Susan Marshall & Company is back in Chicago!
This time, they return with a world premiere, Play/Pause. Incorporating elements of popular culture like one sparkly sock, conjuring images of a dancer version of Michael Jackson, costuming suggesting a party (club tops, and a pair of tight white pleather pants), as well as some of the most basic "ingredients" of rock music (microphones, live guitar and drum music), Play/Pause is Marshall's attempt at playing the "theme-and-variation game" on an already established popular culture recipe.
As dancers and collaborators share in a post-performance talk, the impetus for the piece was to take something already codified in its own patterns: popular culture, and play with it to see if it could be made more emotional, more meaningful (which, to me, already has it's own set of problems as it has not been identified to the audience what level of "emotional" and "meaningful" the piece assumes to begin with). The images, movement, and pairing with live music conjure up wildly different nostalgic memories for different people. In one section, as the dancers jive in a hip thrusting motion, I personally am reminded of the Steely Dan concert I recently attended with my father, but another audience member shares that it reminded him of Billy Joel. While similar in a way, these very different images took us on different journeys. Exhilarating though, is feeling as if the dancers are actually the main event, and the singer or "pop star" if there was one in this instance is actually taking on the "back-up dancer" roll. A beautiful roll reversal never seen before in a big arena, rock concert setting.
A high point comes when the fourth wall is broken and the dancers bring their incredible performative style, completely unmasked (a style lacking in the Chicago community, take note Chicago performers and creators!) to the performance. Dancer Pete Simpson (actually not a dancer at all, but a trained actor) breathes into the mic, extending his breath until it becomes a way of communicating with the audience. Simpson's presence is the single strongest of the performers, perhaps suggesting that this newer cast for Susan Marshall has a ways to go in melding, performing, and working as a strong ensemble.
Overall, the work is entertaining, incredible in its ability to conjure unique images of nostalgia, and to take one, seemingly meaningless object or motion, and make it into something absolutely substantial (though opportunity for growth here, still exists). Lastly though, as Marshall, a very process oriented artist admits, the piece is still changing, the artists, still working things out. Perhaps this piece is still unfinished, and needs polishing before it is truly unveiled as a satisfying premiere.
For video footage (and recommended pre-performance viewing), click here.
For tickets to Play/Pause:
The Dance Center presents Susan Marshall & Company September 19–21, 2013, Thursday–Saturday at 8 p.m.
Single tickets are $26–30.
The theatre is accessible to people with disabilities.
For information, call 312-369-8330 or visit colum.edu/dancecenter.