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Susan Marshall & Company

'Cloudless'

by Carmel Morgan

February 9, 2008 -- The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago

The Dance Center of Columbia College, located in downtown Chicago, presented the last of a series of performances of “Cloudless” by New York City-based Susan Marshall & Company on Saturday, February 9, 2008.  “Cloudless” is a breath-taking tour de force worthy of the praise that has been heaped upon it, including a 2006 Bessie Award (the New York Dance and Performance Awards for Outstanding Choreographic Achievement).

Eighteen beautiful and thought-provoking vignettes compose “Cloudless.”  Each could stand on its own, as an independent poem, but they all work amazingly well together.  Marshall’s highly theatrical choreography is compelling.  Her six dancers are masters of expression.  The slightest glance relays a wealth of meaning. =

“Cloudless,” somewhat ironically, begins with a cloud.  In a blue sky that is projected onto a small square screen on stage left, a lone white cloud somewhat threateningly appears.  When the screen is pulled up, the cloud remains, hovering like a sheep made of bath sponges, sans appendages.  Artist Deborah Farre’s lustrous cloud, which is made of 25 miles of fishing line, sets the stage for ruminations on human relationships that pass like the variously shaped shadows cast by moving clouds.  The costumes are versions of familiar dance wear – athletic shorts, t-shirts, pants, skirts, and miscellaneous undergarments, mostly in muted colors.  

The first dancer to take the stage, Petra van Noort, in the title piece, “Cloudless,” has urgent, jittery, imploring, expectant, and pensive gestures.  Her fingers are lively, as is the piano music, Etude no. 2 by Philip Glass.  Van Noort’s hands make circles, then flip.  She frequently glances up.  She nervously twirls and shakes her long curls.  At one point, she grips an edge of her t-shirt in her teeth.  It is a gorgeous solo, full of odd, vulnerable movements that recur like waves. 

There are no dull moments in “Cloudless.”  In fact, there are too many curiously moving moments to count.  In “Frame Dance,” a tangle of dancers curls together in a large frame, like a litter of kittens, body parts overlapping.  At the same time, on a screen on stage, a naked female among the boxed tangle is partially covered by bottoms, feet, and falling autumn leaves.  In “The Sound,” an intimate lovers’ duet to “Crimson and Clover,” high-pitched screeches spew forth when dancer Stephanie Liapis’s mouth isn’t tightly covered.  In “Cup,” a tea cup precariously perches on van Noort’s rear end, and a spoon rests between her toes.  In “Book,” a quartet of dancers raptly observes the pages of a book, which flutter in the breeze of an electric fan.     

Themes repeat themselves and make the work whole.  One theme is hindrance.  In “Solo,” Luke Miller attempts to perform a solo, yet he is continuously interrupted.  The music is a rocking track called “Bold Forgetting” by Wim Meterns, accompanied by loud banging and the sound of dropped objects.  Miller collapses, then restarts his dance, at times staring directly at the audience, almost begging for help.  Soon bodies begin to interrupt his solo, not just sounds.  Dancers comically scoot across the stage on their backs, suddenly shooting out from the wings.  Perturbed, he pushes the bodies back, but they keep coming, first on the floor, then in rolling chairs, followed by a parade of large set pieces, all in lines that cross the stage like lanes of traffic.  In “Ladder,” Liapis, hoisted by ropes, is made to climb a ladder backwards.  She is horizontal like a superhero, facing the ground, as the tips of her toes creep up the rungs.  She tries, in vain, to escape her Sisyphus-like fate, clinging to a grassy mat, but the other dancers force her up the ladder again.      

Gestures are repeated, too, adding to the surprisingly seamless feel of “Cloudless.”  There are the pants that fall down, the arms that tick like a metronome, and the madly wringing hands, all of which reappear as the piece winds down.  An air of sadness and an awareness of the passage of time also unite the work.  Although a palpable tension permeates “Cloudless,” it is ultimately a tender and uplifting piece. 

The final scene of “Cloudless,” called “Credits for a Solo,” features rolling screen credits.  The credits reflect roles as diverse as “doctor,” “nurse,” “rude man,” “nice math teacher,” “hot dog seller,” and “kid who smiles.”  Only after the lights go out do the “real” credits begin to roll.  “Cloudless,” like one’s favorite movie, merits multiple viewings.    

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