Molly’s Biography

Molly Shanahan is the Artistic Director of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, the Chicago-based company she founded in 1994 to support her research in choreography, performance, and collaboration. Through her career, Molly has developed a distinctively fluid vocabulary with a singular purpose: to find and express the most unbridled of inner impulses. She continues to deepen and hone her singular approach to movement and the body, which feeds her multi-modal collaborations and the public performance of her solo and ensemble dances. Shanahan's "trademark organicism" – equal parts movement laboratory, curiosity think-tank and spiritual practice – proceeds from getting lost in the wilderness of matter, imagery, and psyche, and creating a pathway of memory and relationship to find the way home. Shanahan's recent projects emphasized the capacity to be emotionally and kinetically raw in performance of both improvised and composed dances. The series tapped into the profound alchemical phenomenon of the audience/performer relationship. 

Molly is the recipient of two National Performance Network Creation Fund Awards, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, and an Illinois Arts Council fellowship for choreography, among others. Her critically-acclaimed evening-length solo My Name is a Blackbird was listed as one of the "top ten dance moments of the decade" by TimeOut Chicago. Shanahan was included in New City's 2010 feature "The Players, 50 people who really perform for Chicago: "discarding the rules of modern dance, Shanahan creates gorgeous organic phrases by observing motion at an atomic level." She is a member of the Dance Program faculty at Northwestern University, teaches at the Lou Conte Dance Studio and conducts workshops and teaching residencies in Chicago and nationally.


Artist Statement

I am fascinated by the merging of knowing and not-knowing, planning and spontaneity, curiosity and control. 

My movement is developed through my quest to discover, heed and express the authentic internal impulse. The result is typically undulatory, fluid and sensual – and often characterized by intricately connected gestures and overlapping spatial loops. I try always to articulate it with impeccable attention to detail and honesty. A big part of the process involves the softening of excessive force; in so doing, I attempt to confront the unconscious fears that come with letting go of habits. Through this process, I have been delighted to discover a profound tenderness for the vulnerability and humanity of the witness – and a renewed curiosity for the implications of live performance.

When I dance I am transfixed; I hope that this state invites the audience to experience more of themselves. And if my work nudges unspoken desires--for transformation, sensation, renewed vitality--into more focused consciousness for the witness, this is a welcome and fulfilling result.

–Molly Shanahan, September 2010

She was named by Time Out Chicago as one of the “20 People to Watch in 2007” and most recently received an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship Award in choreography in 2008.