When Faces Danced Across the Shadows

molly shanahan/mad shak, sharks before drowning (excerpt) @ other dance festival, hamlin fieldhouse, 15 september 11.

Among the fun, sly, and often moving presentations at the second week of the Other Dance Festival, Molly Shanahan’s excerpt from Sharks Before Drowning was perhaps fullest of suggestive ideas. Shanahan’s dance included a mix of high and low culture, such as a Biber von Bibern sonata overlaid on top of Chinga’s raunchy hip-hop track “Holidae In” as if one were caught on the radio dial between the classical station and the hip-hop one; classy, almost somber dresses mixed with poses that seemed taken straight from the Thriller music video or the latest Vampire television series; a move between gestures that seemed almost balletic and others that undulated and writhed awkwardly; and an intriguing mix of forceful display and reserved introspection.

Molly Shanahan, Benjamin Law and Jessica Marasa in Sharks Before Drowning.

One of the most striking moments in the excerpt occurred when the dancers moved to the front of the stage in a line and did nothing but look—not quite at the audience but at something beyond them, some kind of event or trauma or revelation. They moved their eyes and jawbones and lips ever so slightly, as if dancing only with their faces. And as we watched them watch something, its impact slowly making an impression on their bodies, I wondered: what muscles cannot be danced? To what extent can dance extend? When it comes to the body, can even the very smallest, isolated twitch or even one strand or fiber of muscle become overpoweringly culturally expressive? Yes, I think so.

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