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KHDP: Ballet, Hip-Hop, and Epic Themes

Katy Hagelin Dance Project (KHDP), a contemporary ballet company with Eastside roots, was founded in 2008. While the group has performed frequently in Seattle and is best known to local audiences from its performances at Velocity Dance Center and the Fremont Abbey Arts Center, KHDP will return to the Eastside for their latest repertory concert, WAIT, REPEAT, at the Theatre at Meydenbauer Center in Bellevue on March 6-7 at 7:30 PM. SeattleDances recently spoke with Katy Hagelin, the Artistic Director of KHDP, about her company, her upcoming show, and her creative process.

KHDP Dancers Sylvain Boulet and Victoria Gutierrez in the KHDP Season Preview
Photo by Laura Shapovalov

SeattleDances: How would you describe your company and its style? Does it resemble any other dance companies that Seattle audiences would know?

Hagelin: I usually describe my style as “contemporary ballet.” Even though my work contains a lot of hip-hop elements, floor work, and other modern elements, it’s almost always performed exclusively by ballet dancers, and ballet lines are always mixed through the work. Spectrum Dance Theater and Whim W’Him also use classically trained ballet dancers to do modern works; and their dancers can really do modern! Not all ballet dancers can do modern effectively, but when that blend happens, it’s really cool. That’s what I’m looking for.


SeattleDances: I think of your company as being a lot like Spectrum: basically ballet-centered, but with a wide-ranging movement vocabulary. Both Spectrum and your company also have an interest in exploring big themes and big ideas-—and a willingness to go to dark places to do this. Your dances sometimes address difficult themes, such as loneliness, human trafficking, homicide, and suicide. What leads you to address these challenging themes?

Hagelin: Those themes are real. They’re truth, they’re things that I don’t like to ignore. Death is in my work a lot, because it’s a part of this world; it’s something that we all as humans have to deal with. And I love epic themes: I love The Lord of the Rings, which deals with life and death on a grand scale.


SeattleDances: Your work is also filled with hope: According to your web site, your company aspires to “enrich peoples lives by speaking hope through the language of dance.” Can you say more about this?

Hagelin: I think people need hope to live, and I want to show that in stories. In my dances, often the main characters are learning something important about life, or are making the choice to live, not to die. I also want to reach out to a wide audience, not just to people who know a lot about dance. That’s why there are usually stories in my work.

KHDP Dancer Megan Becker in Controller
Photo by Witty Pixel Photography | Danny Boulet

SeattleDances: Tell us about the works that will be in your show at the Meydenbauer Theatre.

Hagelin: Most of it is repertory, works that we’ve done before. Purple Triangle/Purple Dagger is a dream piece, about a girl who has committed murder and is going to be put to death the next day. It’s a work I love, because it’s very balletic and fun to dance. Controller looks at video game characters and the battles they engage in. It’s an audience-pleaser, really fun and lighthearted. But there are serious undertones about the battles that go on in people’s minds. The Seed is the first piece we did as a company: It feels like a timeless piece to me. There are some story elements, but it’s a little more abstract. The final repertory work is Deathbed, which Jonathan Hansen and I choreographed. It’s about a man who has committed suicide and is looking back on his life. The movement is more hip-hop inspired, which reflects Jonathan’s influence.


SeattleDances: There’s also a new work, Wait, Repeat, from which the concert takes its title.

Hagelin: Wait, Repeat is a piece I began making over three years ago. It has a story line that repeats: the first time more pessimistic, the second time more hopeful, like a second chance. It was inspired by religious icons and figures in stained-glass windows. There are humans and angels in the work: The humans are in skater shoes and Converse, the angels are barefoot. It’s kind of a weird mix! The music is “Do Not Break” by Ellen Allien and Apparat.


SeattleDances: I think of your dances as having a strong musicality. How does music come into your work? Is the music there from the start, or is it added after you create the movement?

Hagelin: Usually the music comes first; it’s hard for me to go the other direction. I’m not really inspired without the music. If I’m asked to make a dance without having the music first, I can do it, but it doesn’t feel powerful. It isn’t as exciting for me. I guess being a musician myself may be part of that. I studied piano as a child, and I’ve played in different bands. Music inspires me, it creates the ideas.

Katy Hagelin in The Seed
Photo by Laura Shapovalov

SeattleDances: Some people see Christian themes and iconography in your dances. How do your spiritual values and beliefs influence your work?

Hagelin: My beliefs and values have definitely affected my dances; they can’t help but affect them. It’s just a part of who I am. Sometimes it’s very obvious, sometimes not. I don’t want it to be terribly obvious, but sometimes it feels that way. Maybe it’s partly because I love epic stories, and some Christian stories are really epic. And there are stories about having a second chance.

SeattleDances: I don’t see the religious themes in your work as being all that overt. I think your dances are informed by your spirituality, but they’re not about your spirituality.

Hagelin: Exactly, I would agree with that.


SeattleDances: The Meydenbauer seats over four hundred people, compared to about one hundred at Velocity. Putting on a show at Meydenbauer seems like a gutsy move.

Hagelin: I know, it’s gutsy. But I’ve always wanted to do a show in Meydenbauer, and I always envisioned WAIT, REPEAT there. I can’t say, “Well, now I have enough money that I can do this.” That’s probably never going to be the case for me. But I thought, “Well, I feel like I’m supposed to do this show in the Meydenbauer, so I just have to do it.” And when I called, they had that one weekend open the whole year, and I said, “I’ll take it.” I love Velocity, because it’s so raw and real; it’s a great theater, and it feels like home. But I wanted to have a big stage for these epic dances.


SeattleDances: If readers want to learn more about your company or see examples of your work, where can they look? And where can they buy tickets for your show?

Hagelin: My company has a web page, and videos of my work are available at – videos of Deathbed and Controller and rehearsal footage from Purple Triangle/Purple Dagger are there. Tickets for the show are available at Brown Paper Tickets.

-Anne A. Lawrence