Kate Wallich + The YC's Industrial Ballet, which nearly filled the Moore Theatre for the second time in two years Tuesday night, begins before it starts.
As people wait in line for tickets outside, a "Goth Mob"—performers dressed in black cloaks and white make-up—descend upon the crowd, striking poses and looking very artfully tired, which is the way of goths. Eventually the mob slinks inside the theater. They drape themselves over the balcony railings and peer out from beneath the arches flanking the stage, lording over the audience like fashionable vultures as spooky-screechy industrial music pours out of the speakers. This mysterious pre-show sets the mood. Things are going to get dark. And doomy. But in a cool way. In a goth-cool way. And there's going to be a lot of loud sounds.
In the very beginning, the Moore's curtain rises slowly, seemingly at the command of Johnny Goss and his live band's heavy, charging guitars. A bright white floor light beams out into the audience, illuminating the seven dancers who will be thrashing, head-banging, and gracefully crowd-surfing across the stage throughout the show.
The band contributes an incredible amount of energy to the room, which sets Industrial Ballet apart from your typical modern dance performance. The all-consuming music, Amiya Brown's rock show lighting design, and the general post-apocalyptic environs are spectacular enough to catch and maintain your attention.
That said, it would be ungenerous but not inaccurate to describe the first 10 minutes of the performance as an extremely chic, live-action Linkin Park music video. And I'm not just being flippant here. A clear, solitary synth note that occasionally breaks out of the guitar sludge reminds me of a similar construction from "In the End." Once I hear it I cannot unhear it, and I keep expecting Chester Bennington to rise from the dead and start singing "I TRIED SO HAAAAAARD, AND GOT SO FAAAAAAAAAR." But, thankfully, the band abandons that section and the dancing improves.
Wallich's dancers look completely drained, moving like robots with sprung sprockets. They're trapped inside a cage but also trapped inside themselves. Each dancer brings their own concerns to their roles, but in general they all appear to be confronting invisible enemies. They get tangled in imaginary ropes. They paw at walls we can't see. They wear each other out on each other, as Andrew Bartee does in an incredible, fast-paced, expressionistic fit rendered all the more frantic against his completely still partner and a calm moment in the music.
Though the piece trades on its own completely unexamined coolness for long stretches, a number of those cool moments are worth noting, as is one particularly thoughtful and moving sequence. I nearly rose to my feet to celebrate Thomas House for spinning around on one leg for approximately 45 seconds straight. The feat shows off his technical skills while embodying the broken machinery motif, and it's completely nerve-wracking to watch. In an incredible display of strength and coordination, Lavinia Vago does the splits and contorts herself into other complex poses while also crowdsurfing on top of the other dancers. And at one point, the whole troupe fuses together into a kind of dance transformer. Then they slowly move as one unit toward the audience like one big, creepy family portrait.
All those ideas are great, but the show's jewel is a duet between Wallich and David Harvey. The two dancers emerge from a muck of bodies. Harvey moves mechanically while Wallich moves more organically, more like an animal. She climbs all over him, embraces him, rejects him, and impressively crawls between his legs as they both stride across the stage. At the climax of the sequence, she pushes him to the ground and climbs on top of his back, declaring victory. He tries to support her weight, but his arms begin to buckle and his body collapses like a bridge. In a gesture of love, Wallich then stands him upright, pushing on his shoulder using only her forehead, like some kind of elephant or a mama bear righting her cub.
At the most basic level, the sequence is a metaphor for the Sine waves of a romantic relationship, but with all the doom and gloom and 2016 resonances, it could just as easily be about healing political divides as well. No matter what you take from it, the section serves as the first clear narrative moment in the dance, one that brilliantly condenses a lot of the themes expressed in the more abstract solos. It's truly an impressive bit of choreography, and I wasn't the only one who loved it. The crowd clapped and cheered after Wallich and Harvey bowed out.
I got the sense that Tuesday night's show was a one-off co-presented with Seattle Theatre Group largely for Wallich's fans. But if she and her YCs ever remount the production, it's certainly worth the price of admission.