Molly Shanahan '90
“Dance fans, take note: There's something of a revolution in what she is doing.” –Zachary Whittenburg, TimeOut Chicago, May 2010.
Canadian-born choreographer Molly Shanahan’s choreographic work is recognized for its distinct movement vocabulary characterized by virtuosic fluidity and a performance ethic that fosters the release of tacit muscular armoring, an approach conducive to meaningful and moving artist/audience exchange. When she was 24 years old, Shanahan launched the organization Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, which has provided a facile and adaptable organizational home for her movement exploration, performance research, and choreographic collaborations for over twenty years. The company is now led by Shanahan and a lean artistic staff in partnership with an international board of directors that focus on creative research, experimentation, and risk over institutional growth.
Shanahan is recognized as a “singular voice in Chicago Dance,” (Zac Whittenburg, TimeOut Chicago) who has been “distilling the essence of performance—the relationship between audience and artist— for years, exposing the honest beauty of the body in its natural state: fluid, organic motion” (Sharon Hoyer, New City Chicago). This is evidenced both by critical and audience response to her projects and by organizations like Links Hall (Chicago), the National Performance Network, and the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, among others, and local and national funding agencies, that have endorsed and supported her work.
Shanahan’s work has been performed in Chicago at The Dance Center of Columbia College, Links Hall, Storefront Theater, and others. Outside Chicago, Mad Shak has performed at Alverno Presents, Joyce SoHo, Lawrence University, Denison University, Dance Theater Workshop, Tangente (Montreal), and as a featured artist at the National Performance Annual Meeting in 2005, among others. In 2004 Mad Shak was the recipient of the Chicago Dance and Music Alliance’s Elizabeth F. Cheney Dance Achievement Award, citing Shanahan’s impact on the field and promise for continued innovation. In 2007 Timeout Chicago named Shanahan as one of 20 “Chicagoans to Watch”.
During the last decade Shanahan embarked on a new creative trajectory responding to her desire to risk the dismantling of old movement habits, outdated perceptions about the body, and to reexamine her adherence to the conventions of contemporary dance in process, performance, and organizational leadership. During this period she pursued two extended projects (Eye Cycle ’03-’05 and My Name is a Blackbird ’06-’08) involving new collaborations and in-depth movement research resulting in a new vocabulary, refined core values and renewed questions around dance and performance. This period advanced her investigation of the energy of the observer and/or the observed relationship as a palpable alchemical agent in spontaneous composition.
Following My Name is a Blackbird Shanahan formed a new ensemble for Stamina of Curiosity, the omnibus title for a multi-year project in which she translates the discoveries of solo practice to a group of dancers. The project emphasizes the capacity to be emotionally and kinetically transparent in the performance of both live- and pre-composed dances.
Though she has now begun to incorporate both original and pre-composed music into her projects, Shanahan’s commitment to commissioning and collaborating is manifested through her decade-long collaboration with Kevin O’Donnell (1994-2004), now an award-winning composer and sound designer for theater (Chicago, New York). O’Donnell composed Shanahan's Blackbird's Ventriloquy with Marielle Allschwang and Ken Palme.
Shanahan received a Bachelor of Arts in Dance and English from Denison University and a Masters of Arts in Dance from The Ohio State University. She was on the faculty at Northwestern University (2003-2012) before pursuing a PhD in Dance; she teaches as a guest artist for local companies, offers intensive workshops in building solo practice and creating ensemble work, and partners with university dance programs on residencies associated with the creation and presentation of her of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, University of Alaska, Anchorage, among others).
Shanahan is currently a doctoral candidate in the Dance Department at Temple University and the recipient of the school's most prestigious fellowship award. Her doctoral research focuses on her embodied transformation through the freeing of abdominal musculature to move, rather than control, the pelvis and spine, a transformation that subverts normative employment of a “core” to centrally control the body and, related, conformity to aesthetics of ideal fitness and femininity. She is writing a scholarly personal narrative influenced by phenomenological practice that connects her embodied work to theory.
She is the recipient of two NPN Creation Fund Awards, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, an Illinois Arts Council fellowship for choreography, and a 2010 Meier Achievement Award, among others. TimeOut Chicago listed My Name is a Blackbird as one of the “top ten dance moments of the decade”. Shanahan was included in New City's 2010 and 2012 feature “The Players, 50 people who really perform for Chicago: “discarding the rules of modern dance, Shanahan puts movement under the microscope, cultivating gorgeous organic phrases by observing motion at an atomic level.” (Sharon Hoyer, New City).