Splurge Land: Hollow Excess

Photo by Tim Summers.

Photo by Tim Summers.

The stage is lighted, flat, no colors. The audience is still filing in. I am sitting in my seat.

I don’t want to read the program. I don’t want to take notes. I just want to sit and watch.

The stage layout is asymmetrical but with touches of symmetry within it. To the left there is a makeshift plat of green plants arranged neatly into a square. Probably meant to represent a grow farm. There is a tombstone that reads “Positive Life”. There is a large projection screen above it.

At the rear of the stage, center: two artworks hang in a diptych, one an abstraction that looks a bit like four people in different colors, with an inset painting of large white X on a black background. The second painting is itself a large painting with a white X on a black background, inset with a small white abstraction that looks like the other painting. Symmetry inside asymmetry.

On the big screen to the left, a movie plays. People move slowly, dance socially. There is lots of drinking and smoking. Lots of slo-mo camera work as the projection loop completes its circle and plays again. Perhaps this is meant to introduce the audience to the idea of excess, a kind of characterization.

To the right is a couch. Some props. A basketball. A phone. At the middle of it all is the playing area. The floor is shiny and reflective.

And then the dancers saunter, walk, stumble on to stage, one at a time, each on a line. They are in the same space but they show no awareness of each other. Happiness is off in the corner, stretching, bopping to his own internal beat. Bro is hanging out opposite the room from him behind the grow farm. Black Juicy sits on the couch playing with her phone and smoking like she’s just discovered cigarettes. Blue Juicy climbs on the crest rail of the couch, preening like a cat and pointing her arse up at the audience.

Then the stage goes dark and there’s a boom of sound. Lights flash. The dancers stand up.

And so it begins. Small movements by individuals. Loose couplings form. The energy is sexual, unemotional, vibrant, cold. All the dance moves reflect this. It’s a study in excess. It’s all very ironic, very hip, very over-the-top.

And I absolutely don’t care.

The man on my left spends most of the evening flipping through his program. The one to my right nods off. I’m completely aware of them the whole evening, even as I try to stay focused on the stage. Times like this I hate being such an empath.

I know I’m supposed to be enjoying this essay in excess. I know how Kate Wallich is Seattle’s anointed Wunderkind of the moment. I’ve myself written positively about her work before, though with some reservation. But I do not belong to the grand coterie of Seattle dance, nor certainly to its cabal of queenmakers. In this piece all of my reservations are explicit. Certain sections seem almost exactly lifted from other work, especially her own. At some point I swear I am watching sections of -frequency in different dress. The rarefaction of movement is almost antiseptic at times. And yet, it’s filled with so much stuff. Nothing stuff. Unmoving stuff.

I stay in it as long as I can. The man beside me now has his head in his hands. The man to the other side of me wakes up. There have been three solos and an odd number of unison dances with the odd dancer out wandering about the perimeter of the staging area. I’m waiting on the fourth solo. Instead, all the dancers leave the stage and the music stops. I am thinking the show is done, but I know it isn’t. No way would Ms. Wallich not give her fourth dancer his own solo. Suddenly from a door at house right bursts forth the Splurge God. He dances awkwardly yet purposefully, flinging himself around the entire space, knocking over the green plants, contemplating the basketballs, preening on the couch and in the corner, all in silence and a single stark light. The Splurge God takes virtually all the movements of the first part of the show and condenses them, parodies them–burlesques them, even. At first it’s silly. Then it’s funny. Then it’s over-the-top. Then it’s way too much. Then, finally, it’s not enough. I am left thinking, “Okay…and?”

As the Splurge God leaves the stage, I’m thinking the show is over. How can one top that? And then the second half of the show begins. Now I’m antsy. Especially since it’s more of the same. I do get to see my fourth dancer do his solo, but the rest is a blur. The structure of the piece is so top-heavy to me that there is little chance of drawing me back in. I make a token effort during the final ensemble dance to tune back in but I’m already on sensory overload.

As I leave the theater, I feel dread. I have to go back home and write. But what? That it’s finely crafted, stylish, a great leap forward for Seattle’s most superlative young choreographer? Or do I get snarky and write “Ambitious…but rubbish”? Or do I have no opinion at all, praise the artist’s reputation and try not to make waves in the dance community in which I am already treated as an interloper who isn’t serious about dance? Or do I simply tell the truth? Because the truth is I’m largely bored by the work. I’m sensible enough to know that’s my problem and not Ms. Wallich’s. I know that whatever it is, it’s simply not my kind of piece. Her work is finely crafted and stylish–but I’m not sensitive to her style. I want Ms. Wallich to say more or, alternately, to do less because I am a simpleton and I need clarity and elegance. Such clarity and elegance would be as out-of-place in the world Ms. Wallich is evoking as a Republican at a gay rights rally.

All this is on me. I am certain that others who know much more about dance and belong to the ambiguous “dance community” of Seattle are going to praise the piece to the skies. I know this because the two people beside me who were actively bored and twitching throughout the show gave the show a standing ovation, no matter how disingenuous. Everyone in the “dance community” will support whatever she does like tigers defending their cub, and lavish her with praise and resources because they are convinced of her talent and more importantly their own righteousness. No point in trying to change or even merely to question that. As they are the experts and I am merely a curious observer, I defer to their judgment. I will simply have to learn more. Maybe I can figure out exactly what people see in Ms. Wallich’s work that suggests she is the next Lucinda Childs. I’ll just go home and read some more and watch more films and hope that the revelation strikes me, and that I too can join the dance community in their entente.

Filed under Dance

Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net