Another Op’nin Another Show: Susan Marshall’s “Play/Pause” at the Dance Center (review)

Susan Marshall & Company, photo by Max Lakner
Susan Marshall & Company, photo by Max Lankier

The Dance Center of Columbia College’s 40th season opened last night with the world premiere of Susan Marshall’s Play/Pause.

It was kind of a big deal, for a few reasons:

1) The Dance Center turns 40 this year.  I wonder if, when founder Shirley Mordine started all this, she ever could have imagined how successful a place it would become.  As an alum, I’m lucky to have danced on the same stage as Merce Cunningham, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Trisha Brown, and now, for the fifth time, Susan Marshall.

2) Play/Pause is a world premiere from a New York based company.  Most of the time, the Dance Center is one stop on a tour between Toledo and Minneapolis, or Tulsa and Deluth.  It’s not a place that typically gets the first shot at showing a work that wasn’t dreamed up here. The excitement surrounding this fact alone was evident in the crowd, and,

3) In light of both of those things, and to kick off the season with a bang, Mayor Rahm declared September 20, 2013 the official Dance Center Opening Day in a proclamation read to us by DC Chair Onye Ozuzu.

… and I thought Thursday night at the ballet was exciting.  The best part about all of this, is that Play/Pause didn’t suck.

It was actually kind of amazing.

Susan Marshall's "Play/Pause", photo by Max Lakner
Susan Marshall’s “Play/Pause”, photo by Max Lakner

Admittedly, I didn’t know a whole lot about Susan Marshall and her Company of six dancers before last night.  The DC stage was surprisingly bare – with the soft goods almost entirely stripped to expose the side lights and back wall.  Much of Play/Pause was lit by the props onstage, which included a massive piece of plywood that would be decorated with gaff tape throughout the evening, florescent tubes attached to mic stands, and very interesting head-height plexiglass rectangles with wireless blue back lights.

The choreography was the sort one might usually see performed to music by Philip Glass, or Arvo Part, or some homemade Garage Band mix of atonal sound effects and classical music played backward.  You know what I’m talking about – we’ve all done it. Instead, we had the original score of Pulitzer Prize winning David Lang played live by musicians Taylor Levine, Michael McCurdy and James Moore, with occasional infusions of canned sound too.

Throughout the evening, I kept thinking, “Wow, these guys are so cool.”

I think that, in part, was the point.  Play/Pause is meant to investigate the juxtaposition between high art and pop culture, and it turns out they can get along really well.  Most apparent for me were moments that clearly drew from dance parties and music concerts – for example, a section of unison step-touching at center center. This morphed into what I thought looked like a bizarre, disinterested club scene accompanied by two guitars, drum kit, and glockenspiel.

Though Play/Pause appeared simple, easy, and effortless in both its staging and movement, everything was exceedingly more intricate than it seemed.  I would have forgiven bobbles and technical difficulties due to the exacting detail required to pull off this show… there weren’t any to forgive. From a gorgeous trio with Chin-I Chang, Luke Miller, and a microphone, to some seriously satisfying dance-y sections, to the strikingly profound image at the end (no spoilers from this girl), there is really nothing to not like about Play/Pause.

Susan Marshall & Company’s World Premiere “Play/Pause” continues at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago through Saturday.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.