is in the air: Susan Marshall & Company’s The Kiss.
Mae G. Banner
Marshall & Company
Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 6
Susan Marshall knows too much about us. Her dances, always
intriguing, sometimes repellent, are filled with repetitive
movements from daily life. Like a minimalist composer, Marshall
restates these tiny moves over and over, varying them by an
eyelash, just enough so that, if you’re watching closely,
you see those little touches edging closer and closer toward
outright violence. She is a very scary choreographer—the more
so, because she’s clearly holding up a mirror to our most
Marshall and her company of seven, whom she always acknowledges
as collaborators in the choreography, presented a world premiere,
Cloudless, at Jacob’s Pillow last week. Set to a mix
of music by Philip Glass, Georges Bizet, and David Byrne,
Cloudless was the unsettling heart of the concert,
which opened with the dreamlike Kiss (1987) and closed
with an end-of-the-world melee, Other Stories (2003).
began with a solo by Petra van Noort in a loose old T-shirt
and tight capris. She picked at her body with twitchy hands
or shook her fingers vigorously as if trying to get rid of
something nasty. Gradually, these fidgets smoothed out into
an oddly poetic “eentsie-beentsie spider” move as van Noort
performed spiraling turns on her bare toes, until she seemed
to decide to keep that awful something in her hands after
Luke Miller, a tall, boyish fellow, then attempted a ballet
sequence, but crashed repeatedly onto his back, his legs splayed
out. He tried and tried again to get the formal movements
right, but was thwarted by interruptions in the form of other
dancers. Over and over, Miller would drag or push the offending
bodies back out. Over and over, they returned, one by one,
then in multiples, so that Miller could never keep up with
them. His efforts to clear the stage became a losing battle.
As to the audience, we became trained to watch the wings furtively,
anticipating the next unwelcome entrance. So, we became part
of Miller’s doomed project.
The final quartet, Book, was most chilling. Two young men,
Miller and Poulson, sat side by side at a library table, slowly
turning the pages of a huge dictionary. Wright brought in
a giant industrial floor fan; then, he and Kristin Hollinsworth
and Wright stood quietly behind the seated men. The fan whipped
the book’s pages, faster and faster. The two boys (they soon
became schoolboys and brothers in the story I constructed)
found their lives running out of control, though they tried
to hold down the flipping pages.
The boys’ moves gradually became more like arm wrestling,
more like serious fighting, while the parents (of course,
they were the parents) would favor one boy or another with
a light kiss on the head. The mother watched with wary eyes
as the boys got a shade rougher, but no one did anything to
stop what finally might be Cain’s murder of Abel in the first
dysfunctional family. The dance ended, unresolved.
Violence is always imminent in Mars hall’s dances, but we
never quite get there. This attenuated choreography, with
its minimal changes, keeps our eyes riveted, keeps us wondering
and worrying about what will happen next. Marshall’s open-
endedness is scarier than actual violence because it makes
you feel like an abused wife or kid waiting for their husband
or their dad to hit them.
Stories brought out the whole ensemble in a series of
quick blackouts that became increasingly surreal. There was
a woman laid out on a table top, her bare midriff wrenching
and contracting. Was it an operating table? Was she a Frankenstein’s
monster being brought to life? And, those two glamorous, stony-faced
women who danced from side to side and facing us—were they
trying to hide something horrible going on behind their sleekly-costumed
Was anyone in charge? No. Everyone flew about in the semi-dark,
sometimes pierced by two industrial lamps hung from the ceiling.
They ran, dove, yelped, rolled and slid across the stage.
I thought of an abandoned garden, a few bright flowers overrun
with weeds, and some of them were poison.
Marshall has a remarkable fix on what is worst in us, so her
dances are not cathartic or uplifting, but leave the viewer
feeling punished. One exception: The Kiss, in which
two lovers harnessed into ropes hanging from the celing turned
and banked, flew past each other and flew into each other’s
embrace. This swooping, soaring dance, performed by Hollinsworth
and Miller to music of Arvo Part, looks like love feels.