Susan Marshall & Company

'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Other Stories'

by Holly Messitt

October 23, 2003 -- Brooklyn Academy of Music, Brooklyn, NY

Are we supposed to see the traditional Sleeping Beauty in Susan Marshall’s new dance by the same name? No. Presented as part of BAM’s Next Wave Festival, the piece starts with the name and then presents to us an alternative narrative. We do not see the valiant prince rescue the sleeping maiden with a kiss and then watch as they walk off to live happily ever after. Instead, we see the ambivalence present in so many of our significant relationships, the desire to both be part of the union and separate from it, the desire to walk sleepily through our decisions.

The opening sound, a sharp, loud beat, sounds an alarm, and we watch as seven people who are at first all lying on the ground stand and leave. Only Kristen Hollinsworth, our sleeping beauty, remains. When she finally rises, she moves slowly, languishing. The others, both men and women, come in to kiss her, but nothing seems to stimulate a response from her. The others pair up; they dance, but our beauty is having none of it. She dances alone.

When her prince, played by Mark DeChiazza, sees her, he stands on the outside of the inner circle, which is created by a set designed by Douglas Stein of three long paneled windows in the back of the stage and two pairs of windows in the right and left of the stage. This set design created an inside and outside world crucial to Marshall’s theme of belonging, longing, concealment, and protection.

When the prince steps inside the inner sanctum, the techno music, created by David Lang and Annie Gosfield, becomes faster. His entry means the invasion of the other five dancers. They all assault her space, so that even when she is left alone with her prince, she turns away from him. When he touches her, we hear her gasp. Is she awake? Perhaps, awakening, but she twists away from him, holding her leg back in an altered arabesque, bringing her right arm over her head in a move that both holds him off and shields her.

When he eventually brings her outside the sanctum within the space of the windows and she joins the procession of people walking in circles outside, she eventually escapes the mundane routine and returns to her inside space, away from them and away from him. Here, the movement turns forceful as dancers, all again within the inside space, grab each other around the neck. Our sleeping beauty moves from one person to the next, men and women. Dating? But she is still languishing and sleepy. Does she really care?

In the last duet, the prince returns again and carries the princess to the outside. The movement becomes moregentle as he cradles her tenderly. The other dancers roll across the front of the stage. The princess runs away from the prince and begins to roll with each of the other dancers but jumps over them until she reaches the prince again at the end of the line. In the final image as the lights dim, the all the dancers roll on the ground back and forth gently like waves lost, propelled, perpetually moving together, indistinguishable.

“Other Stories” contains much more action than the first piece. Its population is still anesthetized, but this time the world is not so much a languishing dream as it is a surreal nightmare. There is drama happening here, but the connection between the characters is hard to grasp. The piece doesn’t necessarily need a narrative, but its title suggests a conglomeration of fairytale characters.

It begins with Kristen Hollinsworth lying atop a table. Lit under one stream of white light shining from stage left, she fills her bare stomach with air and then suddenly contracts. The lights go out. When they come back again, we see that her table has been moved to the kitty corner and there is a woman lying on the floor. Petra van Noort has our attention as she stands front stage, her hands moving up and down and her head bobbing.

These characters remind us of vaudeville gone mad. They run across the stage, dive on the table. There is a running joke with what at first stands in for a doctor’s i.v., but then seconds as the signal for a ringing phone as a bare bulb on top flashes. There appears to be the man-in-charge, played by DeChiazza. Van Noort may be his wife; perhaps her incessant, mechanical bobbing signals a Stepford wife quality that she is trying to escape. She moves more lyrically when she’s paired with Hollinsworth.

There are other characters here too: a nurse in red gloves, a doctor in scrubs, DeChiazza’s little front man, and an enigmatic woman in red, played by Rachel Shao-Lan Blum, Luke Miller, Darrin M. Wright and Jill A. Locke. I’m still not sure I know what it adds up to, but in the end I found van Noort’s and Hollinsworth’s characters moving, as in the last image they shared the table, Hollinsworth lying on it while van Noort sat swinging her body pendulum-like, while at the same time reaching behind her to cradle and rock Hollinsworth’s character.

Edited by Jeff.

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