Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Choreography as therapy: Award-winning dancer Marroquin doesn't miss a step as she goes through cancer treatment

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Through it all, Sharon Marroquin has not stopped dancing.

Through the chemotherapy, through the surgery, through the sickness.

In January 2010, the three-time winner of the Austin Critics' Table Award for Outstanding Choreographer learned she had breast cancer. But rather than put her dance-making on hold, Marroquin instead used her considerable creative instincts as a means of understanding. And sharing.

Over the course of the past year and a half, Marroquin has been developing "The Materiality of Impermanence," a multipart evening-length dance that charts the course of her journey from cancer diagnosis through treatment and recovery.

Marroquin will perform the latest chapter - "Between Death and I, You Stand" - on July 2 and 3 as part of the Big Range Dance Festival that starts Friday. In its fourth year, the festival showcases the work of independent choreographers from Austin and beyond.

"Having this project to think about gives me something to channel my emotions with," she says.

"It somehow gives what I'm going through some significance and makes it meaningful."

Marroquin conceived of "Between Death and I, You Stand" as a duet with Ciara Walsh, an 11-year-old who has been Marroquin's student for several years. (Marroquin teaches at Tapestry Dance Company's academy. She is also a bilingual elementary school teacher.) Collaborating with a child is the choreographer's artistic gesture toward her 7-year-old son.

"Throughout all of this I've felt my son is only thing that keeps me here, keeps me putting one foot in front of the other," Marroquin says, who has endured multiple chemotherapy treatments and several surgeries.

The physical challenges of sickness have had an enormous effect on someone whose body is her artistic instrument. Stronger now than she was a year ago, Marroquin has nevertheless been more than alert to the corporeal changes that cancer has dealt her.

"It's a new body. It's a new normal," Marroquin says. "(Surgery) changes how you identify with your body and how you move. And then there's a general feeling of being mutilated and generally weakened that you have to work through."

Marroquin's artistic journey through her illness has impressed her peers.

"Sharon is an incredibly articulate choreographer," says Ellen Bartel, choreographer and organizer of Big Range. "I am in awe of her ability to clarify, through the abstract expression of dance, complex emotions about her own personal life and also of what she observes in the world."

"(Last fall) Sharon performed the most stunning duet, and her attention to physical detail was impeccable," Bartel says. "This is all while in the throes of chemotherapy when she had no hair and was physically gaunt but was totally striking."

Marroquin's hair has begun to grow back now and her energy level has increased.

"I'm optimistic," she says, about the course of her illness. "I can do something with this (disease). And creating this dance is my way of sharing with people not just the ravages of what one goes through (with cancer) but also the beauty of the human spirit."

jvanryzin@statesman.com; 445-3699

Big Range Dance Festival

When: Multiple performances and shows Friday through July 3

Where: Salvage Vanguard Theatre, 2803 Manor Road

Cost: Individual shows $5-$15. Festival pass $40.

Info:www.bigrangeaustin.org