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Mayhem Holds Sway at Hot Mess

Written by Anna Waller

Photo by Kate Hailey

Velocity Dance Center was home to quite a Hot Mess on February 22 and 23, 2013. The show’s subtitle, “Modern Dance Mayhem” captured the tone of the evening perfectly: this show was so unabashedly quirky, so confidently zany that the audience spent a good portion of the evening in various states of giggling. Hot Mess was the self-produced endeavor of Kaitlin McCarthy, Jenny Peterson, and Rachel Grant, three talented Seattle choreographers who offered an evening of entertaining work brought to life by a well-rehearsed group of dancers. The polished nature of each piece went a long way in ensuring the evening’s success.
McCarthy’s There’s No Id in Team opened the show with six dancers and a number of props, including a bench, a pair of mismatched shoes, boxes with various unexpected treasures, and a chocolate sensuously eaten on stage. The dancers interacted as people, conversing, dancing, even brawling with each other. While the vignettes were mostly unrelated, the theme of trying to do something ran through the work: trying to move a bench, trying to position a pair of shoes, trying to get the upper hand on someone, and at the end, a blind person trying to find someone. Few of these tries found success, and abrupt transitions kept any of the vignettes from reaching a truly satisfying finish. While this could be an existential point the dance was trying to make, it was frustrating because each exploration was so interesting to watch. With a little more time and development given to each snippet of the piece, this 30-minute work could easily grow into a fascinating evening of its own.
Photo by Kate Hailey
The Marshmallow Test, choreographed by Grant, took its title from the classic delayed rewards experiment, giving each audience member a marshmallow, promising a second if they could make it until intermission without eating it. Marshmallows also appeared on stage, sometimes as objects of fascination, and sometimes as a soft, sticky ground to dance on. Early childhood development and early memory infused the piece both in sound and movement. The sound included a baby’s voice and the recollection of childhood escapades paired with music with a childlike feel. Grant’s choreography sourced movement from young children, but it was never jarring to see seven adult women dancing like babies because they delivered their movements with simplicity and directness, as well as pleasantly (but not overly) curious faces. Grant succeeded in creating a work that was sweet and honestly curious about itself, with a great respect for a child’s point of view.
The evening’s most overtly hilarious piece, Lovesick, was McCarthy’s second choreographic offering of the night. The dance featured five women dressed as housewives (or, perhaps, housewives-in-training) mooning around the stage to Patsy Cline songs, beginning with dancers falling in time to “I Fall to Pieces.” The dancers’ lyrical movement was interspersed with comic moments of swooning over each other or over unseen love objects. The dance became progressively more manic until McCarthy herself danced a solo to Cline’s “Crazy” in which she went off the deep end, wide eyes, physical ticks, and all—bringing the idea of love “sick” to the fore. The piece wrapped up with four of the dancers donning mustaches and wooing the fifth dancer in successively surlier ways. With Lovesick, McCarthy poked fun at the sillier side of love, displaying a keen sense of comic timing and penchant for the ridiculous.
 Photo by Kate Hailey
Peterson’s Twinsies closed the show. A duet between Peterson and dancer Annie McGhee, the piece followed the two women through different shared identity experiences. Their movement, though not always in unison, followed the same patterns and steps, their costumes mirrored each other, and matching long blonde wigs turned them into uncanny reflections of each other. They were sweet and supportive as they danced through various personae. Finally, the sameness between them ruptured when McGhee poured water and, shockingly, corn syrup, over Peterson. Peterson’s work provided the most literally messy moment of the evening, but also psychologically the darkest. Peterson looked utterly beaten as she stood wet and sticky while McGhee preened her wig upstage, the victor in the struggle to find, or take, an individual identity.
Closing on a dark note did nothing to take away from the evening’s focus on humor. Instead, Peterson’s contribution deepened the impact of the evening, giving the audience comedy tinged with tragedy and making the ridiculous stand out as funny in a flawed, human way. Hot Mess succeeded in going out on a limb in large part because it was so confidently dedicated to the bizarre; the dancers and the compositions were never unsure of themselves. McCarthy, Grant, and Peterson have proved themselves to be inventive choreographers whose work should be followed with interest.