A pair of 3D glasses are thrust into my hand: look for the orange box. I nod, the thick, red rims finding their way to the bridge of my nose. The box becomes a cube, hovering warily, suspended in space. Members of the audience sit in quiet anticipation, bug-eyed and curious. Some jump as the stage gives way to darkness, at the sudden arrival of sound – the humming of space between things. There are words stamped across the walls of The Barbican, a question that wraps the building in its year-long arts season, Life Rewired: What does it mean to be human when technology is changing everything? Answers begin to worm their way into being, with a geometric shape revolving against a sheet of stars. It begins to break, shards spelling out a single unit: Tesseract.
Co-created by Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, Tesseract is a two-part experimental work exploring the relationship between the human form and technology in the 21st century. Act One takes the form of a 3D movie (by Atlas), following a group of dancers across disparate worlds and hybrid places with no name. Time collides with space, and one performer becomes six. Together they make shapes, moving mechanically, each wearing a blank, unfeeling gaze. The company converse in a predictive text of movement – repeating phrases, dotting their I’s with a flick of the wrist, and crossing their t’s with a snap from the shin. They appear to have been made stupid by decision-making processors, dancing to a Richter Scale of their own. Here, Natural Law is fevered and weak. Green-wigged bodies stick to a concrete ceiling, tumbling into stretches of orange sand. Then, a sleeping mess of colour is met by gravity, its weight snagging on hinges made by elbows. It is a fast paced, if exhausting visual lullaby.
The second act is dressed up in see-through gauze. Choreographed by Mitchell and Reiner, a live performance is contained by this additional layer. Projections strive to create an extra-dimension, with blue lines snaking across our vision, following the dancers as they flock together in murmuration. At points, a cameraman will attach himself to the group, the eye of his lens projected onto the screen. This creates a competition between two perspectives, with frantic vignettes caught from above, or rooted within the choreography itself. This refusal to settle, this onstage agitation, feels like a personification of technological stimulation. A sensory overload enough to knot our synapses – for white light to tread new neural pathways.
Tesseract is a striking event. Its concept is unique, and the fusion of three-dimensional film and live performance commendable. However, towards the end, the piece begins to lose its charm. A series of contrasting (yet, invariably similar) special effects make the act of spectating laborious. It is as though Mitchell and Reiner took turns skimming stones across the surface of the action, looking on as its momentum begins to cease and sink, as opposed to focussing on the areas which made the most impact.
Tesseract played until 2 March. For more information, visit the Barbican website.