George Balanchine famously said that there are no mother’s-in-law in ballet, that dance cannot communicate that kind of abstract idea. In fact, the repertory is full of works that establish all kinds of relationships, but the fundamental truism underneath the quip is that it takes work to make those narratives clear. Dance does many things, but some things it does better than others. If you’re going to tell a story in movement, you have a big job in front of you.
Katy Hagelin’s latest program for her company, The Katy Hagelin Dance Project, ran March 6-7 at Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center and was full of stories, characters with complex motivations, and situations where fantasy and reality do-si-do on a regular basis. She’s set herself a mighty task with this, and in some cases, has bitten off more than she can chew. Her recent show, WAIT, REPEAT, includes angels, devils, video game characters, and a suicidal businessman, among others.
The program opens with the businessman on a gurney, complete with toe tag. Deathbed (co-choreographed with Jonathan Hansen) illustrates the process that brought him to that point in a series of flashback vignettes that depend on mime and props to tell a story of business reverses and depression. Purple Triangle/Purple Dagger is a similar march to a disastrous conclusion as a convict relives the murder that put her on death row. Both works have an O. Henry twist at the end, so that we question the central character’s veracity or our own ability to follow the plot as it develops.
In other works, the storyline starts out convoluted and becomes even more tangled as the work continues. In Controller, which is set in a video game universe, what begins as a competition among a trio of gamers (dressed like Lara Croft) and their avatars, takes on extra layers of reference with the addition of more villains and heroes from a 64-bit world. Those animated heroes and villains are exchanged for angels and devils in the title work Wait, Repeat, where souls are judged and found wanting. In both works, a deus ex machina appears at the end, slaying the villains or redeeming the damned.
But while the narratives are varied, the movement elements are homogenous—a jazz-influenced contemporary style with the flexibility of ballet and the phrasing of hip hop, mostly performed to a square, 4/4 beat. While it supports some of the work on the program (like the video game characters in Controller) it creates a uniform momentum that undercuts the different situations Hagelin is trying to establish.
The most successful part of Hagelin’s program was the opening duet in The Seed. While the full work is laced with complex metaphor and references, the duet at the beginning (a simple male/female partnership) had nuance, breath and musicality. By trying to do less, it accomplished much more.
More information about Katy Hagelin Dance Project available here.