developed an allergy to soy milk, and Nicole responded with, “How can you be allergic when you’re a robot?” It changed the rules in an exciting and unexpected way.

Though they didn’t formulate a definitive answer to their question about balancing sound and movement from these improvs, they did gather some fodder to the investigation and began to develop a shared improvisational vocabulary.

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Individualizing Audience Experience

According to Adrienne, theater commonly expects everyone to come away from a play having the same understanding of what they saw. Gabi noted that dance sets the same expectation, though it’s more with feeling than with theme. This inspired a desire to find ways to intentionally offer audiences a way to develop personal or varied responses, even if they’re sitting side-by-side seeing the same show.

They decided to try some experiments with headphones to see if having different music for different people would open up the focus of the audience. In the first improv, Adrienne and Nadia picked different music for Nicole and Gabi to listen to through headphones. They were to respond to their music and use the previously developed technique of going back and forth between abstract movement and pedestrian conversation.

Adrienne: It would’ve been interesting for us to have the music you were listening to – it felt like what was happening was just between you two and we were outside looking in.

Nadia: I was fascinated by it. I didn’t feel alienated because I could tell you were engaged in sonic worlds as well as each other.

Gabi: My relationship with the music wasn’t clear; there were so many variables that it was hard to lock into anything.

Nicole: I’m not sure if it’s interesting as performance or not, but it was very interesting for me as a performer to attune to the space, music, Gabi, etc.

In response to these reflections, in the next score Nadia played music aloud for the audience, while the dancers continued listening to other songs through their headphones. Gabi and Nicole also limited themselves to just movement, no dialogue, to decrease the variables.

This time, it was again clear that Gabi and Nicole were listening to different things, but the music played aloud felt too much like the frame for the whole audience’s experience. This made it seem like a typical dance where the audience was inclined to come away with the same feeling; the performers having different audio became irrelevant because the viewers’ experience was so curated by the music they were hearing.

So, they switched things up again. This time, the viewers were the ones with headphones. They selected music for themselves, while Nadia played sound aloud for Gabi and Nicole instead. You’ll want to watch the excerpt below the same way – grab a pair of headphones and play some music to listen to over top of this video. There is some dialogue in the improv, so you probably don’t want to mute the video volume completely, but make sure you weight the volume of your own music to overpower that of the video. (Bonus points if you watch the video twice to totally different songs – you’ll really get a sense of how much difference your music selection can make.)

This one felt really cool to everyone – the headphones gave the audience the personalized experience the group was looking for. This variation also felt true to modern life, since people walk around with headphones in all the time, building the soundtrack to their own world.

In a final iteration, Adrienne switched with Nicole as a performer, and they didn’t have any sound at all. The audience wore headphones and selected their own music again (so make sure you’re playing something for yourself before you watch below). This time, they also had the option to play back a recorded conversation between Adrienne and Gabi in their headphones so they could incorporate language without having to adjust their volume to be able to hear the performers’ dialogue.

Nicole: Watching you talk without hearing what you were saying let me focus on your bodies. Though, I noticed there was lots of stopping to talk instead of moving, maybe because you two didn’t have any music to respond to… All the movement felt more pedestrian than abstract.

Nadia: This was definitely less engaging because watching everyday things with headphones is so my norm. I would rather watch full-out dance to my own soundtrack than go back and forth between movement and conversation, because that seems so normal to me. It was interesting to see you talking and hear a different conversation on the recording, but it was sort of like subtitles on a foreign film, not as novel as the other improv.

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Shared Content

Since much of their work so far had been experimenting with different form options for merging their disciplines, the group was curious about incorporating some themes or topics to layer in content. They wanted to be sharing a fresh experience of the same inspiration, so they watched a couple videos together. Adrienne brought forth X-ON by Ivo Dimchov:

Gabi: I feel a little weird about getting inspiration from something in the same style as what we’re doing.

Adrienne: My favorite part is the song and the idea of singing what you’re doing.

Gabi: I ignored the lyrics and instead focused on rhythmic counterpoints – I didn’t even notice the verb singing.

Adrienne: I think it’s cool to use this even if we have different interpretations of it… Though now that I’ve shared it, I’m feeling weird about using it. I was feeling it more as an ingredient than inspiration. I would rather focus content on a theme, like all of us think about pandas.

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Artist/Audience Relationship and Incorporating Content

Nadia explained that for a long time, her work didn’t focus on engaging audiences, so she didn’t have the same questions as the others did about individualizing viewer experience. She explained that when she’s generating live sound individually, she usually focuses in on herself. Adrienne was curious about putting Nadia onstage to play sound, to see if her presence “onstage” could encourage her to become explicitly part of the performance and to check in with the audience. Adrienne was so curious, in fact, that between two of the workdays she had a dream that Nadia was sitting in the middle of the studio and Gabi and Nicole were doing the Ivo Dimchov dance around her. So they dug in – Nadia joined Gabi and Nicole onstage for an improvisation.

{Warning: This video excerpt gets loud.}

Gabi and Nicole each wore blue zip-up hoodies and one tap shoe from a spare set found in the studio, which created a weird sort of symmetry. The score was a little crazy for Nadia, because all she could hear was the full-length mirrors being spun around and the tapping of the shoes rather than her own work. She also couldn’t see much of what the dancers were doing, which made it hard for her to score them. Adrienne noted that from the outside it looked like the movers were the physical manifestation of Nadia’s brain.


In a second round with Nadia elevated for better visibility, Adrienne noted that not knowing what Nadia was doing while looking intently at her computer was very mysterious. Her occasional smiles or looks out to the audience made them want to know what she was thinking, and seeing where she was challenged was compelling. The shared content inputs also emerged in this improv, as Gabi and Nicole started singing the words “Braid the hair” while they braided Nadia’s, just like the dancers in the X-ON video singing what they were doing.

For the next round, Nadia’s computer was hooked up to speakers so she could play music/sound more loudly while the performers moved around her.

Nicole: I really didn’t like not being able to individuate this time – I felt like I had no choice but to stay connected. I also felt like I was wondering what the next scene was – I wanted a dramatic shift but didn’t know how to initiate that in the context of the piece.

Adrienne: The moments of transition were most exciting, much like the other improvs we’ve done. I really like when something that seems established is undercut.

Nadia: I wondered at points if I should engage with what you were doing with my body… But I was mostly focused on not letting the laptop fall.

Gabi: It would be cool to have moments of shift from Nadia. You did feel very available to us though – you were very open to us doing whatever we wanted with you.

The questions of the moment exhausted, exercises flowed into explorations of directionality and dynamic in speech as well as the beginning and end of performances. The end of the week was drawing nigh…

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Converging Elements: Hour-Long Improv

Nicole mentioned a few times that to improvise well as a group, artists need an opportunity to get to know each other’s styles, forms, and processes. Over the week, Nicole, Gabi, Nadia, and Adrienne had developed that knowledge of each other’s work, so they decided to see how far they’d come by doing an hour-long improvisation that would incorporate as many of the elements they’d explored over the past few days as possible. A warm-up flowed into conversation, the hour-long timer started, and eventually conversation blurred into score. These are some highlights:

Adrienne brought back a lot of content and physical structures, such as hair-braiding, singing what you’re doing, pandas, and the specificity Nadia’s setup onstage. The team wondered if the content would seem exclusionary to an outside audience, too much like inside jokes, or if the material would have interest and resonance because the performers clearly knew/cared about it. Reflecting on the whole score, they noted that it felt like a form – a structure that one could just feed content into.

Adrienne: “Devised theater” is really just theater in which form is not assumed, where content and form shift together.

Nicole: Sometimes in dance the content is the form.

Adrienne: Sometimes I separate them to clarify details, but it’s all on one spectrum.

The conversation continued as the dancers explained that content sometimes isn’t explicit in dance, but dancers hope the ideas discussed in rehearsal conversations will be embedded in the movements.

Gabi: Does the sense of missing content in our score come from busy-ness? An overabundance of content? I’m curious about simplifying without being bored.

Nicole: It didn’t feel crowded at all to me – it was actually very sparse, with lots of breathing and listening.

Gabi: There’s a very clear form for many pieces – could you explain the form we just did?

Nicole: Yeah, totally.

Nadia: No way – I try to explain what we do to my roommates every day when I come home and they have no idea what I’m talking about. I feel really undone by this week, and have been very absorbent of new languages.


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At last, the week was at an end. The trio took some time to discuss their takeaways.

Nadia: [Being onstage] was personally the most insane thing I took part in – I’ll be processing that for a while. I generally think it’s inherently boring to watch someone onstage doing tech stuff.

Adrienne: It was interesting to create scores and notice desires to set up from a theatrical perspective, or to jump into scores that were things I wouldn’t normally do, and also to have to explain something I do a lot.

Nadia: I agree. It’s hard to explain my relationship to sound and how I do things intuitively, rather than the kind of mechanical things I usually explain when I teach. But I did like that, because it forced me to ask myself what I actually do.

Gabi: I have lots of questions about structure.

Nicole: I enjoyed the interdisciplinary-ness of our exploration, how no one medium felt more important than another and that what we made together was unlike what any one of us would have ever made with those in our own disciplines. I also appreciated how we didn’t feel obligated to make work ABOUT anything. It reminded me that it’s enough to work with movement, sound, relationship, architecture, objects, form… that art doesn’t need to be a vehicle for any particular message or concern.


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The Dance Apocalypse
 (Gabrielle Revlock and Nicole Bindler) is a Philadelphia-based company that makes dances with you and for you that transcend the border between audience and stage. Their work is fiercely feminist, wild, and genre defying. They use movement, text, video, stage combat and comedy to create a sensorial extravaganza. They are particularly interested in the Q and A format as performance; critiquing spectacle and competition in contemporary dance; collaboration as a practice and lifestyle. They do not shy away from using animals and babies to charm your pants off. Their work has been frequently described as joyfully disorienting. They have performed their collaborative work throughout Philadelphia, New York, D.C., Pittsburgh and Seattle. Their dances have been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, FringeArts and The A.W.A.R.D. Show!



Nadia_07Nadia Botello is a sound artist, experimental composer, and sound designer. Her work examines deep listening practices as a primary method of improvisation, composition, and a means in which to engage and interact with audiences and spaces. She primarily explores the boundaries between three-dimensional spatialisation, aural sculpture, the articulation of site and space, and physical listening experiences. She has composed for dance, film, pinball, experimental opera, iPhones, plants, bodies, architecture, underwater installations, and more. Her full-length debut, Saint Shë, was featured and archived by MoMA P.S.1’s Clocktower. She’s most recently performed at James Turrell’s Skyspace, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Silent Barn, and Crane Arts Icebox. Former synchronized swimmer — she still loves to be in water as much as possible.




Documentation by Sam Wend
Photos by Adachi Pimentel