January 4, 2018
Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener’s Tesseract never explains what exactly a tesseract is. A Google search will explain it is to a cube what a cube is to a square, moving from three into four dimensions. Motivic to the piece is its image - a cube inside of a cube, connected by diagonal lines as though suspended in a web. When rotated, it takes on an Escher-esque ambiguity, the very sense of spatial non-fixation the choreographers championed dancing for Merce Cunningham. Otherwise, however, comparison with the pair’s parent choreographer sets one up for disappointment. Mitchell and Riener forge deep connections between the piece’s various elements, which, like the rotating titular form, suggest and dismantle whiffs of narrative and abstraction, rigorous structuralism underpinning every moment.
First comes Atlas’ film, instructing us to put on our 3D glasses in a spacey chrome font. If it weren’t enough to watch a 3D film about a 4D shape, Atlas renders many forms 2D, rotating lush facades into flatness. Choreographic inventiveness is reserved for the sake of Atlas’ manipulation. The lens opens and closes with a will of its own on the dancing life forms, swerves over them writhing in hot green bobs, settles into a circular peer through a foggy room surrounding two robotic creatures, and ventures onto a Mars-like planet with a collection of orange shapes. A kaleidoscopic venture through reversed prancing precludes Mitchell and Riener in a forest of tubes where time skips forward without warning.
Atlas spatially situates scattered movement, which becomes more organized onstage, beginning with a decumulating running pattern that follows the tesseract’s form. Often in solos and duets, the ensemble occasionally joins together in rotating conglomerates with outstretched arms. Video remains integral as Ryan Thomas Jenkins, in a pink velvet onesie and glittery sneakers, wanders through their space like a rover, projecting details via his steadycam, a choreographic intrigue all its own. Deadpan performance generates an awkward humor on film. Onstage it becomes solemn, as though these beings do not quite feel at home upon making their visit.
Bouts of concentrated camp are dissolved among the formidable rigor of the dancing. A Star Wars-like opening gives way to distinctly unconvincing realism, the foggy room resembling a Hollywood set of a spaceship, and the orange scene’s static horizon connoting a stock desktop background. It’s even not so much that 3D filming serves the material, as it is a gestural component to the sci-fi experience.
Tesseract is clear in creating bits satisfyingly short of impressiveness via the use of impressive equipment. Beyond nodding to sci-fi’s imaginative ambitiousness, however, is the result not of bringing us closer to such imaginativeness, but illustrating how it is nearly among us. Mitchell and Riener speak on camera in an alien language with their natural speaking voices, as though a cosmic neighbor could sound like a next-door neighbor. At intermission, the set change is as exposed as BAM Harvey’s aesthetic, making audible the technical staff’s correspondence like a NASA reconnaissance. When the performers vacate the proscenium, one emerges into the house, breaking at last all technical barriers for the sake of human connection.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY – Jonathan Matthews