New York-based choreographer Susan Marshall is not what you’d call a romantic. Her bracing vision in Sleeping Beauty is more despairing than affirming: she sees attempts to rescue others as controlling and uses the classic fairy tale as a commentary on our culture. It’s disturbing to watch the prince manipulate Sleeping Beauty–hauling her by one foot, arranging her in various poses, pulling her head forward, clasping her from behind around the shoulders and waist and then pulling her head back. Yet it’s sad, even nightmarish, when she appears oblivious to him at the end. The other five dancers in this piece for seven adopt the Sleeping Beauty and prince roles, but in a different context: to the noise of machinery, workers haul sleepers on and off an assembly line of rolling bodies. I found myself not wanting to be asleep or awake in this world, though overall the sleepers seemed better off: early on Sleeping Beauty adopts a proud virgin-huntress pose–very upright, one arm overhead, one leg in arabesque–that made me think being unawakened to love might be preferable to the alternative. Douglas Stein’s set design is marvelous: he suspends several panels of mirrored and translucent glass panes in a three-sided square open to the audience, forming a kind of arena within the stage space. Stein’s set for Marshall’s second piece, Other Stories, is just as spare and evocative: an oversize fluorescent light hovering above a table/bed, a chair, and what looks like a coatrack with a blinking light on top. Other Stories touches on some of the same themes as Sleeping Beauty–isolation, fear of being manipulated–but I found it less satisfying. The multiple characters and tales can be confusing and give the piece a fragmented feel, at least on tape. Still, Marshall’s choreography is consistently top-notch, using a “gestural” vocabulary at once familiar and strange, as if it’s come from some parallel universe. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, October 2, 8 PM. Through October 4: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $20 Thursday; $24 Friday-Saturday. Note: Marshall and her dancers offer a discussion after Thursday’s show and before Friday’s, at 7 PM. The company also conducts a master class Saturday, October 4, from 1:30 to 3:30 at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, 1147 W. Jackson; the cost is $15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Brett Roseman.