Last October, choreographer Kate Wallich got an email from Peter Boal, artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet, asking her to be part of an initiative for summer of 2016 supported by the Wallace Foundation. At Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, PNB will present simultaneously a series of brand new creations by choreographers working with dance troupes other than their regular ones. The pairings include Kate Wallich & Whim W’Him at the silver tree sculpture, Split by Roxy Paine; Whim W’Him artisitic director Olivier Wevers & PNB Professional Division dancers at Alexander Calder’s giant red Eagle; Kiyon Gaines & PNB dancers at the huge rusty-ship’s-prow sculptures of Richard Serra’s Wake; Ezra Thomson & Spectrum Dance Theater at the black steel Stinger by Tony Smith; and Spectrum director Donald Byrd & PNB dancers at Roy McMakin’s stone bench. (To read more about the choreographers and their pieces, go to: PNB + New Works: Introductions – Pacific Northwest Ballet). The evening, called Summer at SAM: Sculptured Dance, will happen on August 11, 6-8 pm.
All the way back in April, Kate Wallich—who has done two other out-of-theater works, one at the sculpture park—told me she was very excited and enthusiastic about this project and its potential both to attract younger audiences (Kate’s specialty) and to foster partnerships. “Dancing in an outdoor environment changes things a lot for me,” she said.
Movement that works in the bounded, controlled space of the studio “doesn’t translate to the outside,” where, in the present case, the stage is a wide, bumpy, sloping, triangular field, with walkways on all three sides and a busy street along one edge. “No pirouettes,” says Kate, looking amused. “Structure, organization, and relationships rather than the movements,” are what count there, what she calls “every day choreography.” Her usual movement language “can’t be done outside—the movements themselves—except that the structure, etc. is also part of my language.” This particular field changes over the months as well. During the first outdoor rehearsals, in April, the field was grassy with a few California poppies. By the next rehearsals a month or so later, the grass had grown much taller and was also laced with purple-blue, yellow and white wild flowers. But in August during the performance this coming week, the field will be dry and yellow. Each stage of the outdoor stage presents its own charms and challenges.
But more technically challenging steps are precluded not just by the difficulty of the setting. They are also made less attractive to the choreographer by way the audience will perceive the piece. During on-site rehearsals in that beautiful, warm week at the beginning of April, passers-by didn’t necessarily realize what was going on. That may be the case during performance as well, when joggers, walkers, pairs caught up in earnest conversation, might cross the scene oblivious. The environment impinges in other ways, in each instance, from an oreo cookie handed to one of the dancers rehearsing by a watcher to hay fever allergies flaring up and a bee sting on Mia’s eyelid.
And all that, along with the street sounds of trucks down-shifting on the steep hill, and the rumble of long freight trains below, becomes part of the meaning and intention of the piece, which Kate watches “from many points of view,” so she knows how it reads in each direction. “The background is the street and the cityscape,” she adds. “Use it all. That’s why