In 1984, Arms helped signal Susan Marshall as a major artist and innovator in the history of contemporary dance when it premiered at PS 122 in New York City. The Village Voice called it “a small masterpiece.”
Arms, a five-minute duet performed most often by Marshall with company member Arthur Armijo, was a game-changer in the New York “downtown dance” scene and an important early example of Marshall’s innovations in expanding the formal structures of post-modernism to include everyday gestures and theater experiments. This was a departure from the cool-headedness of the Judson Dance Theater era of the 1960s and 70s, and the spectacle of the 1980s. What set Marshall’s work apart was her ability to calibrate repetitive minimalist structures to imbue everyday gestures with emotional resonance.
In 2006, Deborah Jowitt wrote in The Village Voice, “Watching Marshall’s choreography, from the 1984 duet Arms and her 1987 Interior with Seven Figures onward, I’ve been profoundly moved by the emotional resonance she coaxes from the simplest movements and patterns. She makes the lift of an arm speak in several languages at once, and you somehow grasp them all.”
“This duet became a signature work for our company. It was one of my earliest collaborations with two very important figures in my work, dancer Arthur Armijo and composer Luis Resto. Oddly enough, this one brief work charted the direction of the rest of my choreographic inquiries.” —Susan Marshall