To adapt a novel for dance, you have to distill and capture its essence–no easy task. Yet that’s what Mad Shak, a talented young company of six dancers and musicians, has attempted in the evening-length The Wanton Seed, based on the 1962 Anthony Burgess novel The Wanting Seed, set in a society of the near future. Reverting to the name of the old English folk song from which Burgess took his title, Mad Shak has created a work all its own, with music primarily by company member Kevin O’Donnell and choreography by artistic director Molly Shanahan and the other dancers. Biggish chunks of the novel’s text are imbedded in the piece–dialogue and a lecture that reflect the romantic triangle at the center of the book and Burgess’s thoughts about the cycles of fascism and liberalism underlying political history–and part of the charm of Mad Shak’s work is the reflected glory of Burgess’s brilliant social criticism. But dance happens to be the perfect medium to express the essential human nature he believed to be at odds with these political cycles. A ritualistic sequence like a folk dance and such gestures as the forearms pulled in sharply at the rib cage or fingers strumming on another’s neck are repeated until they achieve a rich resonance. O’Donnell’s repetitive, sometimes ominous, sometimes soothing music also resonates; when the folk song of the title is played near the end, a grinding dirge at odds with the merry tune lies beneath it. Friday and Saturday at 8 in the Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center of Northwestern University, 1979 South Campus Dr. in Evanston; $5-$8. Call 847-491-3147 for information; tickets available only at the door. –Laura Molzahn

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Kirsten Sorton.