Choreographer Susan Marshall has been around the block — and has a MacArthur "genius" grant and a few Bessie Awards to show for it. But even at this point in her life, the Princeton University professor isn't too proud to look to her students for inspiration.
"One of my favorite things in my introductory dance classes," Marshall says, "is that invariably some people use a pop song. It's usually very expressive, and I love it! I wondered, how can I capture some of that in the work I do?"
Marshall knows from personal experience the comforting familiarity of the popular. "Even though the dance I like to see, and make, is poetic and abstract, in almost every other art form I enjoy the formulaic: mysteries, blockbusters."
The fruit of these insights is a world-premiere sextet, "Play/Pause," scored by Pulitzer winner David Lang. Susan Marshall & Company, in its fifth appearance at the Dance Center of Columbia College, performs the evening-length piece through Saturday.
"Play/Pause" celebrates pop music and all its trappings. Those wanting more of a taste can check out the company's video performance of "Stop" (at vimeo.com/72452949). Marshall is attuned to the way that digital viewing and listening often lead to a live experience. "Eventually," she says, "we find our way into the theater, hoping that live performance will deliver something of what we've come to love."
A friend of Marshall's, after seeing a "Play/Pause" preview, told the choreographer that the experience was like going to a rock concert, alone, after breaking up with your boyfriend.
Three indie rock musicians on electric guitar and percussion play Lang's score live onstage. Littering the stage are microphones and mike stands, as well as stands adapted to hold glass frames, courtesy of set designer Andreea Mincic. "The glass plates frame and highlight detailed action," Marshall says. "They also fog up with the performers' breath. Breath is a theme; in fact, pulse and rhythm of all kinds." She describes Lang's rock-inflected music as emotionally intense and theatrical.
Marshall wants to make viewers feel at home in "Play/Pause." For some people, a point of entry will be her occasional use of pop-dance idioms. Others will be drawn in by what they've come to expect from Marshall's movement, the telling gestures and partnering that can fill the air with emotion in an instant. "I want to set up a dialogue between that more intimate work," she says, "and more violent, aggressive movement."
Speaking about the avant-garde dance world that she inhabits, Marshall states flatly that audiences are not growing. "And I wonder why we separate ourselves from popular forms? Audiences find satisfaction in knowing what's coming. I want to make them comfortable but also surprise their expectations."
Also worth catching:
Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival: Choreographers Nicole Gifford and Melissa Mallinson sowed the seeds of this fest three years ago. The three programs together showcase 25 artists from Chicago and around the nation. Known quantities who definitely deserve a look include Striding Lion, Melinda Jean Myers, RE|Dance, Kristina Isabelle, Aerial Dance Chicago, Philip Elson, Jacqueline Stewart, Lauren Warnecke, Clinard Dance and Marc Macaranas' The Visitor(s). Friday through Sunday at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.; 312-952-3615 and ruthpage.org
LinkUp Fall Showcase: The event features Liana C. Percoco and Jose Hernandez (aka Ishtar Bukkake) in movement-based performance art. Percoco explores true nourishment in "The Green Table (Habanero Shakedown #4)," while Hernandez takes a gender-bending tour through world annihilation in a voodoo-inspired festival, "Planet X The Nu Fantastiik." Sept. 27-29 at Links Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave.; linkshall.ticketfly.com
"Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham": At month's end, longtime Chicago choreographer Winifred Haun and relative newcomer Lizzie Leopold team up on a somewhat smaller showcase, this one devoted to Martha Graham's legacy. These folks are a generation or two removed, of course, but all have a place in the genealogy. Participating choreographers are former Graham dancer Lisa Thurrell; former Graham choreographic assistant Peter Sparling; Ayako Kato and Leopold, who both studied with Sparling; and Haun, whose Herculean premiere traverses the terrain between Graham's modernist narratives and the postmodernism she inadvertently spawned via Merce Cunningham. Sept. 27-28 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts; brownpapertickets.com
Laura Molzahn is a Tribune special contributor; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Susan Marshall & Company
When: Thursday through Saturday
Where: The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave.
Tickets: $26-$30 at 312-369-8330 or colum.edu/dancecenter