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Monday, Oct. 19, 2009

Alverno Presents Molly Shanahan’s World Premiere

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Choreographer Molly Shanahan founded her Chicago company Mad Shak knowing she had something to express in dance.  Fifteen years later, she’s crystallized her vision. After years of collaborative work with large groups of dancers and live musicians, during which she built a national reputation, she made a full length solo for herself in 2003. The “simultaneity of exhilaration and fear” she felt while performing it inspired her to look more closely at what happens to a dancer in performance.

 It took two years to conceive an approach, and two more to evolve a movement vocabulary from her deep experiences while dancing. The result was a new soloin 2007. Working like a jazz musician, trusting to intuition guided by the values she’d developed from years of work, she found she could compose each performance uniquely as she danced it, responding to authentic psycho-physical impulses and the moment-to-moment exchange of energy with the audience. To do this, she had to sustain an intense curiosity about all that was occurring while she danced.

The next step is Stamina of Curiosity, a full length piece for four dancers which will have its world premiere in Milwaukee on Saturday, Oct. 24 as part of Alverno Presents’ 50th Anniversary Season. Two male and two female dancers have worked with Shanahan since the start of 2008 to absorb her movement vocabulary, which is focused in the core of the dancers’ bodies, and her performance technique.

Alverno Presents has played a nurturing role.  Director David Ravel met Shanahan in 2007 at a conference for nationally recognized artists and presenters. After seeing her solo, he offered to support the creation of “the next chapter.”  He arranged an extended 2008 residency at Alverno for the ensemble to concentrate fully on the work, and another two weeks of finishing time prior to the premiere on Saturday.  Shanahan calls Ravel “a fabulous steward of this project who has made sure the work gets the attention it needs from the artists. He’s helped me deepen my process and trust my wild geekiness.”

Meditation is part of each rehearsal. One common assumption about dancers is that they are merely bodies in service to a choreographer’s vision. Shanahan’s dancers have trained themselves to “witness” all that happens to them in performance. She compares it to a luge ride at the Winter Olympics: the choreography creates the track, but the uncontrollable bumps and shifts are the real ride. If the dancers are closed to their own psychic responses, the audience will see only line, space and movement patterns. If they are open, the audience receives that spiritual/physical energy and dances along to its own deep places.  

The show starts at 8 p.m. at Alverno College’s Pitman Theatre.

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