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Subtle Humor in Industrial Ballet

Kate Wallich’s one-night-only dance and music extravaganza Industrial Ballet took over the Moore Theatre on Saturday, March 26. The experience was designed to begin upon entering: dark chords were pumped into the lobby through huge speakers while a black fabric-clad “Goth Mob” adorned the arched porticos and draped over half-walls. It was a bit incongruous, however: like the chatty audience grabbing drinks had just been dropped into the middle of some secret society initiation ceremony. The Mob had seemingly nothing to do with the content of the stage performance, but it did effectively get the audience pumped. People even cheered as the curtain rose, adding to the rock-concert feel.

Kate Wallich’s Industrial Ballet
Photo by Tim Summers

As promised, Wallich’s seven dancers (herself included) shared the stage with a band playing the Industrial Rock-inspired music of Johnny Goss, which ranged from driving to ethereal over the course of the evening. In front, the dancers were mostly engaged in their own disconnected worlds, some moving manically, others in slow motion. Occasionally, they came together into tableaus like a strange family portrait. Dancers entered and exited unpredictably, and in general, the logic behind the sequence of events was either very obscure or had been abandoned altogether. The effect was a barrage of one image after another without ever feeling like an idea reached completion.

With her incredibly talented cast, it would have been easy to make the movement look beautiful and impressive. Instead, she used deceptively difficult movement to keep her dancers on the edge of discomfort—quick changes of direction mid-turn combined with contorted angles and constant shifts of weight. It’s like she’s pushing the technical envelope, but not with the traditional aim of making her dancers look good. It creates an interesting awkwardness at odds with their obvious virtuosic skill and strength.

Kate Wallich’s Industrial Ballet
Photo by Tim Summers

This idea seemed to be the thesis of the piece. The dancers constantly subverted their own impressiveness, either through this technical play, or through straight-up goofiness. Hyper-masculine presentation meshed seamlessly with Baroque posturing. Ballet tropes were peppered throughout, like when everything halted for a center-stage bow mid-performance. The show became progressively sillier from there. Andrew Bartee jetéd in unabashed ballet form through the rest of the cast, who stared forward jadedly. Later, he puckered his lips toward Lavinia Vago, who walked past him as if did not exist. The jokes were there, but delivered with such sobriety that the humor was easy to miss. It was as if everyone was playing the straight man.

Wallich’s piece for Strictly Seattle last summer, Choreographic Devices: Exercise for Group 10, also had a similar sense of self-consciousness, with solos and duets engaged in a nonchalant dance-off of showy moves. Industrial Ballet was subtler, but perhaps continued her meditations on the complexity of cool: where the person and the presentation meet. Industrial Ballet feels like a departure from the pristine and austere pieces that she has become known for. It’s a bit sloppier, and admittedly less aesthetically pleasing, but there is room for more play, more ambiguity, more mess. It feels like a development of Wallich’s container, proving that her movement technique may be signature, but not stagnant.

For more information about Kate Wallich, visit her website.