The painstaking process of creating choreography, adapting the movement to available dancers and then cleaning and polishing in rehearsal usually precedes what an audience eventually sees onstage. But that endless repetition can stifle the in-the-moment impulse that makes dance so exciting. Using a range of techniques, dance improvisation helps dancers and dance makers to recapture the spontaneous spark that sometimes gets lost as performers strive to perfect their technique and choreographers fine-tune their creative vision. Now in its fourth year, the Improv Festival returns with a dual emphasis on site-specific works and ensemble performance, the exploration led by an impressive lineup of improvisation advocates. Look for Kim Epifano, Stephen Kent, Carolyn Stuart, Stefanie Cohen, Rachel Walker, C. Derrick Jones, Stephanie Nugent, Jones Welsh, Hassan Christopher, Kirk Andrews, Teri Carter and Tanya Kane-Parry — they're divided among the three performances that are always a highlight, along with the workshops and jams. In keeping with the improvisational spirit, Friday's show is "pay what you can."
For a full festival schedule, go to www.idfest.org. At Diavolo Performance Space, Downtown Brewery Arts Complex, 616 Moulton St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., Jan. 18-19, 8:30 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 20, 2 p.m.; $20, $15 students. (800) 838-3006 or www.BrownPaperTickets.com/event/24658.