November 16, 2019
Kate Wallich’s The Sun Still Burns Here is a rough and tumble tribute to
Seattle’s grunge pop-rock scene. Created for her company Kate Wallich + The YC, the
work is a radically integrated collaboration with rock band Perfume Genius. Co-commissioned
by the Joyce Theatre, Wallich’s concert transformed the Chelsea
presenting house into a cesspit of sex, drugs, and rock & roll.
Performer Thomas House sits in the audience and moves in silence before the
houselights have even dimmed. Clothed in a black and white striped shirt, layered with
a black velvet top underneath, costume designers Colton Dixon and Christine Tran aid
in creating House’s mime like qualities.
His movements from the arms and back are
gestural and presentational. At times he cues the audience to what is about to appear
on the stage with a tantalizing smile. At others he is shy and insecure, concerned with
his own appearance. House suddenly stomps to cue the music as the curtain rises.
Immediately the audience is drawn into Perfume Genius’ rock den.
The opening scene is an allusion to the somewhat frightening parallels of star
quality and royalty. Velvet curtains drape the scenery, gold woven rope hangs from the
ceiling, and gauzy sheets sway through the space. Art director Andrew J.S invites the
audience into this gritty hazy world. Dancers and musicians scatter on the
floor writhing slowly with soft undulations throughout the body. At the center of it all is lead
singer Mike Hadreas, stationed on a moving ladder bathed in a bright, white spotlight.
One of nine songs in the set, this opening scene sets the precedent for a motif
carried throughout the work. No matter where the dancers go on their investigatory
journey, Mike Hadreas is their ringleader, their champion, their king. Whether the
dancers play with the curtains in a jazzy mockery of traditional dance steps, or soften
into spirals and contemporary turns through space, they are fully manipulated by
Perfume Genius’ soundtrack.
The execution of the movements themselves vary dancer
to dancer, each following their own unique narrative. Some dancers are CAMP-y and
sharp, others are emotional and introverted. Though the choreography is not technically
challenging, and the sequencing simply follows the album’s progression, the dancers
exhaust themselves with radical energy shifts and intense caricature dedication. The
through line for it all is the communion of movement and music.
As the piece progresses to its end, dancers come together with musicians in
sloppy unison and head banging disturbances. And, it couldn’t go without mentioning
Wallich and Hadreas’ provocative sex scene climax...literally. Overall, the piece is more of a rock concert than a dance show. By the end of the work the audience has been on a roller coaster of fast, furious, and free times. Hadreas described it as “difficult, fun, fucked up”, however The Sun Still Burns Here is a work which could only be described as one thing- rock and roll.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Mia Silvestri