When Susan Marshall made Sleeping Beauty, she threw out nearly everything in the fairy tale except the dazed princess herself. Yet watching this absorbing work unfold at BAM’s Harvey Theater, I kept imagining that I could see fragments of the familiar story glimmering in the somber light. Unlike choreographers who think in terms of pure, otherworldly abstraction, Marshall planted her dancers right on earth, giving the movement a very human sense of weight and intention that made it seem legible—even if deceptively so.
This Sleeping Beauty zeroes in on a single moment, namely the one that comes right before the traditional happy ending. Marshall and her company seem to have deconstructed this moment, scrutinizing and dissecting it until it became a stream of fragments and perspectives, with dancers restlessly crisscrossing the space as if they were trying over and over to get to a reward perpetually out of reach. Often they planted kisses on one another, but then brushed right past; these kisses did no good. Nothing was going to help these creatures connect; their solitude shadowed them.
At the center of it all was the princess, the only definable character in the piece. Kristen Hollinsworth, long-legged and deliberately gawky, spent the dance hovering between sleep and transformation. Her tiny pants and skewed little top, with one sleeve long, the other short, and a single bare shoulder, made her look incomplete and perilously off-kilter. Bending over from the hips as she often was, her pipe-cleaner legs almost sprawling beneath her, she was constantly struggling for balance, as if she could barely reconcile the parts of her own body, much less straighten up to confront the world.
Mild havoc took place from time to time, with dancers getting pulled or spun or carried around; but although these interactions were impersonal, they weren’t mechanistic. Emotions were always driving this helpless, inconclusive roughhousing. If the fairy-tale Sleeping Beauty had ever awakened for real—woken up to the harsh side of happily-ever-after, and the plaintive stumbling that constitutes love among grown-ups—she would have found herself face-to-face with Susan Marshall.