Mad Shak Dance Company | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mad Shak Dance Company 

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Making an evening-length abstract dance must be like setting out to sea without a compass or a map. But Mad Shak artistic director Molly Shanahan finds her way in The Days of Pandora, a 50-minute piece for seven dancers set to a score by company member Kevin O'Donnell. Using touchstones from her own life--the story of Pandora, read during a crucial summer when she was eight, and the image of bare trees against subtly shifting winter skies--Shanahan creates a work with a strong emotional arc and lots of kinetic texture but no story whatsoever. The movement is characteristic of her choreography: lots of big, violent rocking motions and swings of the arms and legs alternating with "whispered" gestures, like a hand curving around an eye or splayed fingers counting down, five, four, three, two, one. O'Donnell's layered score starts with Satie-esque single notes, then a stronger melodic line is added and, later, percussion that evolves into almost a rock beat, propelling the dance's thrilling middle section; abruptly all music ends and the score starts over, contributing to a sense of exhaustion as the final section begins. There are no characters, but each dancer's personality emerges loud and clear, clarified by the physical demands of a piece with few resting places. Weaving together solos, duets, trios, and unison and canon movement, Shanahan creates a dance that's all of a piece yet richly varied. Atalee Judy's lacy but austere costumes well convey the delicacy and sturdiness of trees. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, February 15, 8 PM. Through February 24: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 PM. $18.

--Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/William Frederking.

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