Tenderness And Roughness

Tenderness And Roughness

A genius illustrates what it means to hold the title

Susan Marshall is mature enough she can let her roots show—and they are gorgeous. Her latest creation, “Cloudless,” presented at DTW, recycled some of her older, more intimate and gestural work, and, now, with a company of outstanding dancers on which to arrange her movement, her genius is on display more clearly than in previous, larger scale productions. These tender, clever, thoughtful, beautifully performed vignettes are precious and delicious, a river of alternately riotous and quiet nature. The integration of video is effective, shifting perceptions of real and mediated at the onset using screen, projection, and sculpture, and later between live and recorded, birdseye and eye level.

It’s also refreshing to see a woman make work that shows women being flung and gagged by a man, or pulleyed via harness backwards up a ladder—and enjoy it. Marshall is not making universal statements; there is a personal honesty to her work that is even more powerful.

The range of means with which her dancers manipulate each other is, in fact, what makes this work so appealing. The touching, stroking, arm dance, with Joe Poulson and Luke Miller seated, turning pages of a large book against the wind of fan, as Darrin M. Wright and Kristen Hollinsworth sit behind them, standing to kiss the men, and each other. The way the group takes hold of parts of Wright, first captive, then soaring, as they lift him into the air. The duet with Poulson and Hollinsworth, where her mouth is covered to silence her scream, and she is wielded, at times, like a rag doll by a warrior.

The unambiguous trio with Poulson, Wright, and Petra van Noort—who continually has her clothes pulled off throughout the dance. Or the duet in which Miller configures Hollinsworth’s bottom as his tea table, and her foot as his infuser dipping instrument.

Each performer also has their individual spotlight, and they are welcome pleasures. The tranquil fluttering fingers and flinching collapse of van Noort, which starts the action; the long lunging lines of Miller’s compulsive dance, invaded by dancers on another plane; Poulson’s ferocious triple-step, fist thrusting jumping, running; or Wright’s amazing solo backlit on a table top—the first half with feet planted—all upper body and arms, and the second a primal, crouching perimeter check, grabbing with the hands, reaching with the feet, focus down. All of these motifs resurface, brilliantly.

The pacing suffers a little from transitions, particularly where stage hands have to assist. But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Like a dream, the flow of imagery and sound is pleasant, unpredictable, sensually familiar, and psychologically episodic.