Tesseract – Barbican Theatre, London

Director: Charles Atlas

Choreographers: Rashoun Mitchell and Silas Riener

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

While 3D movie going is these days primarily confined to superhero movies and CGI animations, its usage often feels as if it’s more of an attempt to dissuade would-be pirates from recording the screen than contributing to artistic endeavour.

I have long thought, however, that dance movies benefit from the 3D process. John M Chu’s Step Up 3D and its successors, along with Britain’s StreetDance 3D, may not have had the most demanding of plots – but by giving a greater sense of the space in which the dancers perform, the choreography in enhanced in ways that a simple 2D rendering could not imagine.

Until now, the use of 3D film for more high-end dance has been limited to Wim Wenders’ 2011 Pina, a tribute to Pina Bausch and her company. But in the new work Tesseract, part of the Barbican’s year-long Life Rewired season, we are afforded the unusual step of attending a dance performance where the first act is performed completely on 3D film.

Visual artist Charles Atlas composites a series of pieces for the large screen, starting with a contemporary dress black and white ensemble number that introduces the dancers to us. Atlas constantly changes the aspect ratio of the screen in view, emphasising that we are watching through a window to these dancers.

This first piece has the strongest choreography by Rashoun Mitchell and Silas Reiner, showing just how impressive 3D filming can be. Elsewhere, the concept of a tesseract – a four-dimensional cube that has inspired science fiction from Heinlein to Marvel comics – is explored with a selection of sequences which exhibit a rather more retro aesthetic.

A sequence in which a duo dance in dry ice while dressed in silver spandex would not look out of place were the ominous, swooping electronic chords replaced by Sarah Brightman singing how she lost her heart to a Starship Trooper. Yet there is a lyrical beauty to the fluidity of movement in this piece which, again, the 3D camera enhances: moving among the dancers, there is a sense of presence of these alien forms some ten times taller than onstage humans.

Less successful is a returning sequence in which the company, in orange leotards from which geometric shapes spout like mathematical tumours. Crude green screen effects to make it look as if the dancers are sprawled across the surface of Mars are of a quality that would make even the most ardent of 1970s Doctor Who fan blush with despair.

The second act sees Mitchell and Reiner working on stage with a slightly different company. There is a sense of the geometric here, too, as dancers are introduced by running in the shape of a square. The beauty here is the uniformity of movement, each dancer reaching their respective vertex in perfect synchronisation with the others.

And yet still there is a barrier between us and the dancers. A gauze screen separates the stage from the auditorium, upon which is projected output from Ryan Thomas Jenkins’ steadicam as he moves among the company. The slight delay induced by wireless transmission and digital broadcast onto the screen is acknowledged, and utilised, by a series of video effects which repeat and amplify the delays.

The video output — again Atlas’s work – is clever and has flashes of inventiveness. There is a continuing sense, though, that it distracts from watching the dancers themselves.

But perhaps that is one of the show’s points, and why it fits into the Barbican’s Life Rewired season about how humanity is changing due to the presence of technology. Screens get in the way: and while they bring us much pleasure, being able to look past them can achieve so much more.

Continues until March 2 2019 | Image: Nathan Keay

Tesseract – Barbican Theatre, London

Onthefringe Rating

I expected and hoped for more



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