After We Tied One On

A dreamy, evening-length concert by Molly Shanahan and her Chicago-based dance troupe captures the “Delicate Hour.”

By - Oct 27th, 2014 01:55 pm
The Delicate Hour. Photo by William Frederking Photography.

The Delicate Hour. Photo by William Frederking Photography.

Molly Shanahan is the Artistic Director of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, a Chicago-based company she founded in 1994 and her critically acclaimed evening-length solo, “My Name is a Blackbird,” was picked as one of the “top ten moments of the decade” by Time Out Chicago. “Moments,” as it turns out, is a nice description of what her group achieves.

Shanahan and her group have also had a long association with Alverno Presents, beginning with a one-week residency at Alverno back in 2008. This weekend the group performed “The Delicate Hour” at the black box theater in UW-Milwaukee’s Mitchell Hall, and prior to the concert Alverno Presents director David Ravel noted that this year included a collaboration with UWM, whose dance students enjoyed a one-week residency with Shanahan’s group leading up to this concert.

“The Delicate Hour” begins with a fascinating vignette, as dancers Kristina Fluty, Benjamin Law, Jessie Marasa and Molly Shanahan stand tightly together, stare straight ahead and sway to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” Their presentation is offbeat, with the female company in short, draped evening dresses and Law in dress pants with a bow tie hanging undone around his neck.

The scene unfolded with quirkiness and grace, as each dancer performed actions that set them apart from the group, like a super slow-motion eruption that toppled their states of hypnosis. Something about it reminded me of a Coen brothers movie – certainly “The Gambler” carried that impression, but it was also the way in which their goofy movements didn’t quite make you feel safe. Their mildly disheveled getups and manic, slow-motion gestures felt poised to break out or apart at any moment — the speed to pick up, the music to cut out, the tone to turn on its head — which sometimes happened and sometimes didn’t. It was all executed perfectly, keeping you smiling and content, but anxious.

The Delicate Hour transitioned into its dreamy middle, now backed by ambient music (and dead silence at times), covering the entirety of the black box space. This company of dancers was a delight to watch, interacting with a fierce familiarity and trust that made the choreography irresistible. And anytime that the foursome came together to react in unison, it was magic. In particular, a series of awkward yet heartbreaking hugs unfolded in fitting silence, with the dancers weaving themselves into each other, then floating away with a slight look of worry on their face as another dancer overtook their absence.

At some point, it occurred to me that The Delicate Hour had the feel of a drunken night surrounded by friends. Maybe this had something to do with Kenny Rogers leading the opening chapter, and the company’s tousled evening wear. The ensuing phases were approachable and sweet and weird – as if the group had tied one on, gone to a party, and decided they’d rather continue their night at home curled up in the warm living room, occasionally rising to dance shamelessly and profess their unwavering love for each other.

Even a seemingly too-long stretch accompanied by Gregorian chant was forgivable in the context of a dream-state, and certainly the choreography continued to hold your attention for all the right reasons: it was lackadaisical with punches of aggressiveness, it was professional, it was heartwarming.

The evening wrapped up with a charming bookend, the dancers lined up again at the front of the space to unwind and sing along unabashedly to Brett Dennan’s “I Ain’t Gonna Lose You.” The same manic movements from earlier were repeated in an entirely new context, making utter sense, now ours to recognize and feel in our bones. The tone was spot-on and felt satisfyingly like a finale, like drifting away at 3:00 a.m., wonderingly content with your friends.

The Delicate Hour Gallery

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