Would you recognize the sound of rapid-fire clicking of a computer keyboard out of context? When heard combined with a performer standing ankle-deep in a cardboard box with arms held in a bound position behind her back, slowly undulating against this restriction, it makes you think.
In a form as abstract as dance, intention is everything. Assuming the intentions of I Hate My Job and Other Tales of Squandered Potential are to reflect the weight of unending days of unfulfilling work, they succeed.
Co-creators and choreographers Falon Baltzell and Kirsten Pianka are almost in uniform in their black dresses with small white polka dots. Each swings her fully extended arm around, repeatedly smacking her fist into the open palm of her other hand. Like a hammer striking, over and over. Then both hands pantomime eating, then swallowing something, consuming it mechanically. Their actions are devoid of emotion, robotic.
Part straightforward modern dance and part performance art, the 35-minute work starts out powerfully enough, but meanders and carries on beyond making its point. The piece weighs more heavily towards gestures and belabored actions than dance: Baltzell and Pianka walk around, each dragging boxes with one foot inside.
They empty a box of crumpled paper wads onto the stage and make half-hearted efforts to assemble them. Rubbing fingertips and thumb together quickly, suggesting money, is a recurring motif. Thumbs up shift to thumbs down.
Still, there were memorable moments: At one point Pianka begins sticking one Post-It note after another onto Baltzell’s head and elsewhere. They place empty boxes on each of their heads. They quiver their bent arms, hands in fists; it’s vaguely disturbing. Baltzell manages to pull off multiple pirouettes with one foot inside an empty box — no easy feat.
In contrast to the movement, the intriguing and delightfully varied score covers more ground and carries the main dynamics of the piece. There’s a touch of vintage culture: “Five O’clock World” by The Vogues, a voiceover from a 1950s instructional film on office etiquette. A current-day interviewer voice speaks of ageism and sexism in the workplace and describes how Millennials lack skills and aren’t prepared for the workforce.
I Hate My Job reads as fairly cerebral, studied. In fact, the program’s response to a question in the post-show Q&A revealed references to Foucault and the futility of resistance to power norms.
At its best, the work is hypnotic, at worst rather flat and at times, even monotonous. But again, to what extent that was intentional? Simply put, dance that demonstrates more expressive emotion tends to feel more engaging and inviting. This piece isn’t for everyone, and I’m a longtime fan of contemporary dance. Yet the work grew on me some; perhaps it requires a bit of reflection and distance.
I won’t say the choreographers of FK Productions squandered their potential. But this piece ends where it must: The dancers look back at the boxes they’ve lined up across the stage and exit side by side. Are they hopeful or just quitting, giving up?
I HATE MY JOB AND OTHER TALES OF SQUANDERED POTENTIAL by FK Productions (Cleveland) will be performed at 6 p.m. Sunday, June 1 at Know Theatre (1120 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine).