molly shanahan / mad shak, “the delicate hour” @ columbia college dance center, 2/25/12.
Joining in with a Brett Dennen recording at the end of “The Delicate Hour,” choreographer and dancer Molly Shanahan sang, “I ain’t gonna lose you.” Her insistent accompaniment could have been directed to the Dennen song itself as she trailed just behind the lead vocal. She chased the moment of its original creation, never quite reaching it, never quite losing it.
Or perhaps she was singing to the sunsets that Shanahan glimpsed while creating the piece at Silo, an artists’ retreat in rural Pennsylvania, as they vanished beyond the rural horizon. Or she was addressing her father, with whom she had witnessed a powerful aesthetic moment described in the program notes. She might have even been addressing her fellow dancers, who followed her every move, and made their own moves in tandem. She would not lose them, she insisted, they could trust her. Or perhaps Shanahan most of all addressed the audience before her, in the dark, singing to them at the edge of the end of the show. Of course, she might have been singing out to all of these people and instances—and still more beyond them.
Most of all, Shanahan seemed to sing to the very concept of the moment itself, to the idea of the moment in all its temporal presence and inevitable passage. She sang as if she had not a moment to lose, and yet knowing lose it she must.
Singing along to the lyric transformed a sad love song into a kind of reminder message: dance movement is about moments, is comprised of them, and yet it can never freeze them in place. Time moves, and movement with it. How then, Shanahan’s piece proposed, does an art about movement evoke, express, explore, even explain a moment in time?
In probing this question, “The Delicate Hour” went for the moment repeatedly, but each time a little differently. The dancers stood still, just barely swaying, gazing out at the audience. In one virtuosic passage in the performance, they sped up in frenetic repetition, heads down, sprinting into themselves, trying to dissolve into the moment.
They also air-smoked along with Kenny Rodgers’s version of “The Gambler,” seemed to borrow from the Thriller-era dance moves of Michael Jackson for an instance, then moved into more abstract and less referential gestural language in response to compositions by Stars of the Lid, Biagio Marini, and Guillaume Dufay. They raced across the stage. They held on to its centers and edges. They made this dance of moments count in countless ways. Shanahan and company claimed the moment in the swivel of a hip joint, the reach of an arm above a shoulder socket. Then they let go of it.
They had to, for they had to lose it—and us—eventually. The dance had to end. But they never lost us in the sense that we caught their meaning, we understood their evocations of feeling, we knew in the moment experienced and the moment remembered that there was nothing more lasting in the end than the delicate moment.