Susan Marshall likens the process of choreographing The Most Dangerous Room in the House— a 75-minute dance-theater piece playing at BAM’s Majestic Theater December 16 through 20— to excavating. In the studio, she sees her role as uncovering what’s already there. She has always acknowledged the creative contributions of her dancers, but in this piece, “the proportions are different.” The final version includes “whole chunks” of the dancers’ original source material that for Marshall are like unearthed treasures.
The work’s title evokes the everyday fears and anxieties that haunt domestic life. (Statistically, Marshall says, the most dangerous room is the bathroom.) Throughout, the dancers inhabit a turbulent emotional realm, given voice by actress Norma Fire, a central figure who utters a fragmentary, imagistic text written by Marshall’s husband, Christopher Renino. Choreographer and writer aim to expose the heroine’s emotional layers. Renino, who came into the process when the dance was mostly made, responded to themes he saw in the movement— claustrophobia, longing, separation, and sensuality. Describing small-scale activities— such as cutting a watermelon and letting the halves rock apart— he sought to create a text that lacked a traditional narrative, but still had a visceral connection to events onstage. David Lang of Bang on a Can composed a score that intensifies the mood, ranging from calm transcendence to ominous foreboding.
A run-through offers moments of startling drama and intimacy. Marshall starts not with these emotional effects but with the movement. She directs her dancers “to vacillate between two points while moving toward an objective,” and is surprised and gratified by the sensual duet that emerges. She considers the piece a breakthrough because she’s allowed the movement to reveal a greater degree of violence and intimacy. Her dance is never abstract. “There are so many resonances to everything the human body does— I find that very moving.”