writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

Motion Tabled

Sleeping Beauty and Other Stories
Susan Marshall & Company
2003 Next Wave Festival
BAM Harvey Theater, Brooklyn, N.Y.
October 24, 2003

By Nancy Dalva
Copyright ©2003 by Nancy Dalva

The pivotal prop in Susan Marshall’s Other Stories is a table. A table sets the scenes; a table, moved hither and yon, is the scenery. A real case of deja vu all over again: Just a few weeks ago, there was a raft of tables on stage in Brooklyn when the Frankfurt Ballet danced William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced. Tables! Tables are the new chairs. And plot is hot.

Or vestiges of plot. Marshall’s Sleeping Beauty, which precedes Other Stories, is a metaphor about a metaphor—an interpretation or meditation on the idea of a beauty, asleep (or locked away) and resistant to rescue. The narrative is vague, if full of clues. The fairy tale itself, of course, not only submits to all sorts of deep analysis (spindle, pricked finger; hello, Dr. Bettelheim! Hello, Dr. Freud!) but also provides superficial pleasures and satisfactions, among them romance and charm. Marshall strips away these latter qualities. The ideal response to her dance would be emotional, visceral, swoony; the least desirable would be to sit there thinking “It’s beautiful, and I’m asleep.” But the choreographer does have a predilection for beautiful, low lit torpor. If this dance and the audience were buddy breathing (perhaps on a deep sea dive for meaning), the dance would be taking more than its fair share of air.

Marshall’s Beauty is Kristen Hollinsworth, now in her ninth year with the choreographer, and here clearly her muse. She is not a princess royal, and she is not in a palace. Rather, Douglas Stein’s clever grayscale set of suspended mesh-embedded windows forms three sides of a chamber. The only decor is industrial light fixtures, also pendant; Mark Stanley devised the varied light plot that serves to demarcate the scenes. Beauty’s prison could be a factory; it could be a locked ward; it could be a jail; it could be her mind; it could be of her own devising. She “sleeps” not by staying still on a bed, but by collapsing onto the floor. Hence various people lift her up, and she joins them, in duet or in ensemble, for a time; then she differentiates herself by lapsing again into collapse. Watching this, you might decide that she is supposed to be asleep the whole time, and that we are watching her dream; or that she is awake the whole time, and we are watching a tussle; or some combination. At the end, instead of her joining the wakeful, the rest of the cast comes rolling onstage and into sleep.

The characteristic gesture of the dance is the giving of a kiss, as in the ballet, but with a variety of kissers. One such smooch is on her neck—a love bite?—but I don’t think vampires enter into the dance, which all in all is kind of unfortunate. The whole earnest affair could use an infusion of nice, red corpuscles. But to go on, Marshall’s male and female kiss deliverers not only buss Beauty but also one another, engendering the idea that they are also trying to wake each other, or to pass along or to share the power to awaken. The waking up is a kind of group activity, with all of the dancers potential “princes.”

In keeping with this ethos, the dancing itself has a group-think look to it, with a vocabulary quite shallow, and reliant on repetitive gestures and phrases. Beauty, for instance, spent much time standing bent in half with her hands on the floor, her back arched in mini-hyper extension, dragging or pushing an arm back and forth. (This extending of the back is something seen in much current modern dance , and also, incidentally, in Degas ballerinas. It’s not particularly good form, but perhaps frees up the arms and shoulders to act as legs and hips.) In type, Marshall’s choreography is generically post-modern. Just like her narrative, it operates at a remove from its sources. A generation or two removed from Trisha Brown, and less limpid; a generation removed from Doug Varone, and less weighted.

This is not to say that Marshall is not cognitive of antecedent. Buried within Sleeping Beauty are the signature ballet balances of the Princess Aurora greeting her suitors. Here, they are performed on flat foot, with one arm bent up and back over the head, and the other stretched behind, separated by time, and alone. You could make a case for there being a Lilac Fairy, too, but it would be a stretch. Still, there is a narrative arc to the dance. It is one story. The second part of the program was just the opposite—not that it was no story, but several, chopped up. Other Stories included a kind of vaudeville with some headsets and a light stanchion, and a bizarre ritual involving a body on a table. This could have been a very strange cooking show; it could have been very strange surgery. The body was Beauty’s, still wearing her first act costume; later you could see it underneath the white dress she would wear, with a sort of kimono tied back as a jacket. Kasia Walicka Maimone’s costumes here, as in the first half, were high fashion remnants—shrugs and an apron affair reminiscent of Geoffrey Beene, and sexed up separates à la Roberto Cavalli. It all looked carnivalesque and Italianate and surreal; some Fellini-esque snatches of music underscored the correspondence. Both halves of the evening had sound scores by Jane Shaw, with compositions (by David Lang and Annie Gosfield, and by Shaw herself ) re-mixed into patchy bits. In this way the music was like the costumes, and the costumes were like the choreography. The parts never added up, though a febrile vigor bound the inconclusive whole.

Originally published:
Volume 1, Number 5
October 27, 2003

Copyright ©2003 by Nancy Dalva



Back issues

Index of Reviews
Back Issues
About Us
Contact Us

Sister Sites:
Ballet Alert! Online
Ballet Talk
Ballet Blogs



Mindy Aloff
Dale Brauner
Mary Cargill
Nancy Dalva
Gia Kourlas
Gay Morris
Susan Reiter
Alexandra Tomalonis(Editor)
Meital Waibsnaider
Leigh Witchel
David Vaughan


The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

DanceView is available by subscription ONLY. Don't miss it. It's a good read.  Black and white, 48 pages, no ads. Subscribe today!

DanceView is published quarterly (January, April, July and October) in Washington, D.C. Address all correspondence to:

P.O. Box 34435
Washington, D.C. 20043


Copyright ©2003 by by DanceView
last updated on October 7, 2003