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‘Industrial Ballet’ is Kate Wallich’s Best Work Yet

Walking into the Moore Theatre on Saturday night, audience members found more than the usual pre-show crowd milling about. A large speaker pulsed with heavy, low instrumental rock. Two-dozen performers—the Goth Mob, according to the program—stood under the arches of the lobby’s balcony, concealed in black hooded robes. If it hadn’t been the work of choreographer Kate Wallich, whose one-night-only, Velocity Dance Center–produced Industrial Ballet packed the house, the effect might have seemed gimmicky—a well-planned social media opportunity. But Wallich is a self-professed pop culture junkie. She has a deep interest in social media and its effect on art and human relationships. 

In addition to causing my Instagram feed to blow up with the Industrial Ballet hashtag all night, the Goth Mob set the dark tone for the show, which was a beautifully choreographed assault on the senses and Wallich’s most mature work yet.

Anyone clinging to soft, delicate, pink-swathed notions of ballet was in for a shock. Amiya Brown’s lighting drenched the stage in a moody atmosphere, using various spotlights and footlights to create a rock concert vibe. Musician/producer Johnny Goss (Cock & Swan, La Luz) created a loud, in-your-face electronic score with a live, on-stage band and smoke machine. The band served as the only set piece and the stage was open on the sides to reveal scaffolding and other back-of-house elements. The sparse look suited the choreography—hard-edged and slightly violent, with the graceful undertones of a more traditional style.

Featuring two female dancers (the insanely talented Lavinia Vago and Wallich herself), and five male dancers, Industrial Ballet combined ensemble work, duets and solos. The performance was it its best during the solors and duets, when the intensity of the choreography had room to breathe. In those moments, the dancers captured a zeitgeisty sense of isolation and anger, impressively performed without melodrama.

Wallich works not only with the music, but also within it, playing her dancers’ bodies on subtle, unexpected notes. In Industrial Ballet, she focused heavily on the arms, creating a vocabulary from various formations—hands in fists, elbows bent, crossed at forearms, arms straight out, arms crossed overhead. Flashes of traditional ballet (tendus, arabesques, the occasional soft port de bras or soaring leap) melted into her inventive contemporary movement, complete with her signature infusion of pedestrian motions and hip-hop twists.

Industrial Ballet is a welcome change from ballet-and-modern combos that are often skillful and well danced but don’t feel fresh. And as Wallich's largest production so far, it's also more coherent that her own past works, a sign of her maturing creative identity and her firm grasp on the fleeting elements of youth culture.

Photo by Charlie Schuck

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