Marchland: Chicago Creatives Go Deep Into Each Other’s Territory

By Zachary Whittenburg / TimeOut Chicago
March 11, 2010

A long-gestating collaboration among seven artists from different disciplines, The Seldoms’s Marchland is a fairly huge piece even coming from a company known for producing large-scale work. We dropped in on a run-through of Marchland as it was nearing completion – its world premiere is Thursday 12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art – and sat down with the creative team afterward to discuss how its many pieces fit together.

Marchland’s set, designed by architect Joel Huffman and artist Fraser Taylor, makes its boundary themes audience-inclusive: Each side of the stage is demarcated by a jumbled, matte black fence that extends well beyond the proscenium and into the house. Our sight line onto the dance is along a border, rather than across it – both viewers and dancers share the same charged space. It’s being built in a giant South Side garage where the Seldoms presented “Convergence” in 2008. Taylor says the process couldn’t be further from his work on CREVICE, the hand-drawn 16mm film that inspired Marchland. The garage has no heat. “It’s been fun,” Taylor says dryly. “I’ve never built anything this large before or done anything that involves power tools and getting frostbitten.”

Percussionist Tim Daisy coaxes an extraordinary sonic range from his modest kit, using custom-built tools, a metal pan, a wad of heavy chain and his “monster brush” – a frayed plastic broom – in various combinations. “I like the boom boom mallet,” says choreographer Carrie Hanson. The score, performed live, grinds heavily forward to match Hanson’s visceral, flesh-on-bone movement, but relaxes into quiet ascension for one brief and moving stretch. As dancers Cara Sabin and Bruce Ortiz cross the space grabbing each other’s arms, Daisy is striking and muting his cymbal. The identical actions are an effective union of image and sound.

Carrie Hanson and Taylor met in London a decade ago, unbeknownst to Lara Miller, who pegged the two as ripe for some kind of joint project. “One of the reasons why Lara thought Fraser and I might find some common ground is because we both have an interest in abstraction,” Hanson says. “Especially in the last few years, and in putting together evening-length work, if not for its duration, I want to at least offer up readable, tangible and accessible moments that people can latch onto, like the legend at the bottom of the map. A way in.”

Amanda McAlister lies prone on the floor with flexed feet. Sabin walks to McAlister, crouches down, flexes her feet the same, and locks their ankles together. This linking of body parts reappears throughout Marchland; in another moment, dancers facing in alternating directions hold each other’s wrists and sway forward and backward. There’s a bit of compulsive reattaching of their grips, as though they’re about to play Red Rover with Dick Butkus and aren’t sure their chain will hold.

The ballet barres that line the walls at Visceral Dance Studio make impromptu hanging racks for Miller’s costumes. Miller designed olive, navy and ochre separates to replace her initial concept of all-white garments she describes as “pleated and airy. I had taken it in a really abstract direction, when something less costumey and more pedestrian was going to be a better fit,” she says. Hanson also wanted durability to withstand the piece’s aggression and frequent contact. “And I said, ‘Like cargo pants?'” Miller and Hanson, laughing, recall “the khakis conversation.”

“I’m usually more drapey, more sculptural with my work, so I’ve had to rein it in a bit and create my own borders,” Miller says.

“The recurring theme I have in my studio practice about borders and boundaries came about when I relocated from London to Chicago. Being here made me so aware of physical divides. There’s a neighborhoods aspect to London as well, but they ramble into one another. They aren’t blocked as rigidly as they are here, by the grid.” – Fraser Taylor

The dancers finish, but Hanson says that’s not the ending. “There needs to be some kind of final action, one that doesn’t introduce any new information but comes out of all of these physical barriers [the dancers] are creating. Also, there are some sections that are butting up against one another right now, and I feel like we need to find that ground where it transitions from one to the next and makes sense as a shifting of states. The question about some spots is, ‘Now, why would they go there, and why would they come back out?'”