Susan Marshall & Company cast its dancers into a swirl of chaos and calm in its latest work “Play/Pause.”
The piece, still considered a work in progress, is finding a sure path during a summer residency at Skidmore College. There, Marshall and her six dancers, along with three of the four musicians from the musical group Dither, are refining the work in preparation for its New York City premiere in November.
And while the piece is slightly underdone, “Play/Pause” is a thoughtful work that keeps its audience at attention.
Both the dancers and the live electric music by David Lang — played by two guitarists and a drummer — set the work in motion, swinging it from the two poles. The piece resonated a hushed peace or a whirlwind of activity. And in both, choreographer Marshall aroused contemplation of the modern world, our attachment to electronic media and its effect on humanity.
The work, shown Friday night in the Dance Theater at Skidmore, began with Luke Miller pulling and ripping at gaffer tape and placing its strips along the floor. Dancer Ching-I Chang took a live microphone and banged its head into the tape and slid it along the floor. Christopher Adams moved about center stage — his torso rippling as his arms flew around him to the sounds of pulsing and scraping.
Then the music began, a minimalistic, percussive riot that set all the dancers in motion. They hurled themselves across the stage — running and jumping in and out of view. This pendulum between turbulence and tranquility kept the work teetering on edge all evening.
Marshall obviously wanted the audience to not simply ride the sights and sounds; she wanted them to contemplate them. At one point, dancer Pete Simpson stepped off the stage with the microphone. He amplified his breath, in and out, then prompted the audience to join him.
Electronic media, represented by illuminated frames on stands, took over. Looking through a glass of rectangles, the dancers fogged them up with their breath. At one point, Chang taped over the glass, shielding Miller’s mouth and eyes from view, but Miller grabbed Chang, sinking them both to the floor. It was as if Miller’s vision or view was trapped. And even though Chang taped him over, he could still reach out and affect or infect her.
Marshall & Co. performers were a dynamic crew fully invested in the dancemaker’s yeasty brew of athleticism and pedestrian gestures. If the dancers were not soaring, they were signaling with their hands. The ending was especially poignant, with Chang and Kristen Clotfelter standing quietly and gesturing “heart,” “break” and “stop.”
With the heartbeat and breath, Marshall was indicating we are one. But those heads behind lit glass — television, computer and phones — surrounded the dancers in the end and shattered this basic fact. It begged the question, once you hit play, can you ever pause?