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Flash Review 1, 6-13: Shut Up and Dance
Let Your Dance do the Talking, Ms. Marshall

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2001 The Dance Insider

If there's anything more frustrating than seeing bad dance, it's seeing good dance that is defeated by extraneous elements. Amy Marshall, whose young company made its NYC debut last night at the Paul Taylor Studios, has the choreographic chops to surpass at least one of her former directors -- David Parsons -- but worked against her own interests by verbally explaining every dance before it began.

The irony is that even if she picks topics which on their surface might seem obvious, Marshall's actual vocabulary isn't simple. Sure, it's mostly fast with little respite (which robs the high-kinetics of some of their impact because there's little build) -- can we just stop the Robert Battle-ization of some dance now, please!? -- but her dancers do a helluva lot of things you've never seen before with their bodies in that record time. And they do them with great verve and musicality. (Ms. Marshall also danced for the master of musicality, Paul Taylor, as a member of Taylor 2.) And when she does slow down the RPM, it's beautiful because she achieves what has become all too rare an interest among choreographers these days: Marshall, and the execution of her dancers, makes the space palpable. In "Askew," it seems to be resisting the bodies of the pliant, often hunched Chad Levy, the fierce Keesha Beckford, the bright-eyed fireball Jennifer Warren, and the silky rocket Marshall. This dance kind of proves my point; while Marshall introduced it as having something to do with competition, I think she really under-sells her own choreography; the dance was not so simple. If the four players are competing at all, it's to see who can find more interesting ways to explore the space. Confrontations do happen, but they're more along the lines of this kind of challenge. And Marshall doesn't break the combinations down obviously -- into male-female couples, for instance.

Most-defeated by a very blatant introduction, I think, was the excerpt from "Parasite." As if we wouldn't have guessed it by the red-twine on blue costume on Marshall and the blue-twine on red costume on Levy (or maybe it was the other way around), or the title, or the opening motif of Marshall astride Levy with clinging hands and akimbo clinging legs, it was explained to us before the dancers entered that this dance was about...a parasite. And that Ms. Marshall was the parasite and Mr. Levy the host. And that parasite and host can have a complex relationship. Again, the dance itself did offer a complex duet open to many interpretations, and, despite the speed (would a parasite really work so quickly?), full of nuance -- but the pre-explanation had the effect of hamstringing us to one plot line. I would have liked to be able to interpret this dance more widely, since what the choreographer (and the dancers) were giving me was open to multiple interpretations. A complex relationship between a couple, for instance: they need each other and they terrorize each other at the same time. But with the verbal instructions, I felt constricted to one meaning, and one meaning only, for this dance. Both my imagination and the choreographer's work were sold short.

Where the explanation most alienated me was when we were told, somewhat vaguely by Mr. Levy, that "The Crofts" had something to do with a character in some upcoming movie whose title was mumbled by Mr. Levy. I gather from the newspapers that there's some character called Laura Croft or Kroft, who lives in cyber-land or something, and around whom a new movie is centered. But I for one am not familiar with this character or the movie, and I resented being essentially kept out of understanding the meaning of this particular dance by being told it related to a TV show or movie I'd never seen. I've nothing against Ms. Marshall making a dance that plays on pop culture -- I'm all for that. But even allowing that I'm in the minority, and that most people would have understood the reference, it's lazy dance story-telling to clue them to it ahead of time. If this character is so well-known, and if it was Ms. Marshall's intention to create a dance based on her, that suggestion, covert or overt, should have been in the choreography, leaving viewers to reach that conclusion on the basis of what they saw, not what they were told. (Show not tell.) Perhaps it was, but by verbally telegraphing the subject ahead of time, Ms. Marshall lessened the effect on those who would have understood the reference, and basically alienated people like me who might not know that show, but who would have otherwise certainly found something else interesting in her movement. (Altho a section to random, quite unmusical percussion went on to long, to the point where it seemed relentlessly overbearing.)

The gift of dance, dance-watching, and especially dance-reviewing, is that if a choreographer has any kind of chops, there is no one correct interpretation of the story, narrative or non, that the choreographer and dancers are telling. "There is no right way to see my dances,'" Stephen Petronio once told me. Amy Marshall's dances are not boring. For one, in the dances that featured male-female or male-females interaction, the interchange was not simple. I understand the helpful inclination to speak to the audience at a showing, particularly when that audience includes potential backers or presenters. But really, as countless Arts Presenters showcases have made clear, that interaction doesn't have to involve connecting the dots of the actual dance before it is shown, and thus depriving the watcher's experience of the joy of discovery. Tell us about your company. Tell us where you came from. Tell us what you can do residency-wise. Heck, if you really fear the audience will find your dances oblique, fine -- give them the opportunity to ask about them AFTERWARDS. But don't take the mystery out of my dance-going experience; don't limit the myriad ways I can see your wonderful work; and above all, when you have the tools to create interesting dance, as Ms. Marshall so clear does, don't proscribe its reach by spelling out in black and what ahead of time what it's all about, Alfie.

You can and should check Amy Marshall Dance Company later this summer, at Battery Dance's Downtown Dance festival (where it will probably not be preceded by explanations).

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