Monday, April 6, 2015

Kate Wallich's Splurgeland

Lavinia Vago (left) and Kate Wallich in "Splurgeland"
photo by Tim Summers
We live in the information age.

Check that.

We live in an age of hyper-connectivity.

Friends, driving directions, emotional counseling. They’re all available with the swipe of the cool, impersonal screen on the tiny computer we carry with us everywhere. That accessibility flings us into a world of stimuli, entertainment, communication, and, ultimately, dis-connectivity.

At least, that’s a vision that choreographer Kate Wallich lays out for us in her newest work “Splurgeland,” premiered at Seattle’s On The Boards April 2-5, 2015.

Wallich and her company, The YC (co-director Lavinia Vago, Matt Drews, Waldean Nelson and Andrew Bartee) dance a dystopian, moody portrait of 21st century American society. Their world includes a surfeit of soft drinks and potato chips that promise bliss, a garden of perfect happiness, constant selfies, and a prevailing sense of joyless-ness.

Vago and Wallich knife a duet diagonally across the shiny white floor. They are mirror images of sharp arms and legs. Occasionally they touch one another’s bodies, but that touch only grazes the skin. Their faces are impenetrable masks, their human souls seemingly untouchable.
Lavinia Vago and Kate Wallich in "Splurgeland"
photo by Tim Summers

In a rare moment of peaceful beauty, Wallich, Vago, Drews and Nelson are prone onstage. In unison, they lift their torsos, arms arced overhead. Each dancer scissors her/his legs, swimming smoothly across the floor. That unison is lovely, but short-lived.

This  “splurge” culiminates not in calm, but in a cacophonous scene where Wallich, Drews, Nelson and Vago move to her/his own frenzied rhythm as Johnny Goss’ chaotic score gets louder and more discordant.
Waldean Nelson, Kate Wallich, Matt Drews and Lavinia Vago in "Splurgeland"
photo by Tim Summers

That’s not to say Wallich hasn’t thrown us some bones of relief. Bartee, a former Pacific Northwest Ballet standout now with Ballet BC, appears in a swath of white light as “Splurge God.” Stripped to turquoise briefs, he throws himself into a frantic solo that’s part gym workout, part exasperated disgust with what the four mortals have wrought. While it was great to see Bartee back on a Seattle stage, this particular scene felt shoe-horned into an otherwise self-consciously serious performance.

Special kudos to Amiya Brown for a splendid lighting design. The white floor reflects everything from a harsh white glare at the show’s onset, to a soft blue, to the eerie blacklight, neon strips, and a strobe.
Kate Wallich with Waldean Nelson
photo by Tim Summers

And how about Waldean Nelson! 
It was a pleasure to watch this dancer channel a grace that seemingly comes from somewhere beyond the music and choreography. I hope he becomes a YC/Seattle regular!

Ultimately, Kate Wallich paints a bleak picture of the 21st century legacy my baby boomer generation has bequeathed. “Splurgeland” is Wallich’s most ambitious work to date in her young career, and the audience loved it. I can’t help but think Wallich has a lot more to give us as an artist.  She’s smart and talented, and it will be interesting to watch her grasp on her choreography matures.

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