Performing Arts: Dance
November 22, 2013

    Photo: Kristin Clotfelter | Credit: Stephanie Berger

The empty BAM Fishman performance space is decorated solely with propped up plywood. Pieces of black duct tape are torn and placed on it, triggering dancer Ching-I Chang to begin her unrelenting mission of dragging a microphone across the tape-speckled wood. The hands of others interrupt her linear and circular paths, sometimes she is physically moved from the wood’s range, other times tape is ripped off altering her rhythm, and yet her movement continues. This postmodern approach is not left to stand on its own in choreographer Susan Marshall’s newest work however, as an electric score by David Lang soon dominates.

Created by Marshall in collaboration with her company of six dancers, Play/Pause is an hour-long movement-music adventure. The piece explores high art in the form of theatric, live performance verses that of pop culture’s music videos. Each form is pared down to its simplest elements, oftentimes showcasing their intersection. Sections of ensemble work riddled with ripple effects, repetition, and the ever-popular step-touch-and-snap are interspersed with more dramatic solos and duets featuring full-bodied movement and a recurring motion reminiscent of striking a drum. An underlying stoicism also exists throughout which makes the pop culture sections particularly humorous, emphasizing a robotic element with the form’s strictly guided choreography.

Narrator Pete Simpson is disconnected from the rest as a seemingly trapped character in the whirlwind of performance episodes whether they nod to live or digital performance. Meanwhile David Lang’s indie-rock score (with additional music by St. Vincent and The Antlers), travels between amplified electric rhythms to silence. The quieter moments usually indicate a “pause” before the next section of “play.”

The mix of varied lighting (by Eric Southern) and minimalist set design (by Andreea Mincic) propel the versatility of the work as each element serves an integral purpose. Sometimes the lights shine straight-on exuding a fleeting Broadway feel, though soon resort back to something more artsy such as pure darkness aside from blue-lit plexiglass framing the performer’s faces. The wooden wall adjusts from a space separator back to a musical instrument.

Well into the piece Simpson calls on the audience to breathe with him, in through the nose and out through the mouth. This collective, calming, mid-performance exercise certainly juxtaposes the electric energy of Lang’s score and the bursts of Marshall’s movement. We are taken in a new direction for the remainder of the piece as the dancers emphasize their existence as live-performers. One catches his breath audibly over a microphone. Others later exhale onto the illuminated plexiglass screens, their breath made visible. “Thank you,” Simpson says as the lights go out.

Susan Marshall & Company celebrated the New York premiere of Play/Pause as part of BAM's 2013 New Wave Festival.
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