When watching a duet between Kate Wallich and Andrew Bartee, it's not difficult to tell which is the contemporary choreographer and which comes from the rigorous rehearsal halls of Pacific Northwest Ballet. Bartee's limbs have a way of articulating themselves—as if by their own willpower—with an unmistakable, drilled-in poise while Wallich moves with a captivating coltishness, shifting her weight back and forth like she's playing catch with herself.
"Poise and play" could be the subtitle to their world-premiere collaboration Super Eagle, which emerged from Bartee's growing curiosity about contemporary dance—a mutual friend put the two in touch via Facebook, which led to a series of dinner dates and experiments in the studio together, each trying out little movement phrases the other came up with on the spot. "There was just chemistry," Wallich says, so they added two more to the mix (Lavinia Vago, who studied at Cornish with Wallich, and Matt Drews), and "things clicked really well."
During a rehearsal last week, Super Eagle had the gauzy, overcast feeling of a love affair remembered after it had crashed and burned, accented by Lena Simon's droning electronic score. The duets—and the occasional quartet—were driven by pushing and pulling, stylized copulations on the floor followed by abandonments. In one eerie segment, Drews curled at Vago's feet, holding her while she reached towards Bartee, who reached his hand toward her but then rescinded his offer. He backed up, she fell toward him, and Drews held her from below. Then they repeated the cycle, a man holding a woman who is trying to run toward another man who keeps approaching then backing away—about as frustrating a love triangle as one could imagine.
In its more expressive passages, Wallich's choreography seems to play with time and gravity itself. Some parts of the dancers' bodies (an arm or a torso) will fall to the floor, pause, and then seem to fall upward or to the side. It's almost as if they weren't moving themselves, but that the field of gravity in the room had shifted, pulling them this way or that. At one point in the rehearsal, Vago raised and lowered her arms, trying to find a way that seemed less regimented and more graceful. "Just pretend like you're suspending time," Wallich suggested and demonstrated by closing her eyes, letting her arms drift up and down like undersea kelp on an unseen current. Vago tried again—the advice worked.
Tonya Lockyer, director of Velocity Dance Center, says this is characteristic of the untimely maturity in Wallich's choreography. "She's really developing her own unique vocabulary," Lockyer said. "Most young choreographers feel like they have to keep moving—hey, look at me—to keep their audiences interested. But Merce [Cunningham] always said it was much more difficult to be still." Super Eagle is the fourth Velocity commission in its Made in Seattle series. (Others include Amy O'Neal's The Most Innovative... and Ezra Dickinson's Mother for you I made this, both critical successes.)
For all its romantic ambivalence, Super Eagle ends with a blast of bright party sleaze in the song "Summertime," by bratty-voiced Oakland rapper Kreayshawn, who declares: "It's summertime and your bitch is all mine." The choreography doesn't noticeably brighten, however—it's as if we've gone back in time, back to the party soundtrack that ignited a love affair, and we're watching its end just as it begins. The ascent contains the fall.