Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88.3
“STAY THE HAND” – Malashock Dance
AIRDATE: APRIL 11, 2008
When he came out to greet the audience, as he always does, choreographer John Malashock told an illuminating anecdote. A man went to the tailor to have a pair of pants made. After the measurements were taken, he waited weeks and weeks. Finally, the pants were ready. They were absolute perfection – the fabric, the texture, the cut, the fit. But the man still couldn’t resist chastising the tailor. “It took you six weeks to make these pants,” said the man, “but it only took seven days to create the world.” “You’re right,” said the tailor. “But just look at these pants !… And look at the world.”
Malashock has been looking at the world through his dance creations for two decades. And his latest world premiere, the crown jewel of his company’s 20th anniversary season, is a high point of his collaborative work. Eighteen months ago, Malashock teamed up with Iranian composer Shahrokh Yadegari, professor of sound design in UCSD’s department of Theatre and Dance. With a backdrop of Persian poetry and music, the co-directors delved into biblical and mythic tales, cultural traditions, and the conflict between good and evil, in an effort to highlight our shared origins and encourage reconciliation and harmony.
The title was inspired by the Old Testament story of Abraham, whose descendants fathered both Judaism and Islam. Abraham is told by God to sacrifice his young son; the patriarch reluctantly agrees, but at the last moment, an angel intercedes, telling him to “stay the hand.”
Malashock and Yadegari’s “Stay the Hand” is an exciting, exotic experience. The music is haunting, sometimes elegiac, sometimes strident, a striking, at times unnerving mixture of folk instruments and melodies and electronic capabilities. The setting is simple, stretched fabric shapes bathed in shifting light. The costumes reflect the theme of black-and-white duality. The poetry, read in Farsi, provides a textural backdrop, rich with atmosphere and mystery.
Malashock’s choreography is highly energetic and athletic, bodies in constant motion, drawn to each other, catapulted apart. The dancing is thrilling, performed by a stunning ensemble of eight, including Malashock himself, returning to the stage for the first time in years. He’s created an exhilarating suite of ten segments that focus on polarities and contradictions, conflict and resolution. Drawing from traditions of Judaism, Islam and the ancient Zoroastrian religion of Persia , the dances highlight the tension between brothers, sisters, friends and enemies. We see violence, lust, seduction and rape. And finally, unbridled joy, culminating in a heart-stopping ending with a dancer flung into the air, and when she’s at her peak, hovering above the others, the lights black out, leaving us with a feeling of suspended breath and expectation.
The world being what it is, we’re all in that suspended state of uncertainty and hope.
[ Malashock’s “Stay the Hand” runs through April 13 at the Birch North Park Theatre]
©2008 PAT LAUNER