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It’s loud, in the eardrum-rocking way you’d associate more with a Bushwick noise band than a downtown experimental theater troupe. It’s abrasive, messy, and sometimes maddeningly opaque. But it’s also hard to stop thinking about. Parts of fractured bones/let’s get lost—a new multimedia dance-theater piece by New York-Norwegian duo Iver Findlay and Marit Sandsmark, now playing a limited run at the Performing Garage—keep stubbornly resurfacing in the mind long after you’re done watching. It refuses to settle down and stay watched. Despite being a meditation on disappearance, it just doesn’t go away.
Performed in front of a high, wide projection screen and a pile of old computer monitors, both of which relay kaleidoscopic footage, fractured bones examines our urge to disappear into technology, and technology’s ability to get inside us. Sequences of spasmodic dance performed by Sandsmark—twisting, spinning, shifting planes and axes—alternate with swatches of hardboiled narration delivered by a fellow in gumshoe regalia (Eric Dyer). He’s looking for his sister, but the search is as much about venturing inside the complex onstage representational apparatus as it is about finding her.
One of those citational pieces that sheds cultural references like pollen, fractured bones pulls manic choreography and plot elements from Godard’s eccentric techno-noir Alphaville, and an eerie atmosphere of mystery from The Maltese Falcon’s famous Flitcraft parable (which tells the story of a mousy man who suddenly, after a brush with death delivered by a falling beam, abandons his comfortable suburban life and vanishes without a trace—only to resurface in an identical rut years later).
At the center of fractured bones is a stammering faux-naïve disquisition—delivered by videogame artist Victor E. Morales, stepping out from behind his console—on the seductions of online presence: We want to prove we’re “there” in the nowhere of the digital ether by liking and commenting—sending out little avatar signals that somehow point back to our real-world selves.
To make his case, Morales proceeds to scan Sandsmark’s body into a digital rendering program. A doppelganger with geometric bones appears onscreen, abstracting her movements into a swirl of animated limbs. He attaches digital sound effects to her onstage gestures that uncannily abstract them—even though we see her pounding the walls, or cutting the air with her hands, the amplified slaps and swooshes sound manifestly fake. She’s simultaneously more “there” and less “there.”
Morales then guides her (and the spectators) on an extended onscreen voyage into a virtual reality landscape that slowly, discomfitingly, mutates from bucolic to nightmarish as pixilated rivers, trees, and gentle slopes are gradually supplanted by sinister monoliths, and a dystopian New York decomposing byte by byte (Dyer soon chimes in, linking the images to what may or may not be a manifestation of the earlier narrative). As we watch the city come apart, the piece’s jarring use of technology begins to overpower us. Kitschily benign at first—like an old-school VR helmet—the herky-jerky videogame-like first-person perspective that pulls our eyes through the digital environments soon causes real-world screen-sickness with its juddering lurches. The roaring soundtrack and scintillating lights create lasting synesthetic sensory confusion.
fractured bones gives us a dystopian vision of technology run catastrophically rampant—let’s not forget that Alphaville is about a tyrannical computer pithing life and poetry from its human captives. But the piece’s apocalyptic scenarios are gently undercut by the workmanlike presence of the company. As members of the production team carefully adjust the placement of a camera, or tweak the video feed, we see that the humans are firmly in charge (at the Performing Garage, at least). Throughout, the sturdy materiality of Sandsmark’s dancing body—as she throws herself against walls and rolls along the floor—provides a running counterpoint to the denatured images onscreen.
The sensory overload makes spectatorial search engines of us—since it’s impossible to see everything (there’s always too much going on), you have to surf the information, computer-like, picking and choosing. Meanwhile, fractured bones keeps bringing us back to our actual presence in the theater. A droning robot voice periodically intones the precise clock time, tracking the disappearing minutes; sheets of paper (analog media!) intermittently waft from above and slowly accumulate on the floor, measuring the aggregation of the piece.
During fractured bones’s closing sequence, several computer monitors abruptly hurtle down from the rafters and smash onstage, narrowly missing (it seems) the departing performers. Like the falling beam that prompts Flitcraft’s life reboot, the questions the piece asks are violent but unresolvable. We’re doomed to keep dancing our love-hate, fear-desire duet with technology’s broken promises to put us nearer to each other. (When Dyer and Sandsmark do finally move in tandem, it’s with an urgent, demolishing frenzy that knocks down a wall.)
In an almost unbearably elegiac final image, projections translate Sandsmark’s slow movements into a cloud of tiny white motes wafting onscreen amid darkness—the ghost of dancing with no trace of a body. It’s as if all the flickers of someone’s online presence—the likes and comments, clicks and page-views—got together to turn a mournful minuet for their vanished maker.