Wallich Splurges on Pop Culture

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Beers, fake plants, and sweaty bodies made their way to Instagram as Kate Wallich and dancers of The YC thrusted, slinked, and glided across the stage during Wallich’s Splurge Land. The piece, which premiered at On the Boards April 2-5, is Wallich’s second evening-length work with her company The YC. Dubbed a “precarious mix of pop culture, post-post-modern dance tropes, constrained emotions, and club moves,” Splurge Land was an exploration of the relationships and highs and lows of the post-internet generation, according to Wallich.

The YC in Kate Wallich's Splurge Land Photo by Tim Summers
The YC in Kate Wallich’s Splurge Land
Photo by Tim Summers

Wallich knows what’s hip. First off, the artists she worked with are hip: from JD Banke’s smooth yet abstract visual artworks decorating the stage, to the dreamy, lo-fi electronic soundscapes from Johnny Goss, to the quixotic cinematography of Jacob Rosen (a film of a birthday party complete with Rainier beer, make-out sessions, and dancing played as the audience walked in). And then there was Amiya Brown’s exquisite lighting design. She not only manages to capture the glow-of-the-cellphone effect with cleverly lit props—integral to the piece—but also neatly brings together the choreography, music, visual artworks, and pre-show video.

 

Wallich’s choreography is also hip. Sickled feet, blank facial expressions, striking movement architectures, and smooth athletic qualities dominated the stage. A turn shifted into a forward thrust, soft hinges, fragmented gestures. Club moves that would seem silly when done alone gained intensity when performed in perfect sync. It was like the performers (Wallich, Matt Drews, Waldean Nelson, Andrew Bartee, and co-director Lavinia Vago) were being charged by an electrifying force, yet simultaneously controlling and embodying that force.

Lavinia Vago and Kate Wallich in Splurge Land Photo by Tim Summers
Lavinia Vago and Kate Wallich in Splurge Land
Photo by Tim Summers

In addition, the elements Wallich brought in created a world that seemed to vomit the words “hip,” “millennial,” or “pop culture.” The dancers Instagrammed live from the stage (with designated Instagram hashtags for the show), smoked a vapor, wore posh sneakers, and had the words “pizza party” written on their bottles. There was even a luminous headstone on stage with the words “Positive Life” on it. Yet despite the virtuosic movements and almost excessive theatricality, the work craved a stronger commentary on pop culture itself. Wallich  successfully brought the audience into the world she created, but never quite said anything about that world. It needed more than just a literal embodiment of the extravagant culture—a critique, a thought, a statement—something worth sitting through an evening of watching millennials succumb to borderline hedonism.

 

Some instances did make it worth it, though. While most of the work effectively personified the frivolous, artificial self-indulgence said to permeate today’s youth, the dance also had some touching human moments. In between the glitzy facades, a deconstructed solo or duet emerged that pierced through and brought to light the loneliness and oftentimes emptiness behind the (Instagram) filter. For example, Wallich’s solo strung different poses as though modeling for the audience, yet her facial expression was intensely constrained and vacuous. Vago, in a following sequence, did a similar series of poses with moments of franticness and searching in between.

 

A highlight was a solo by Bartee, clad in a terry robe and turquoise briefs. Dancing in silence, Bartee hilariously shifted between wreaking havoc and trying to destroy the bonsai garden onstage and doing a ditzy dance-aerobic-athletic workout. Because of its nonsensical nature in comparison to the rest of the piece, this solo felt like the peak, so the series of unison sections by the other four dancers that followed felt longer than necessary.

Kate Wallich and Waldean Nelson in Splurge Land Photo by Tim Summers
Kate Wallich and Waldean Nelson in Splurge Land
Photo by Tim Summers

But even before that, compassionate moments also emerged. In one section, two couples—Drews with Wallich and Vago with Nelson—performed a sequence of sensual poses slowly and smoothly with pauses in between. The men would occasionally extract themselves from the pose, leaving the women holding the space, before inserting themselves into the partnership again. Tender and telling, it was a shame that this section followed a problematic passage in which the hyper-masculine men carried the glazed-faced and helpless-looking women about the stage. The men forcefully held the women to their crotches while they struggled to be released. These images brought to mind blatant ideas of sexual assault, but came and went without being addressed in the piece. It felt like opening a can of worms and then chucking it away hurriedly to pretend like it’s not there.

 

Although Splurge Land would have benefited from some editing, Wallich succeeded in presenting a work with high artistic value. Her attention to detail in choreography, aesthetic, and theatricality created a pristine world where young, beautiful, privileged people live, breathe, drink beer, smoke, and make out. Now who wouldn’t want to splurge for a life like that?

For more information on The YC, visit katewallich.com.