THE DELICATE HOUR (Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak): 60 minutes from memory

Republished by kind permission from The Dance Journal.

Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak’s “The Delicate Hour”–excerpt from Molly Shanahan on Vimeo.

Note taking is something I do when I attend a performance in the capacity of reviewer. I do this to remember important details so I can relive the piece when writing. But what if, at the request of the choreographer, you are asked not to take notes so you can have the full experience of the performance?

At first I was inclined to ignore the urge and proceed with my note taking, but I decided to oblige out of respect and accepted the challenge.

Pencil down. Note pad closed.

Darkness. Silence.

I wondered if not being able to take notes would prevent me from remembering sequences, important actions or specific details within the piece. But I pacified myself by holding on to the fact that if moments stood out, I would remember.

The Delicate Hour, a sixty-minute quartet, choreographed by Molly Shanahan, a PhD candidate at Temple University, took to the stage of Conwell Hall on Friday, January 23, 2015. This piece was a part of her ongoing project called “Stamina of Curiosity.”

photo by Bill Hebert

photo by Bill Hebert

A recipient of two National Performance Network Creation Funds Awards, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, a Meier Achievement Award, among others.

Lights.

Four dancers stood downstage. Three females, one male.

They swayed. Breathed. Gestured.

They carved through the space with ease, never touching.

Lady in blue repeated a gesture that mimicked counting with your fingers.

Lady in red’s gesture was that of distributing cards, as if at a poker game.

Lady in brown, sliced sharply with palms facing down and hands crossing over each other.

Ten minutes into the performance I was confronted by the similar qualities shared by the dancing and the music. They were slow, unhurried and relaxed.

From the drone of one piece of musical composition to the low pitch of the strings in another, I was engulfed in sadness.

Sadness, coupled with the breathy release of the four dancers, and the dark house of the theatre, almost put me to sleep.

(photo credit: William Frederking Photography

Photo credit: William Frederking Photography

And then it happened.

A sustained, stationary movement phrase with the four dancers on a diagonal, built with energy causing the slashing, arching action to quicken, becoming more direct.

This shift in effort quality got me excited.

Variety! Yes!

Shanahan spent some time at Silo, a dance residency in rural Pennsylvania, where she was inspired by the hour of the sunset – The Delicate Hour. In her program notes, Shanahan admitted to having a love affair with movement. In The Delicate Hour, Shanahan distilled her choreography to the bones and, although repetitive at times, it offered viewers snapshots of well-framed poses staged by the dancers.

In its gestural simplicity, The Delicate Hour offered moments of partnering that were laced with contact improvisation. Strategically placed between stillness and movement, a dancer used her chin to stroke her partner’s back while another used her hand and gently placed it on her cast mate’s sacrum. Those were beautiful moments.

Breath initiated each step. It led them as they danced in silence.

It was audible and often times acted as the music.

The Delicate Hour, was subtle in movement manipulation and gentle in its delivery.

Anything in excess can be overwhelming.

The repetition and lack of variety in vocabulary overshadowed the organically performed phrases and the tender partnering moments.

Given the experimental sensibility of Shanahan’s process, the stage appeared to be a laboratory. This presented an aesthetic similar to that of the post-modern era of the 1960’s in the United States, when subjectivism, improvisation, and denial of the importance of technical virtuosity were heavily featured.

Shanahan writes that her research focuses on new movement language that expands the notions of body beyond those prescribed by Western approaches to dance. New? I’m not so sure but pleasantly crafted to engage the more tranquil viewer. [Conwell Dance Theater, Temple University, 1801 N Broad Street] January 23-24, 2015; madshak.com.

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About the author

Gregory King for the Dance Journal

Gregory King is visiting assistant professor and Consortium on Faculty Diversity fellow at Swarthmore University.