Hankins and Wallich Split Bill A Powerful Debut

Written by Mariko Nagashima

(Dancer Erica Badgeley. Photo by Tim Summers)

While both Allie Hankins and Kate Wallich have been given the nebulous title of “emerging choreographers,” with their split bill this Friday and Saturday evening (November 18 and 19, 2011) at Velocity Dance Center, it’s fair to say that both artists have fully “emerged.” The works presented were raw yet cohesive, sophisticated yet edgy, firmly establishing each as artists in their own right.
Hankins opened the show with her solo work, Like a Sun That Pours Forth Light but Never Warmth, based on her exploration of the legendary dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Hankins captured Nijinsky’s magnetic stage presence, acknowledged his extreme virtuosity, and addressed his mental instability all with her blend of quirky, stylized movement. In a departure from the normal proscenium seating, the space was arranged with the audience lining both the front and left side of the studio theater. By boxing in the stage, the set-up created a focal point (at what is normally the upstage right corner), from which a swath of red fabric spilled dramatically to the floor. When the lights rose, Hankins sat resolutely upright on this fabric runway, topless, with her back to the audience. She moved almost imperceptibly to arch her back, chest rising to the ceiling, a picture of tension-riddled grace.
After gently patting gold glitter across her bare upper chest, her arms appeared controlled by an outside power as they sliced the air. The rest of her torso trailed after as if distantly observing her own appendages. Alluding to Nijinsky’s schizophrenia with a shifting mask of expressions, her face finally melted in relief as her hands touched behind her neck in a moment of calm. Later, Hankins compulsively repeated a phrase, escalating in time with Ravel’s “Bolero.” These pointed repetitions echo the yearning toward perfection inherent in dance, with which Nijinsky doubtlessly struggled. Each iteration brought a slightly different accent, an elongated arch here, a crisper turn there, but all ended equally abruptly with Hankins pacing back to her starting point. Reflexively ticking her arms at odd angles, she began to hop repeatedly. In a nod to the famous danseur’s ability to hover in the air, Hankins jumped indefatigably higher and higher, until, just when it seemed impossible for her to maintain such elevation, the lights brusquely went out. 

(Dancers Kate Wallich, Matt Drews and Erica Badgeley
in rehearsal for “Room with Themes.”
Photo by Lena Simon)
Similar in intensity but entirely different in subject matter, Wallich’s work, Room with Themes featured a cast of five talented dancers. Entering the stage during intermission, the dancers sprawled across the floor in various positions, moving gently as if still warming up; Lena Simon’s composition of insistent chimes and fuzzy static played in the background. This unnecessarily protracted intro left the audience unsure of whether or not to be attentive, until the lights finally dimmed to a glow in the center of the stage. While the work had no narrative, it examined the necessity of shifting relationships when possibilities are restricted. Through specific patterning and movement choices, Wallich constructed invisible boundaries that the dancers grasped and shattered. Beginning with a solo, energy rippled through Wallich’s limbs, small and large movement flowing forth like a stream of consciousness; the effect heightened by a contrasting rigidity through her neck. Dancer Lavinia Vago created a vortex of barely restrained tension and far reaching extensions in her ensuing solo. All five dancers coalesced as the static intensified; with a burst they ducked lower, as if hit by a force-field radiating from the center of their group. This concept was repeated at different points across the stage, the performers forging spatial connections only to have them broken. A similar cycle continued through several dynamic duets and solos, only to have the quintet regroup with a series of heavy hops, perfunctory arms, fleeting arabesque lines, and militaristic walks. 
The dancers assaulted the space with the force of their movement, yet maintained the control to precisely stop their trajectory, retracting and instantaneously redirecting their elastic energy. Their remarkable synchronicity, even through tics of motion at break-neck speed, stemmed from a collective energy almost visibly pulsing between them. Room remained tight without feeling forced, with an intentionality behind each movement that lent extra depth to the steps.
A potent example of dance at its most raw and powerful, Wallich and Hankins both, are extraordinary talents who will doubtlessly continue to make their mark on the Seattle dance scene. This performance can be seen again tonight, November 19, at Velocity Dance Center at 8 PM. Tickets are $15 at the door.