Tesseract, the show currently having its European premiere as part of the Barbican's 2019 Life Rewired season, is primarily a play on dimensions in two parts: firstly a 3-D video (special glasses are provided) followed, after the interval, by a live performance where video also plays a significant part.
It’s the joint creation of Charles Atlas, the American pioneer of time-based visual art, and Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, choreographers and dancers formerly with the ground-breaking company of the late great Merce Cunningham.
The video starts with an image of a starry sky on which the work Tesseract slowly forms. Then we’re into a sequence of chapters where six dancers perform in a variety of settings that go from a black and white set, all straight lines and rectangles (pictured up top) to a bright orange moonscape, dotted with tridimensional geometric solids.
The quality of the images is hyperreal, that of the settings often surreal. There is, for example, a psychedelic interlude where the dancers writhing on an askew plane are infused with violently heightened colours. And there is a very affecting sequence where two men, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Reiner, placed in a forest of pastel coloured ropes, slowly circle each other with their faces seemingly glued together, before breaking apart.
Tesseract, Rashaun Mitchell, Silas Riener, photo Mick Bello/EMPAC
Throughout all chapters the dances have much that is recognisably Merce Cunningham, straight windmilling arms, bodies suddenly creating right angles as the torso bends sideways, straight-legged hops, within a syncopated perpetual motion.
Part one is perhaps overlong; and dazzled as you may be by a succession of highly original, eye-filling images, colours and technical processes (Tesseract is very much a hymn to technology), there isn’t enough in the choreography to anchor the work.
Part two (beautifully lit by Davison Scandrett) is rather more engaging. The six dancers are now live behind a scrim and as they dance, first encased in see-through loose netting pyjamas, then stripped down to white bodies, they are filmed by a cameraman in a bright crimson tunic with glitzy silver trainers.
Aspects and distortions of their dancing (to a score by Mas Ysa) are projected onto the scrim, providing new perspectives and a fourth dimension to the stage. It’s all terribly clever, but not so as to be intimidating.
Tesseract, Ensemble, photo Nathan Keay
The choreography for this second part is more varied and versatile, and goes beyond the Cunningham vocabulary. At first isolated individuals performing the same steps in unison, the dancers gradually form into groups that interact with each other and with the cameraman, providing a never-ending sequence of relationships.
There is no emotional content to this interrogation of man’s relationship with fast moving and seemingly overwhelming technology; but there is a very satisfying aesthetic quality to the way in which their interaction is presented.
So, Tesseract is very much a show of two halves: demanding viewing if you try to apply the rather complicated programme notes to every step and perspective on stage; a little less so, if you can just relax into it and enjoy an intelligent, often arresting visual feast – and all beautifully danced by its six-strong cast.
Note: 3D glasses provided for free.
Age Guidance: 12 years +
|What||Charles Atlas/Rashaun Mitchell/Silas Riener: Tesseract Review|
|Where||Barbican Theatre, Barbican Centre, Silk Street, London, E2CY 8DS | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Barbican (underground)|
28 Feb 19 – 02 Mar 19, 19:45 Dur.: 1 hour 45 mins inc one interval
|Website||Click here to book via the Barbican website|