This full article appeared in the Spring 2012 issue of “Backstage”, a publication of The Dance Center of Columbia College.
In December of 2010, I spent a week working alone at Silo, a dance residency/space in rural Pennsylvania where my days unfolded with a fluid and non-routine series of rituals– long movement explorations in the studio, meditation, reflection, and walks through the fields and in the woods.
I was captivated by the sunset over a period of several days marked by bitter cold and coal-crisp starlit evenings. When the sun began to set, the landscape transformed with the languid motion that light offers a patient eye. I found that hour of sunset to be a powerful time: beautiful, melancholy. Entranced, I never figured out how to watch the light in a way that would properly honor my fascination with it, my wanting to honor it in some way by paying better attention, witnessing it with more something.
Midway during that first week I wrote the words “the delicate hour” in my journal. I realized later that I was describing that haunting hour of sunset, when everything is changing, nothing graspable, yet filled with a poignancy that still brings me to tears. I felt the whole world changing before my eyes, and since then I’ve looked back on those moments as a metaphor for movement: the magic of change and the promise of loss in a second-by-second dead heat.
A few years ago I was with my dad in northern Canada, sitting in his white mini-van on our way to launch his small sailboat on a small lake. We were talking about what my dad broadly refers to as “spirituality.” He was pointing out a section of tall slender reeds, blowing gracefully, audaciously in the July breeze. His 70-something hazel eyes, almost but not quite just like mine, filled with tears. This surprised me, embarrassed me a little. He was undone by these reeds. And these are the questions he struggled to ask through his quiet tears: Do they know? Do they know that I see them? And do they know they’re spectacular?
I have what is becoming a lifelong relationship—sometimes I think of it as a love affair—with movement and performance. It’s led me again and again to a microscopic space, in time and in myself, when movement is being created, found, articulated in my tissues and, almost simultaneously, grows elusive, like a breeze that moves a curtain but then subsides. Sometimes I see my body as the curtain, waiting to be moved by a breeze that I don’t control. Sometimes I see the audience, you, as that breeze. A force of invisible activity, alchemy is the best word I can come up with, that meets me, changes me. And I wonder, a lot, in the introversion of my process, if you know. If you know that in the darkness of the theatre, if only for that hour, somehow I see you. And know that you’re spectacular.
Molly Shanahan is the Founder and Artistic Director of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak. The Delicate Hour appears in Pivot’s Multi-Arts Festival June 20 & 21.