A scene from “Fetish,” by the Minneapolis-based dance company Hijack
Hacking into Hijack’s code
Dance company infuses every movement with meaning
By Lightsey Darst
Here are some things that happen in Hijack’s dance “Fetish”: Dressed in dirty white, the duo of Kristin Van Loon and Arwen Wilder retrace a routine while Barry Manilow’s “Could It Be Magic?” stops and starts on a scratchy tape recorder, as if the two were girls rehearsing for a middle school talent show. Other movements obsessive, specific carve the stage space into tight geometry. Wilder innocently builds a bomb; Wilder tentatively takes a bite of a suspended cheeseburger. Clothes start coming off, as the movement grows from deliberate and self-contained to frenetic and expansive. By the end, obsession, rules, and red underwear build to a conclusion that at once brings together and changes all that’s come before.
If “Fetish” seems complex on stage, it’s even more so in Van Loon and Wilder’s minds. At different moments they cite different inspirations war time, memory exercises, the black boots they wear throughout the piece, even the 2002 World Taxidermy Championships. All this is true: Van Loon and Wilder question the usual valuing of product over process by building backstory into every piece, nowhere more so than in “Fetish,” where they “obsessively encoded every move,” says Van Loon. Each one “feels laden with story”not pantomime, not top-down meaning, but democratically fertile meanings. So how do they keep their dances from being a chain of in-jokes? “You have to trust that the images are evocative enough that the audience can make a story from them,” Wilder says. Some of the backstory will never reach the audience. Only Van Loon and Wilder know, for example, that they didn’t wash their “Fetish” costumes for a year the dirt memory of their past made literal. But having such a rich well of experience to draw on makes them “dancers with active imaginations,” says Van Loon, and gives them an inner life the audience can feel.
There is one story about “Fetish” that wasn’t of Hijack’s making. Earlier this year, Philadelphia airport security pulled them aside after discovering the fake bomb prop (carefully disassembled) in their luggage. The two explained that they were a dance company; the officials asked for the company name. “It was such a bad punch line,” Wilder says. Luckily, the two were let off with a warning although without their fake bomb, which was, apparently, detonated. As for the name Hijack, the two had questioned it after 9/11, but the airport incident allowed them to claim it again. For them, the word indicates the changing of meaning, repurposing, reuse and it’s also a perfect metaphor for collaboration.
This week at Performance Space 122, Hijack will perform “Fetish” and two other pieces with New Orleans dancer-choreographer Scotty Heron, who’s performing a solo of his own. Hijack and Heron frequently work together; they created the evening’s title piece, “Three Minutes of Pork and Shoving,” while at a festival in Yaroslavl, Russia. (The pork, naturally, is used to create sound effects.) Heron’s seeming spontaneity on stage and his strange yet genuine personal logic fascinate Van Loon and Wilder. “He’s so brilliant, it’s scary to dance with him, next to him, on the same program,” Van Loon says.
Minneapolis-based Hijack, now in their twelfth year, has performed all over the country, but this is only their second trip to New York. Their third, though, isn’t far off: Tere O’Connor recently selected them for the second annual Nothing Festival (“nothing” meaning no overall theme and no notes by reviewers) at Dance Theater Workshop, where they’ll be performing April 18-21. O’Connor says that for Hijack, as for himself, “Choreography is a system and you follow it to an idea,” adding that Van Loon and Wilder are “questioners as opposed to proselytizers.” Hijack’s work doesn’t tell you what to think; instead, it uses dance “to push through the moment we’re in.”
“Three Minutes of Pork and Shoving,” an evening of work by Hijack and Scotty Heron. Dec. 14-17. P.S. 122, 150 First Avenue, 212-352-3101, ps122.org.