Why blame Chekhov?

By MARCIA B. SIEGEL  |  April 2, 2007

Dancers can do anything nowadays, and dance vocabularies can be made of shrugs and struts and winks just as well as pirouettes. In some way, Barton’s piece and Pederneiras’s seemed classical to me, in that they were formally constructed and didn’t ask us to do anything except track the movement and absorb its resonances.

Susan Marshall, whose new work Name by Name I saw Thursday night on a student concert at the Juilliard School in New York, seems to be doing the same thing, only her dance doesn’t slather the movement with excess or insulate itself with irony. It’s more exposed, more open to interpretation. For 18 female dancers, with a minimalistic score for piano and orchestra by David Lang, Name by Name suggested some of the Chekhovian themes that eluded Eifman, and it did so without any narrative rigmarole or stylistic spin.

Marshall works with an economical movement mix — falling, rolling, leaning, naturalistic running, ballet steps, a few specific gestures woven into the ongoing stream. All the dancers share this lexicon, yet they expand on it in individual ways. Twice, the black drape at the back of the stage is lifted and some dancers fall out, like prisoners being released into the light.

Several of the women in turn stand in a strong spotlight and begin the same solo, hugging themselves, twisting their arms above their heads. The others scramble in and out, streak across the stage, ignoring their soloing comrade. She seems isolated from them, self-involved, but her movement is effortful. Some of the other dancers gather around her, and eventually, in ways I don’t always see, one solo dancer is replaced by another and the process begins again.

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