Marchland: A Spare But Visually Stunning Piece

By Laura Molzahn / Chicago Tribune
March 15, 2010

In the Seldoms’ new “Marchland,” boundaries and alliances are formed only to be broken. Isolation from others and collaboration are equally unproductive; there is no equilibrium or security. No one is safe.

Have you been transported to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border? Or sent to visit your dysfunctional family? Performed Friday through Sunday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, “Marchland” was unsettling whether you saw its shifting battles over territory as political or personal. Choreographer-director Carrie Hanson is rigorously abstract as well as unsparing, so “Marchland” isn’t easily accessible, either. But in its own prickly way, it seduces the viewer: It’s drop-dead gorgeous.

Harsh, emphatic black lines are everywhere, courtesy of artist Fraser Taylor, who supplied the striking animations and designed the spiky, forbidding, fencelike structures running along both sides of the stage and jutting almost into the audience. Tim Daisy’s spare but expressive percussion, played live in response to the movement, underscored Julie Ballard’s dramatic shifts in lighting. In fact, the hour-long piece is a well-orchestrated symphony of brief scenes as the eight dancers’ world shatters and slides into chaos again and again.

Hanson’s lean movement, unencumbered by extraneous gestures, never telegraphs emotion. That doesn’t mean the dance is unemotional, but the feeling can be ambiguous. Repeatedly, a dancer folded her arms over her chest only to have another tug them apart. Our sympathy is divided: The person tugging is like a rejected child, yet the one crossing her arms has a right to claim and guard her own territory.

Cutting up movement and scattering the fragments throughout the piece, Hanson’s choreography created a teasing, elusive sense of unity. But sometimes the onslaught of repeated fragments and the constant themes of coercion, flight, immovability and aggression seem undirected, lacking a dramatic arc, much less resolution. That makes the quiet, self-contained oases in “Marchland” welcome. In a scene of casual, impersonal embraces, the dancers are ciphers, switching partners randomly, moving like water through alliances whose terms are rigid and unchanging.