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More than once, an arm smacked through the air, hitting a T-shape, and barely missing my face. The dancers paced back and forth. At all different angles and narrowly missing each other (and the audience), walking briskly, pivoting every six or so steps, each with a distinct motion. The chaotic, albeit organized, pacing of the dancers created a sense of restlessness that almost disoriented time. They could have been walking for five minutes or fifteen, I couldn’t tell, but I could certainly feel an anxiety mounting, wishing they’d relieve me from the seemingly endless repetition of their pacing.

Photo by Stefano Altamura

Distinct moments dotted the walking, breaking up my agitation. Dancer Emma Lawes, moving from a corner of the stage to the center and back again, circled her leg in a small ronde de jambe en l’air, leaving her foot floating, ankle long but toes flexed. Lawes’ foot stood out as the most technical aspect in the long string of walking. The pedestrian movements of the others, their pacing, and T-shaped arms that would swing like a clock, typified PILOT’s most prominent artistic choice: eschewing the formality and bravado of high kicks, deep lunges, and other tricks the performers could probably execute flawlessly, for less virtuosic, more ordinary movements.

Spectacle, choreographed by PILOT performer and creative team member Alexander Quetell, featured not only walking but also the common act of partying. The lights strobing, Quetell appeared in a long blonde wig with needle thin hair, accentuating the movements of his head as he nodded up and down. The others performed their best rave dance moves: fist pumps, raise the roof arms, and bouncing in a low squat, hands lifting the air around them. Seeing professional dancers get down at a party, no matter how curated the party scene, is always interesting to me. These performers probably trained their whole life to be obsessively conscious of every part of their body, and largely abandoned those learned tendencies to instead bop around like anybody else. Leading me to wonder, What does it mean to be at a dance performance? What is the obligation of the dancer to showcase their skills inside the premise of a dance show? 

In this, Spectacle’s ample raving and pacing subverted the expectations of the audience. Instead of busting out challenging moves, Quetell choses to shine a light on the ordinary, making even normal acts, a spectacle. 

Photo by Stefano Altamura

XXX, choreographed by performers Carlin Kramer and Emma Wheeler, prioritized the dramatic, but also shied away from more technically challenging dancing. For instance, Kramer, wrapped in a bed sheet, lurched onto the stage, subsuming other dancers in the fabric trailing behind her, leaving Quetell lying still on his back as if he was killed when the sheet passed over him. Kramer held her mouth in a silent scream, eyes crinkled in pain. In a breaking with the general blank faces of the performers throughout the night, Kramer’s display as the Grim Reaper elicited a dark, sinister tone. 

Amplifying that wicked feeling, performer Laura Carella walked around, seeming to read from a small book, a microphone to her mouth but no discernable words escaping her lips. Suddenly dropping the book with a loud thud, Carella brought to mind some sort of exorcism, spinning the microphone by its cord in a fast and dangerous circle, carving out her personal space and threatening anyone, or thing, that came close. 

In another move that flirted with religious undertones but in a creepy, haunted way, two dancers controlled the heads of two others. Bringing them together, forcing the two performers to (almost) kiss, and pulling them apart at the last moment, the head-movers acted with a full authority reminiscent of divine omnipotence. In the final scene of the night, the dancers posed in the center of the stage, the room shrouded in darkness except for a vibrant green light that poured from the ceiling, shining bright rays on the dancers below. As they looked upwards, the heaven-like imagery became powerful, but instead of gazing at sunlight through billowing white clouds, they burned their eyes on green neon in a dark dance studio. 

Photo by Stefano Altamura

Also on the bill was Kate Wallich’s A Drama previously performed with the same cast in YC2’s New Dances II in September 2018, covered by Meredith Pellon in SeattleDances, and Kaitlin McCarthy in CityArts. PILOT’s creative team originally met working in Studio Kate Wallich’s YC2. Together they created PILOT, a month-long series of movement workshops, creation residencies, community dialogues, and performances, with fiscal sponsorship and mentorship from Studio Kate Wallich.

PILOT performed July 26th & 27th, 2019 at Base: Experimental Arts + Space under their Base Independent Program (BIP).