It is undoubtedly a cliché to say that you must understand the rules to break them, but that is certainly a truth in our work in dance improvisational performance.
When we create an improvised performance we (usually) established some ground rules or structure in which the performance will be framed. These rules can range from straight forward, like "there may only be two people on stage at a time", or "begin in a line, leave the line, return to the line". Or, they may be more subjective, "your goal is to support your partner's choices".
In rehearsal and/or performance there will be someone(s) that break these rules/structure once the improv gets going. Is this OK or not? Well, it depends as there is a difference between knowing you're breaking the rules and not being aware you are doing so. The second case destroys the coherency of the performance, in the first case it may or may not work depending....
There are (at least) two ways to knowingly break the rules in an improvisation. The first way is to break them because they get in your way, or they seem unnecessary or you just want to do something different. The second way is done in such a way that even though you are breaking the letter of the law you are actually expanding or redefining the meaning of the rules. It is breaking them, but not, at the same time. So, in a performance a rule may be "only two people on the stage at one time" and someone doesn't leave when another person enters. This is clearly breaking the rules, but (unless) you are constructing what you are doing in such a way that points to the fact of a duet happening. So, in actuality, the duet becomes more pronounced because of your presence - then, are you really breaking the rules?....This is hard to explain in words because it is an intuitive moment where you take a chance and push the edges of the structure and not break it.
I have often encouraged the dancers I work with to not break the rules but to "expand" the rules to the possible limits (with occasional breaking of the rules, as it's good for your constitution). By expanding the rules we are trying to see what are the limits, where can we go and still stay connected with one another and the work.
See us expand, break and bend the rules Feb. 4 & 5, 2011 @ Joe's Movement Emporium. (www.joesmovement.org for tickets).