A show performed by “Kate Wallich + the YC x Perfume Genius” suggests the Institute of Contemporary Art might be offering an evening of more than just dance. So do interview quotes like “I sent Mike all these Cy Twombly crazy vomit paintings full of color for inspiration” and “All I wanted was to crawl around on my knees for two hours.”
Actually, “The Sun Still Burns Here,” which the ICA has brought to its Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater this weekend, is fairly conventional. Wallich is a Seattle-based choreographer; the YC is her dance company; Perfume Genius is the “nom de poster-wraith” (i.e., stage name) of Seattle indie-pop musician Mike Hadreas, whose TV appearances include Jimmy Kimmel, Steven Colbert, and David Letterman. “The Sun Still Burns Here” was commissioned by Seattle Theatre Group, the Joyce Theater in NYC, and Mass MoCA, and it’s practically brand new, having debuted in Seattle last October before going on to the Joyce in November. Set to a Perfume Genius score that includes the already released singles “Pop Song” and “Eye in the Wall” (Hadreas plans to release the score as an album), the “evening-length” piece is danced by five men and two women (including Wallich and Hadreas) and runs 57 minutes without intermission. There’s no art installation, no rear-wall video screen — though what we get isn’t dance so much as a music video with dancing.
Certainly Hadreas appears to be the driving force behind “The Sun Still Burns Here,” even though it was Wallich who initiated the project. (She had a commission to work with a live musician.) Thomas House comes out from behind the curtain to start, alternately preening and wrapping himself in the curtain, not sure whether to extol the body or conceal it. When the curtain parts, we see, through haze and gauzy fabric, Hadreas perched atop a tall rolling metal staircase, mic in hand, singing the first of the evening’s 10 songs, “Just a Room,” while below a reclining Wallich tugs on a cord that draws the gauzy fabric away, revealing him more clearly, and the other dancers, isolated, do their own thing.
“The Sun Still Burns Here” is about concealing and revealing, about touching and not touching. There’s a lot of slow-motion posturing and parading and rolling on the floor at first, dancers meditating on their bodies. “Pop Song” brings one of the evening’s few audible lyrics (“Our bodies are stretched”) and also the first instance of couples dancing together. The haze dissipates; five dancers engage in a group hug while a stomping House remains at war with his body. The quintet move to the rear of the stage, where there’s energetic activity under cover of a huge white sheet; when they emerge, Wallich is putting her shirt back on. Seated at the piano, Alan Wyffels, Hadreas’s offstage partner, reaches out; he’ll soon become the seventh dancer.
Hadreas and Wyffels nuzzle each other briefly, but the last section of the piece, as the music grows louder and heavier, finds Hadreas and Wallich making out, wrestling, throwing each other this way and that, Hadreas still clutching the mic, while Wyffels sits on the piano bench with his head in his hands and the other dancers do what they please. But then Wyffels’s decision to make it a threesome leads to a liberation of bodies, an orgy of ecstatic individual movement as the music pounds away.
Hadreas ends it at the piano, playing softly while Wyffels takes up the flute and everyone else huddles round, exhausted, lolling and caressing one another or just hanging out. It’s the body, and the mind, at peace.
THE SUN STILL BURNS HERE
Directed by Kate Wallich and Mike Hadreas. Choreography by Wallich. Music by Perfume Genius. At Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, Jan. 17. Repeats Jan. 18. Tickets $20-$30. 617-478-3103, www.icaboston.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at email@example.com.