Excercise your imagination at an a.m. studio viewing with Molly Shanahan.
Molly Shanahan has it made in the shade. Over the past few years she’s dropped most of her ensemble in favor of solos and duets, and her work has become more personal, introspective and accomplished. Her new solo project, My Name Is a Blackbird, won’t premiere until April, but she already knows it will be a dark and mysterious solo, with a nighttimey, gothic vibe.
Paradoxically, she’s exposing the research phase of Blackbird to the light of day, inviting the public to attend morning-hour work-in-progress showings at Links Hall Sunday 13 through August 20. Shanahan hopes people who head to work on the train (both the Red and Brown Lines stop near Links) will stop off, grab a cup of coffee, tramp up the stairs to the Links Hall studio, and spend a half hour with her to watch her dance a bit of Blackbird material, and then discuss it with her. (If you’re not up for the 8:30am weekday sessions, there are Sundays at 10am.)
It’s a pretty special invitation. A studio visit with Shanahan is always fascinating: She’s probably one of the city’s most articulate choreographers. Her movement style is also best seen in a close space rather than a ginormous theater. Over the past few years, her dancing has developed to contain an incredible amount of detail and richness.
The nonprofit organization that she started a dozen years ago, Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, has evolved to support her own constantly growing and deepening body of work. The company does not perform the work of other artists, and rather than create a plethora of differently themed 12-minute dances, she makes evening-length pieces that are the result of deep investigation. In a city where most dance ensembles take the-more-the-merrier, variety-show approach, Shanahan’s artistic integrity is impressive and laudable.
Shanahan’s last project, Eye Cycle, cocommissioned by the National Performance Network with Links Hall and Denison University, incorporated video and unusual lighting design, and was very much about light, seeing and illumination. In January ’05, the work was performed at the Montreal High Lights arts festival, where it was hailed as “a new way of looking at dance.”
In contrast, Blackbird ventures into the dark. With this new work, Shanahan examines the mysterious, sometimes scary territory that lies within the body itself. “I want to honor the experiences of the body that are murky and black,” she says.
For those who follow theories of body-mind integration, it may come as no surprise that Shanahan has been exploring the theories of Awareness Through Movement pioneer Moshe Feldenkrais, who spoke about developing physical expressiveness, and psychologist Carl Jung, who put forth the theory of the “shadow side.” She’s also been reading some of the writings of Jungian/feminist author Marion Woodman. “These readings have been phenomenally grounding,” Shanahan says.
By visiting Shanahan in the studio, you’ll be let in on some of her secrets as she searches for a new dance that is in alignment with the occluded and unknown. “I find I can get into needing to create and catalog specific movements as vocabulary for a new piece, but what I’m trying to do with Blackbird is allow something more open-ended, with just enough structure to contain the ephemerality of the dancing.”
She’s also daring to move beyond any known dance vocabulary whatsoever: “Parts of the body that are dark [and] murky have their own story to them—a story that provokes a language all its own that doesn’t give a damn about contemporary dance.”