Drawing from the Absurd: Kasia Reilly premieres ‘Dolina’

By David Bernabo

Photography by Renee Rosensteel

Recital continues our partnership with the New Hazlett Theater by publishing a preview and an editorially-independent review for the five performances in the 2018–19 CSA Performance Series season.

Throughout the season, Recital is meeting with each of the artists to bring you a brief profile of them and their work in the days before their opening performance. We will publish a considered review or a post-show discussion with the artists for each performance, developed from post-show discussions with a consistent panel of local experts in related disciplines.


In the aftermath of the second world war and its social devastation and physical destruction, many were driven to embrace the absurd, acknowledge the irrational universe, and continue on. Humans create meaning in their lives and through that meaning experience joy, but, ultimately, death nullifies meaning. (There’s a reason that Absurdism is compared and contrasted with Nihilism and Existentialism.) The 20th century is rife with examples of the absurdity of modern living: the contradiction of a murderous police officer or a Department of Defense, the peculiar desire to tie a safety net to the whims of a irrational market, scripted reality TV, gender norms. These large scale events and concepts question the rationality of existence, but smaller, personal events can trigger the same questions.

For choreographer Kasia Reilly, “the need to keep ‘being’ in the face of all the suffering and isolation required by life is both ridiculous and very, very sweet to me.” Citing authors Witold Gombrowicz and Samuel Beckett as influences, Reilly explores these themes of the absurd and the surreal in a new evening-length dance piece titled Dolina, which premieres on April 11 and 12 as part of the New Hazlett Theater’s CSA performance series.

Luckily, Absurdism has not been proven to be the backbone of existence, and hope, instead of eluding the absurd, is a useful tool in combating purposeless. At least that is outlook of the four characters in Dolina. These characters, performed by Reilly and three additional dancers, navigate a hostile world, relying on their inner and collective strength. The work builds on a piece of choreography that Reilly developed in college while completing a BFA in dance at University of Michigan. “[That] work ended rather cynically,” says Reilly, “and while I loved it, I wanted to expand it into a more nuanced and hopeful structure.”

Dolina is conveyed through vignettes. I wouldn’t call Dolina a story — more like a bunch of images moving in the same direction.”

For Reilly, who began dancing at three years old, Dolina represents the biggest project that she has undertaken. “This is my first evening length work!” says Reilly. “Just having to create that much material was daunting — before this, the longest piece I’d created was about 8 minutes long, so I made a big jump.”

There have been other challenges, too. For one, the cast is spread out. Dancer Alayna Baron is based in Baltimore and dancers John Matthews and Madeline Joss are both completing degrees at University of Michigan. “A lot of the rehearsal was done in short, intense spurts when we all traveled to be together.” The choreography starts with Reilly’s improvisations and is developed through group riffing and refinement. By the end of the process, the work is nearly 100% set movement.

Rounding out the cast of collaborators is Michigan-based musician Maya Chun, known from the super heavy, super fast “Trailer Park Boys”-referencing band The Cheeseburger Picnic. And if you are a fan of that band, please note that the score for Dolina won’t exactly be grindcore.


Dolina premieres on Thursday, April 11 with a second performance on Friday, April 12 at 8PM at the New Hazlett Theater. Buy tickets here or at the door. 6 Allegheny Square E, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.