Kasia Reilly's contemporary dance project Dolina is absurd and surreal | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Kasia Reilly's contemporary dance project Dolina is absurd and surreal

Kasia Reilly's contemporary dance project Dolina is absurd and surreal
CP photo: Renee Rosensteel

A few unexpected adjectives stand out when Kasia Reilly describes her contemporary dance performance project, Dolina. “Absurd” comes up, as does “surreal.” As Reilly explains, these themes play out in a variety of ways, from bursts of tense laughter, to dancers uncannily mirroring each other, to a warped sense of time. 

In a promotional video for the piece, Reilly expresses wanting Dolina to appeal to more than just dance fans, all while being “bizarre” enough to “scare some people off.” 

But the show—staged April 11-12 at the New Hazlett Theater—is more than a strange bit of fun. At its core, Dolina tells the story of four people trying to survive in a hostile world, all of which unfolds through a series of vignettes performed by Reilly and fellow dancers Alayna Baron, Maddy Joss, and Johnny Mathews.

“Especially the last half of the work flows quite quickly through solos, duets, and trios that I think of almost like small poems,” Reilly says. “Rather than making an 'essay' or 'narrative' out of the work, my approach has been more like making a collection of small poems that evoke related emotions and themes, but are not otherwise connected.”

The distinctive show is hardly surprising for Reilly, a choreographer and dancer whose website cites her artistic vision as seeking “to make performance with healthy doses of both form and chaos.” She says she draws influence from “particular visual art and literature that deals in this tricky territory of the inarticulable-yet-clear,” including the Surrealists, modernist, and postmodernist writers.

Adding to the unconventional vibe of the performance is music by Maya Chun, a musician and producer whose past projects include working with hardcore or metal acts like Youth Novel and Bonzo. Chun is now part of The Cheeseburger Picnic, an Ann Arbor-based band that references the cult Canadian television show Trailer Park Boys and uses terms like “utterly chaotic mathcore” to describe its sound (think fast drums and screaming). 

But don't expect Dolina to sound anything like The Cheesburger Picnic.

“Much of the music is atmospheric, almost ambient sound, rather than rhythmic music that we'll be dancing on the beat to,” says Reilly. “[Chun] has made a score that moves between being brooding, beautiful, and sometimes a little cheeky.”

Also featured are tracks by English musician The Caretaker, whose style Reilly calls “crackly, nostalgic ballroom pop.”

Presented as part of the New Hazlett's Community Supported Artist (CSA) program, the piece marks the first evening-length performance for Reilly – previously, the longest piece she had ever choreographed was eight-minutes long. 

Through the program, she was able to develop Dolina from a short piece she choreographed in 2017 during her final year at the University of Michigan. The original piece now constitutes a section of the show. 

Though “some change of circumstances” led her to move back to her hometown of Milan, Mich. in September 2018, she applied for the CSA while residing in Pittsburgh for a year, as the program works to support emerging local artists. Many of her collaborators also come from her native state, including Chun, Joss, and Mathews, who both attend the University of Michigan. Baron, meanwhile, is a Baltimore-based independent dancer and choreographer.

While she no longer lives in Pittsburgh, Reilly credits the CSA program for allowing her to not only create her first full-length production, but to challenge herself by integrating more theatrical elements of speaking, writing, and acting into Dolina, a piece defined by highly physical contemporary dance. 

“I tend to approach learning by throwing myself in the deep end,” says Reilly. 

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