This week at On the Boards, choreographer Kate Wallich and her company, The YC, will live-Instagram themselves while dancing onstage in between rows of fake potted plants. Later in April, choreographer Alice Gosti's five-hour durational performance piece involving dance, choral music, and the haunting vocals of composer Hanna Benn will premiere at Saint Mark's Cathedral. The subject matter for the performances ranges from post-internet-generation relationships to political resistance, topics so complex and so intrinsically verbal that approaching them through dance seems a pretty lofty goal.
Not lofty at all, says How to become a partisan director/choreographer Alice Gosti. "Ineffability doesn't equate to an absence of meaning. It creates discussion. I've created this whole system so the audience has the power to decide how to take it in and decide when they're ready to leave. I'm interested in the democracy of an audience." Partisan will be performed on April 25, the 70th anniversary of Italy's liberation from fascism. In the course of its five-hour duration, the piece will incorporate the stories of women who participated in the Italian partisan movement as well as Gosti's and her collaborators' reactions to those stories. Gosti developed partisan from a series of interviews with Italian resistance fighters, and the ideas of resistance and personal power guided the choreography, music, and design of the piece during her residency at Velocity Dance Center's Made in Seattle program. Gosti's concepts of resistance extend beyond the obvious, such as direct pushing against a force or human form, "to the stillness of a rock in a current of water that resists the movement around it. Resistance is not always active," says Gosti. "This piece is about the visibility and invisibility of women, and how the resistance fighters—and women everywhere—think about what we are allowed to be, and what we do with that. This choreography is very physical; [the dancers and I] had long conversations about being playful and aggressive but not violent. It's hard; these are characteristics of male behavior that women don't always automatically recognize."
Some of the dancing in partisan is incredibly physical, reminiscent of a pile of puppies bouncing and falling in a tightly choreographed series of steps. In one piece, performed on the side of the church next to the rows of pews, the dancers start standing in a tight group and push, pull, and flip each other around so that each dancer's movement seems to be a catalyst for another, a set of entirely codependent human dominos. The dancers won't be performing during the entire five hours. Some will move through the space at different times, sometimes highly visible and sometimes moving silently through the pews, seen only by observers standing in the right place at the right time. The audience will be free to move around the church or sit in the pews at will, and Gosti says that no entrance or exit will be blocked for more than a couple of seconds.
Kate Wallich's Splurge Land also approaches the subject of personal freedom, with a focus on a very different demographic. "Splurge Land is about the sad undertones and subtext of the post-internet generation," says Wallich. "I find the relationships that people have with the internet to be so sad; there are all these false realities that make us have this extra emotional junk. These potentially fake relationships that develop on the internet allow us to be really picky about how we present ourselves, we design a filter that decides who we are to other people. That loneliness is the subtext inside this piece, in my own life, and I think that will appeal to people of all generations." The loneliness that Wallich notes is visible in the choreography, as the four dancers—Wallich, Lavinia Vago, Matt Drews, and Waldean Nelson—run diagonally across the stage and make brief physical contact in the middle of the floor before moving on, crossing paths only at precise moments in quick exchanges of body weight via a shove, lift, or manipulation of limbs. Two paintings at the back of the stage by local painter JD Banke and lighting by designer Amiya Brown provide what Wallich says reminds her of the starkness of the internet's glow, the filters that social-media tools like Instagram cast on the realities of the human form. "There's a lot of referencing to the social-media thing, we live-Instagram ourselves during the piece and there's that phone glow on our faces."
In addition to a film component that Wallich and her collaborators made in the On the Boards visual artists' studio, all parts of Splurge Land seek to create a feeling of the vastness and sometimes tragic loneliness of the internet. "To make the film, we threw this big party and everybody got really crazy so it shows that party culture inside the internet culture, that part of life that everyone wants to document and share. It represents where I am in my life right now, this piece is really personal for me." Wallich's last work, Super Eagle, was "so precious, slow, and hard," she says. "I wanted to make the opposite and just vomit everywhere, and that urge to splurge became SL. And that's what the internet feels like to me: splurge, vomit, big, crazy."