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A Melodious Blend of Ideas at KHDP Benefit Concert

Written by Imana Gunawan
Dancers Sylvain Boulet and Megan Becker in Vanessa Van Wormer’s Sky in a Room
Photo by Olivia Kao

Literal and abstract ideas mingled harmoniously at Bellevue’s Ryan James Gallery as dancers of the Katy Hagelin Dance Project (KHDP) performed four works of varying themes, concepts, and choreographic styles Saturday, July 27, 2013. The works performed at the Benefit Concert, a fundraiser for the budding company, included both KHDP premiere and repertory works along with two new works by guest artists Kimberly Holloway and by Vanessa Van Wormer.

The evening began with L’Actuel, a feel-good, narrative portrait of each dancer and how the company’s project started, all viewed through a contemporary-ballet lens by choreographer and Artistic Director Katy Hagelin. Hagelin peppered the piece with literal gestures and mime to describe not only each dancer’s interest and character, but also situations, such as the dancers’ love for the art form despite economic struggles. Hagelin said in her artistic statement that she intended to make work that people can understand––be they concerning literal or abstract ideas. In L’Actuel, she spelled out exactly the narrative she intended while skillfully combining mime and acting with technique-heavy dancing. The piece is a short story reminiscent of a full-length comedy or dramatic ballet.

KHDP in Hours
Photo by Olivia Kao
The program then progressed to Hagelin’s Hours, an athletic piece inspired by and dedicated to the City of New York’s Fire Department (FDNY),  and their camaraderie, courage, and struggles during 9/11. As the intense electronic music of Hol Baumann played, each dancer moved from one geometric pose to the other with grace and fell seamlessly in and out of the floor. The athleticism and physicality of the movements––accentuated further by form-fitting costumes––brought to mind the image of Greek heroes training for the ancient Olympics. In the middle of the piece, dancer Megan Becker was left standing alone. After executing prolonged movements with outstanding hyper-awareness, she shook, beginning with her fingertips and progressing through her whole body, as though she were possessed by a memory, an emotion, or a fear of something looming. This work was a dance of living dangerously, of finding strength in the company of others, of experiencing the storm of life and the somber calm that precedes it.

Next was Kimberly Holloway’s work Release the Pull, an aptly titled piece that embodied the struggles and tension of pulling or being pulled. In contrast to Hagelin’s works, which emphasized shapes and poses to finish or start each movement, Holloway focused on the motion that never stops. The three dancers’ bodies were both active participants and passive instruments in multiple games of tug-of-war. In each moment, they simultaneously pulled toward and away from other bodies while being pulled from within their own physique. The contemporary classical music of the Ahn Trio, Olafur Arnalds, and Audiosoundscapes acted as a background for the trio’s abstract relationship, which was sometimes reminiscent of a struggling yet loving family, other times of the competition between conflicted friends. Holloway’s work poignantly delivered what the title suggested. Yet, in the final minutes of the piece, the pulling force between and within the dancers never released, taking a final tug at the audience’s heartstrings without letting go.

Sky in a Room, choreographed by guest artist Vanessa Van Wormer, was a tender pas de deux featuring dancers Sylvain Boulet and Megan Becker, and set to three playful selections from the French opera Lakmé. Throughout the piece, the relationship between Becker and Boulet remained ambiguous yet flirtatiously loving, bringing to mind two lovers in their honeymoon stage, old friends playing house, or confidants falling in love with each other. Both dancers’ technicality was impeccable, making the cleverly choreographed lifts look effortless. The most intriguing aspect of the work lay in the honesty of both Becker and Boulet, brought out by Van Wormer’s choreography. Neither looked like they were acting out the narrative, but rather they embodied their own selves––each serendipitously falling in love with the other through music, art, and dance.
KHDP in Controller
Photo by Olivia Kao

The evening concluded with Hagelin’s Controller. Though at first glance the piece seemed like a simple story of humans playing video games, controlling avatars, and fighting villains, Hagelin unpacked a larger theme of the definition of power and control. Throughout the piece, the role of the controller and the controlled shifted: humans controlling avatars, avatars controlling the villains, villains controlling humans, and humans being controlled by the video game master. Hagelin intensified the piece with elaborate costumes and athletic movements, with influences ranging from ballet to martial arts. In the end, her work cleverly delivered a cyclic concept that left the audience to ponder what is real and what isn’t, who is controlling whom, and just how powerless one could be without any form of control.

For more information about Katy Hagelin Dance Project, go to