by Rita Charleston
It’s Paris, 1923, at the home of Isadora Duncan. The “Mother of Modern Dance” is in decline. Past her prime but still enjoying suitors and supporters, the middle-aged American expatriate scrounges for financial support to start a dance school in Italy. The play, “When She Danced,” written by Martin Sherman and directed by Maurizio Giammarco, comes to the stage at Allens Lane Art Center, 601 West Allens Lane, being performed May 16 and 17.
In the role of Duncan is Mt. Airy resident Susan Chase, who said Duncan is one of her lifelong heroines. A recent transplant to our area, Chase, who said she is “in my 50s,” spent the past 15 years in the Lehigh Valley, where she worked as an actress, director and playwright with the Pennsylvania Youth Theatre, Muhlenberg College, Lafayette College, Cedar Crest College and Lehigh University.
Having been a professional dancer for most of her life, Chase says she first got involved with acting during her college years. (She holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Brandeis University and a masters in Education from Lehigh University.)
“Over the years I’ve acted, directed, choreographed and continued to dance,” she explained, “but being able to both dance and act brings me the greatest pleasure, so I think this role could not be more perfect for me.”
However, one of the challenges she faces in doing this role, she said, is the fact that there are no films of Duncan dancing. “So our director came up with the brilliant idea that we just see glimpses of her dancing. And I love that because I wouldn’t know how to reconstruct her dancing, and doing so would have gone against every principle Isadora held close to her, which was that no dancer should try to imitate her but rather find themselves in the dance.”
Chase has performed at such venues as Washington’s Smithsonian Museum, the International Theatre Festival in Santiago Chile, and others. Since 2007, she has been performing her original one-woman show, “Susan’s Undoing,” at various venues throughout the U.S. The play uses dance, music, text and multi-media to depict one woman’s battle and survival of breast cancer.
“This is my story,” said Chase, “and it’s a horrible, traumatic part of my life. I was diagnosed in 2002, and it’s interesting that even when the doctor told me I was cured I didn’t feel cured until I wrote this play. It became my own way of expressing myself to myself and then finally feeling I was cured.”
Since Chase wrote the play for herself, she could incorporate dance and acting. “I never thought I’d find another role, but along came this one. How many roles ask you to use both talents? Not very many. So I’m absolutely thrilled that this one came along, not only to mark my Allens Lane debut but my Philadelphia debut as well.”
While in rehearsals for “When She Danced,” Chase also did a film called “Vilified,” which focuses on a group of non-white high school students and explores subtle forms of racism that the students experience. It’s due for release next month. “I also did a showcase in New York called ‘Somewhere I Can Scream.’ It’s a steamy murder mystery set in Ohio in the l920s,” she said.
Today, Chase feels the need to create another one-woman show, and she thinks she’s found the perfect subject. “I’ve been looking for a historical figure to base it on, and it might just turn out to be Isadora Duncan. Whereas ‘When She Danced’ depicts only a day in the life of Isadora, I’d love to explore her whole, fantastic life.”
Tickets for “When She Danced” are $18 with reservations or at the door for $20. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. More information at 215-248-0546.