TROY -– The shimmering, shape-shifting, science-fiction world of Charles Atlas’ ‘Tesseract” on Friday night at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center was an amazing departure from what contemporary dance generally offers.
Atlas, who was Merce Cunningham’s filmmaker-in-residence during the 1970s to 1983, worked with former Cunningham dancers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener to combine dance, music, exotic sets, lighting and costumes, all seen through a camera’s lens. They and five other remarkable dancers worked for the last three years developing this piece, which got its world premiere Friday before a rapt, near-capacity crowd. It was a novel and sometimes arresting experience.
The dance’s title, which is derived from the Greek word tessares (four) and aktis (a ray of light), was in two sections: the first was a 42-minute video in 3-D (audience members all wore 3-D glasses) of six segments, each one different in every way from the other; the second had the six live dancers on stage sometimes with their images re-directed to a screen with the images altered by light shifts and off action by nanoseconds. This segment lasted for more than an hour. The electronic/computer music scores were haunting yet accessible.
Christian Fennesz composed the video’s music; Thomas Arsenault aka Mas Ysa wrote and performed the music for the live dance, which was lit with white light by Davison Scandrett.
Mitchell and Riener, who also designed the exceptionally imaginative costumes, choreographed abstract movements that involved angular and sharp gestures, hops, spinning like tops, jerky head or shoulder movements, extended postures often in off center positions, shaking all over, or running sometimes backward that accentuated the rhythmic sound of their bare feet. Arms extended in searching modes were frequent. Each dance had a center focus that drew the viewer in.
There seemed to be themes or hints of themes like belonging or identity. Humor played a part. Three stood out in the video. A man in tight black with a silver metallic top reached out with straight arms or legs in a robotic fashion in a twilight-lit fog. A woman in similar costume joined him with similar sharp gestures but they never touched or connected. She then lay down in a cloud and disappeared.
A rocky desert landscape with orange sky -– maybe Mars? -- with an observatory on the hill overlooked five dancers, each pushing around geometric shapes. They were like lifeforms coming awake. A sixth stood straight and tall and buzzed around, as if she had figured it all out.
In another segment amid ropes that hung from overhead, two men lay on the floor and pushed against each other almost in a sexual symbiosis until one separated to stand. The movements were in slow motion until each seemed invigorated by discovery.
In a funny, brief segment, Mitchell and Riener had a conversation in a made-up language. Their facial expressions told the tale, which brought laughter.
In the live dance, which seemed like an homage to the square, dancers in white costumes ran, mingled, worked in separate pas de deux. Gestures were sometimes sudden, but more often softer than what had been done in the video yet each gesture was well-defined with a sharp edge. The dancers’ balancing abilities to stand motionless for several moments in odd, off center positions were particularly impressive.
Their projected images onto the screen created fanciful shapes in which arm gestures appeared like fans of color, and their bodies shimmered. Ysa’s music, which tended toward layered single deep tones with occasional beeps of birdlike sounds, was evocative.
“Tesseract” was also performed Saturday night.