The late author Robert Pirsig, in his ‘70s cult hit Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, ponders the relationship between “classical” and “romantic” thought. He eventually describes the bridge between these two distinct areas of knowledge as the leading edge of a train. In my opinion, few things have ever occupied this cutting edge, liminal space: the advent of democracy, denim as fashion, Microsoft Excel, and, maybe, Tesseract.
Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener work and create with the specificity of brain surgeons, the critical minds of philosophers, the analytic creativity of computer scientists, and, most importantly, the aesthetic sensibility of the pedigreed, interdisciplinary artists they are. The impressive collaborating trio presented Tesseract at On the Boards; a two-part digital media event composed of Tesseract ▢ , “a stereoscopic, three-dimensional video…a six-chapter work of science fiction,” and Tesseract ◯, “a performance for six dancers and multiple mobile cameras—the footage of which Atlas will manipulate in real-time and project back onto the stage.”
Tesseract ▢ involves the audience wearing 3-D glasses to experience the transformation from line, to square, to cube, to tesseract—the four-dimensional analog of the cube—then a multidimensional exploration of time and space through dance. The opening section takes place in in a world delineated by graphic, illustrated black and white panels. Dancers, outfitted in color-blocked costumes and a pop of blue lipstick strategically touch each other. Human hands seem to reach through the diaphane into my lap. After some gentle, linear choreography that highlights the dancers’ classical training in both modern and ballet, our perspective is inverted; the camera is upside down, and we are no longer in the constructed world of black and white.
Sudden, dizzying transitions into other dimensions are the norm in Tesseract ▢; the following sections transport us into wacky worlds that assume far-off regions of spacetime. Horoki Ichinose and Cori Kresge dance in what appears to be outer space, above the clouds and within the stars, in silvery, sequined unitards. Kresge’s back muscles and sinuous movement are beautiful, but seem out of place. Ichinose moves robotically, as if propelled by a machine inside his gut—I imagine him as a personification of the International Space Station—while Kresge’s movement is overly fluid and organic.
The next world into which the audience is transported continues with the extraterrestrial theme, superimposing dancers in orange leotards with protruding geometric objects against a Mars-like background with an imagined space colony in the distance. Kresge performs a breathtaking adagio, scuttling on one leg across the foreign planet while her leg simultaneously hovers in the air.
Tesseract ▢ ends with Mitchell’s and Riener’s duet in a crocheted kelp-forest. Here, Tesseract’s experiments with androgyny and gender performance reach their peak. Costumes that suggest the dancers are genderless otherkin, perhaps Centaurs, overwhelm their wonderfully subtle, intimate movements. I catch myself breathless when the dancers rotate around each other’s faces, touching chins, heads, cheeks, then faces—I only wish there had been fewer aesthetic distractions.
Tesseract ◯ aims to fix this problem: the performers wear simple costumes and execute unpretentious choreography. The live video projected on a scrim at the front of the stage provides us with a bird’s eye view of the stage. Later, the technology focuses close-up on individual dancers, which feels overindulgent and distracts from the actual dancing.
The most effective use of the technology is during a solo danced by Kate Jewett: she kneels on one leg and fans the other behind her, circling her head simultaneously. The cinematographer captures this moment, and Atlas isolates her gestures, playing them back with colored and layered effects. Lying on the ground with her focus towards the scrim, Jewett is forced to relive her movement, what was once fleeting becomes perpetual.
In this moment, Tesseract integrates dance and film theory: Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky, writes in Sculpting in Time that the essence of film is that it captures duration instead of a single instance, and it does so within the scopes of rhythm and space. Dance, while a durational art form, is different than film because it is never performed the same; it is inherently ephemeral. As I watch the dancer’s movement which she performed live seconds before, I am perplexed. Which rendition is better? More authentic? Says more?
I was more intrigued by the accompanying technological developments and creation than the dancing itself. I had seen similar movement before and performed more fluidly in works by Trisha Brown, or more methodically in works by Lucinda Childs. What made the piece worthwhile was its vision, concept, and technological execution, but, unfortunately, there was little cohesion between the thematic and the physical. The dancing felt out of place in relation to the complex, articulate vision laid forth by Atlas, Mitchell, and Riener. That being said, Tesseract grapples with questions of time, space, technology, aesthetics, and body politics—it is, without a doubt, progressive.