GLASS SLIPPER TOTEM
Molly Shanahan and Madd Shak
at Link's Hall, June 24 and 25
First impressions really do matter. After the houselights had gone down for Glass Slipper Totem at Link's Hall and five dancers and musicians had slipped into their places, I was assaulted by an extremely loud crash from the drum set. I threw my arms into the air to protect myself and started to contract into a fetal position. "These people are trying to hurt me," I thought.
Of course "those people" weren't trying to hurt me; they just wanted to express their pain. My paranoia subsided but didn't entirely leave me: I still didn't trust these people.
Nor did this evening-length dance give me many good reasons to trust them. Although Glass Slipper Totem intriguingly combines dancers and musicians who dance, the piece focuses intently on suicidal thoughts, tangled and fruitless relationships, and the dangers of getting lost in complete self-absorption. A duet by Molly Shanahan and David Dieckmann seems at first like a new friendship or romance: side by side they repeat the gestures of touching their own faces and solar plexuses, scraping the floor with their fingers, and collapsing from the waist. Then Shanahan pulls Dieckmann to his feet by the arm; he walks away, but she leaps on his back. They repeat the sequence a couple of times, going faster, then break into a duet filled with bruising and violent movement: slapping the floor, making obscene gestures, grabbing each other, collapsing. It's a good picture, but a bleak one, of a relationship gone sour.
The dance tells the story of a person in a downward spiral of depression. After the collapse of the protagonist's relationship, she briefly considers a lesbian affair. Shanahan and Dardi McGinley dance; weighted falls and temporary balances connect each movement with the next. As Ann Shanahan sings "I don't want to marry myself," the protagonist rejects that option.
But the spiral downward continues. Dancers and musicians alternately recite lines of insightful but disconnected confession: "I am not confident of the bonds in myself. I want luxury. I want inner peace." The final words of this section are "I have work; I need inner hunger." They scatter petals from bouquets of daisies, then rip the heads off the daisies and scatter those. At the end of the first part, Shanahan hangs from Dieckmann's arms like a corpse.
The second half of the piece is about gaining a provisional faith in continuing. The black costumes of the first half are replaced by gauzy white shirts and pants. Kevin O'Donnell plays his drum kit like congas and talks about why people consider suicide: because it makes them realize they're alive, because it makes them the center of attention. While he speaks the dancers catch one another, rather than throw one another down or carry one another like burdens. When Dieckmann speaks for the first time he's the voice of sanity: "I was born with a star on my left shoulder. When you said that you didn't love me, I knew you were lying." The moment of faith occurs when the narrator senses a connection with others in a verbal image of a wooden reed vibrating within herself. In a heavily underlined conclusion, all five performers repeat "It will never be the same again" several times, dropping a word each time.
Much of the dancing is good, particularly McGinley's and Dieckmann's. Dieckmann is a musician who just started dancing, but his leaps and barrel turns are soaring and virile. McGinley has a plangent solo in the second half on a stage strewn with oranges.
The story is more problematic. Molly Shanahan, who wrote the poetic text, believes that self-absorption is a driving force behind suicidal depression, and certainly those who have survived depression have a burning story to tell. But a deep depression is not caused by self-absorption, which is only a side effect. The causes of the protagonist's depression are hidden, but certain clues in the performance itself--the assaultive beginning and the mess of oranges and crushed flowers on the stage at the end--suggest unresolved anger. I wish that Shanahan had not gotten lost in the cul-de-sac of self-absorption but had followed the straighter road anger offers to the causes of depression.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Frederking.