By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
For her very first full-length dance work dancer/choreographer Kasia Reilly is embracing the absurd. Her new work, Dolina, presented as part of the New Hazlett Theater’s 2018-2019 Community Supported Arts series on April 11 & 12, takes it inspiration from Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s 1965 absurdist novel “Kosmos.”
Wikipedia describes absurdist literature as focusing on the experiences of characters in situations where they cannot find any inherent purpose in life, most often represented by ultimately meaningless actions and events that call into question the certainty of existential concepts such as truth or value.
“I have always liked absurdist literature like that of Samuel Beckett,” says Reilly. “Gombrowicz’s writing style is high energy and frantic compared to other authors I have read whose absurdist works can be very dry, dusty and airless.”
A dusty and airless space is the opposite of where the 24-year-old recent graduate of the University of Michigan’s dance program sees the setting for Dolina (meaning “valley” in Polish). “The work takes place in an uncanny valley where people are always wearing masks to hide who they are,” says Reilly. “Gombrowicz writes about the masks we wear as people and how it is not possible to remove them only put on others over them depending on the situation.”
The 48-minute, non-narrative and intermission-less modern dance work grew out of the Ann Arbor, Michigan-native’s senior thesis project at college and features the same cast of dancers including Reilly, John Matthews, Madeline Joss and Alayna Baron.
Baron, also from Ann Arbor, has known and danced with Reilly since high school and describes the work as a series of non-linear and abstract vignettes or snapshots along a pastoral, yet surreal, trip.
It was the surreal trip of Dorothy Gale down the yellow brick road in the 1939The Wizard of Oz motion picture that first got Reilly interested in dance at age three. “I saw the ballerina munchkins (“Lullaby League”) in the movie and wouldn’t shut up about wanting to take ballet classes after that,” she says. Switching from ballet to modern dance in college, Reilly learned works by choreographers Andrea Miller, Meredith Monk and Richard Alston as well as presented her own choreography at the American College Dance Association conference.
Danced to an original ambient soundscape by Maya Chun, another University of Michigan friend, along with music by Manchester, England electronic musician The Caretaker (James Leyland Kirby), the work has been a bit of a logistical challenge for Reilly who recently moved from Pittsburgh back to Ann Arbor.
“There was a lot more to do in organizing people’s schedules for rehearsals and I had to take a longer view of the flow of the piece because I had so much more material to make.”
Baron describes Reilly’s choreographic process as being not so much collaborative as it is communicative with the other dancers. “She picks our brains for ideas but generates all the movement herself,” says Baron. “She knows what she is looking for and I respect her vision.”
Baron, who now lives in Baltimore, says the creative process this time round has also been a big change for her. “It’s been an interesting and different process for me because I am not local to her,” says Baron. “I have had to learn choreography from videos she has sent me and have traveled to Pittsburgh for intensive weekend rehearsal sessions which is new for me.”
Reilly, who describes her movement language for the work as being expressive, athletic and gestural, says she knew she wanted to work with the same dancers that were in her senior thesis piece again because “they really get my movement and we all click when we dance together in a really nice way. It has done the piece well to work with people who have done my movement before because they snap into anything I give them really quickly.”
The choreography she has crafted for herself and the dancers, says Reilly, feels as if we are floating in space and are aware of our own isolation. “For this work I have not taken an outward look at the world around me, rather it is more me synthesizing my own feelings about authenticity and connection with other people.”
Playing into the abstract nature of the work, the production, other than a brief monologue Reilly has written, contains no multimedia. Faux flowers and masks the dancers wear are the only stage dressing and props. “The work focuses on the movement,” says Reilly.
In the end, Reilly says she is “hoping to show people a work that looks as if it could end really solemnly or cynically but instead lifts them up and leaves them feeling relief and hope.”
Kasia Reilly’s Dolina will be performed at 8 p.m., Thursday, April 11 and Friday, April 12. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. Tickets are $25 and available by calling (412) 320-4610 or at newhazletttheater.org.