Continuing Recital’s sponsored partnership with the New Hazlett Theater, we are presenting a series of editorially-independent previews and reviews of the 2018–2019 Community Supported Art (CSA) Performance Series. Below is our review of Dolina by Kasia Reilly, a collaborative response from Recital editor David Bernabo, season review panelists Maree ReMalia and Jason Baldinger. Read their bios at the end of the review. And read our preview of the performance here.
By David Bernabo
In Dolina, choreographer and dancer Kasia Reilly creates a nearly-evening-length dance piece that takes risks — playing with time, symbols, and paradox — and rewards the audience with an evocative and mysterious dive into the surreal. The choreography has a strong point-of-view, and the technically challenging sequences are well executed by a talented quartet of dancers. Knowledge that Dolina is Reilly’s first major work after finishing an undergrad degree only makes the endeavor that much more impressive.
A little context is useful when approaching Dolina. Knowledge that the dance is working with themes of absurdity and surrealism assists in redirecting the sometimes violent or gruesome choreography towards a certain context — a place that takes cues from authors Witold Gombrowicz and Samuel Beckett and possibly from the masked and rear-facing figures in Magritte’s paintings.
There are a number of striking moments throughout the piece, starting with the opening sequence. Four figures emerge from the darkness, masked in fitted black hoods. Two figures crawl, two figures delicately step. They face each other, creating a mirror image. At some point in their slow trek across the stage, the dancers turn their faceless gazes on the audience. The audience is no longer a bystander, but an active presence in the dance, a witness to events that cannot be placed in a certain time or place.
This simple sequence, as compared to periods of complex choreography that follow, quickly positions the environment as dislocated from our known reality, allowing for playful dissonances when context-heavy objects are introduced. Against an empty stage, lit with otherworldly lighting, the dancers wear clothing drenched in floral print. These clothes follow tradition for one’s presenting gender — slacks for the male, skirts for the females — and bring to mind a vision of the suburban 1950s, but severely skewed out of joint.
The costuming choice advances and recedes in presence as other elements in the piece are introduced. Paired with those black masks, the costumes accentuate the idea that instead of an authentic personality, there is actually nothing underneath our exterior appearance and manner. We are multitudes and it shows. Later, Reilly enters the stage with a picnic basket. From the picnic basket, she removes a blanket and unfolds it on the ground. Here, the costumes share a world with the actions on stage — the dream of peacetime and security, communion with nature. All of this nicely sets up the surreal next image — Reilly removes a microphone from the basket and begins to address the audience. The address is full of questions and doubts about how to move through life when faced with uncertainty, pain, abstraction, and threat — a strong dissonance between image and message.
In many ways Dolina is a great example of dance being able to stand on its own outside of textual support. This isn’t dance for dance’s sake. But there is enough meaning in the physicality of the movement and the staging of the sequences to allow the audience to draw conclusions about the meaning of the work and how it can relate to their own experiences. All artforms allow for this possibility, but dance (and to some extent theater and, certainly, interdisciplinary forms) has the unique benefit of originating from the body, an experience that we all share in different and important ways. When writing the preview for Dolina, I struggled with adequately representing the work. I wasn’t sure what to expect outside of some mentions of surrealism and technical details. But once our panel saw the performance, we found many ways to talk about what we experienced. Maybe it is paranoia, but there seems to be a trend to require that artforms that are inherently non-verbal explain themselves adequately in verbal terms. Dolina is a strong argument for why that isn’t needed.
So back to the monologue on the microphone that was found in the picnic basket. Our panel was a bit split on this decision. On one hand, the dance speaks for itself and the monologue overly hammers home some of the themes that guide the piece. It can feel a bit on the nose. Or is this section useful for viewers that are having a harder time navigating the themes of the piece? Some of the panel got lost in the image and how this image is another example of expectations being subverted. Who is the monologue addressing? Is an answer expected? These are heavy concepts — can they be grokked in the time allowed?
That subverting of expectations was one of the most enjoyable elements of Dolina. Early in the piece, dancers break into untriggered laughter, quite frequently actually. Dancers appear in the balconies. Hair flies around, loosed from rigid ballet buns of Modern dance. In one stunning sequence, a line of flowers cuts the stage diagonally. A dancer tries to escape the stage and is elegantly twisted to the floor and used as a mop to sweep up the flowers. It’s a wow moment, but also a horrifying image of a person turned into a tool. Elsewhere, there are reminisces of Jean-Luc Godard’s film Weekend where the music cuts out abruptly and the cast continues on as if nothing is amiss. Are the dancers hearing this music or is the music only for the audience? Are the music and movement independent, just two things that happen to occur at the same time?
The choreography plays with notions of time. Bodies move slower than reality or quickly rush to catch up like streaming video that lags under the burden of a weak connection. Since the piece is structured as a series of nonlinear vignettes, the dancers avoid building singular characters with past experiences and present concerns. Individual explorations snap into complicated group sequences that utilize asymmetrical positions that jump in and out of floor work. Tempo shifts are used in a dynamic way. Each sequence seems to feel like a reset button was pushed. As a viewer, you watch in the moment.
Even though the work is a few minutes short of the evening-length tag, the ending felt a bit long. There’s a four-on-the-floor sequence that brings the dancers on and off stage in quick bursts: solos, duos, trios. The sequence feels like an offering, but to whom? The audience? Those expecting a big climax? Some omniscient force? Some internal desire?
Cloaked under the creaky, broken turntable recordings of The Caretaker (aka James Leyland Kirby) and the drones of Maya Chun, which account for much of the mood of the piece, the choreography feels intuitive, not relying on literal translation of concept to movement as a safety net. Reilly’s intuition is reciprocated by the dancers’ strong dedication to the material. By the end of the piece, this level of dedication shows — dancers Alayna Baron, Madeline Joss, John Matthews, and Reilly are visibly exhausted. As the lights fade, the dancers run a loose circle on the stage, bouncing off of each other like atoms searching for a place to rest.
Jason Baldinger is a poet from Pittsburgh. He’s the author of several books the most recent of which, the chaplet, Fumbles Revelations (Grackle and Crow) is available now, and the collection Fragments of a Rainy Season (Six Gallery Press) which is coming soon. You can hear Jason read his poems at jasonbaldinger.bandcamp.com as well as on a recently released cassette by the band Theremonster.
David Bernabo is a filmmaker, musician, dancer, visual artist, and writer, performing with the bands Host Skull and How Things Are Made; devising dances with his variable dance company, MODULES; and often collaborating with Maree ReMalia | merrygogo. He curates and produces work for the Ongoing Box imprint and co-curates the Lightlab Performance Series with slowdanger.
Maree ReMalia is a choreographer, performer, and teacher. Born in South Korea, and raised in the Midwest, her work celebrates diversity by opening possibilities for who dancers are, what they look like, how they move, and how they train. merrygogo is her platform for creating project-based performance works with communities of shifting collaborators. Through her choreography and teaching, she draws from improvisational methods across disciplines and the Gaga movement language to build community and make space for people to make new discoveries in playful and inquisitive ways.