"Marathon Dancing" dance-play runs Dec. 3 to 6

Mason Gross School Dance Department Artistic Director Julia Ritter is collaborating with Zishan Ugurlu, resident director at New York City’s La MaMa Theatre, to choreograph the play Marathon Dancing: Letters to Wall Street in the Era of Wonderful Nonsense. The show is  inspired by the 1969 Sydney Pollack film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and the Horace McCoy novel of the same name. The piece is free and runs December 3 to 6, 2015, at Loree Dance Theater on Douglass Campus.

Ugurlu draws parallels between Depression-era dance contest participants desperate for a financial windfall that often didn’t arrive, and angry letters written to bank executives in the wake of the 2008 meltdown, collected the volume The Trouble is the Banks.

Ritter says of the letters: “They allude to the beliefs individuals have, that in doing the right thing – by investing one’s self in work and society – life will work out.” 

Here, Ritter discusses her approach to the play:

What has been your greatest concern/challenge creating movement for this piece?
To choreograph movement for people who are supposed to be exhausted marathon participants. I don’t feel it is particularly interesting to watch tired people hang on each other, so I have had to explore how to incorporate movement vocabulary so it is dramaturgically correct as well as visually interesting and of course, exciting for the dancers to perform.

How did the film inspire you?
The book was more inspiring as there were only the images my own consciousness offered, rather than having to consider the images that Sydney Pollack brought forth in the film. I’ve tried to consider the language in the text--how McCoy plays with the font size, increasing it at times in the book, which helped me consider where movement needed to be more powerful and what would be the impact of movement as it deteriorated.

Why is this story relevant now?
The dance marathons of the 1930s were like gladiator competitions--often people in unfortunate circumstances, economically disadvantaged, and searching out any possibility to make money, including subjecting their bodies to torture and abuse. These early marathons have been reiterated in culture, television and film through reality TV shows, most specifically Survivor and movies like The Hunger Games. There was an undercurrent of racketeering in the early marathons that resonates in reality competitions of today and certainly the concept/reality of racketeering comes into play when we consider the economic crisis of 2008 and the unscrupulous activities of some bankers.

How does dance tackle our 2008 economic collapse?
Dance itself does not tackle our 2008 economic collapse--rather, it is the effort of the body, the exertion over time, and the constant pushing against failure that is metaphorical for the work that we all do in the world to succeed.


Marathon Dancing: Letters to Wall Street in the Era of Wonderful Nonsense is free, but reservations are suggested. On December 6, Mark Greif, co-editor of The Trouble is the Banks, will be on hand for a post-performance Q&A. For reservations, call the Mason Gross Performing Arts Center ticket office at 848-932-7511.

This performance features loud noises, gun shots, nudity, strong language and adult themes. Not appropriate for anyone under 12.

Posted November 2015