In their song Human, The Killers ask "Are we human, or are we dancers?" The singer says his sign is vital, his hands are cold. On Thursday evening at Christ Church Neighborhood House, Meredith Rainey and Marcel Williams Foster put that question to the test in Carbon Dance Theatre's Science Per Forms. It's a wonderful title for a piece that explores humanity's contest between body and machine and the question of which drives which.
The 45-minute work had multiple collaborators: Nine science, technology, architecture and design wonks from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania associated with IK Studio and the Hactory (yes, a haven for hackers,) and six dancers under the guiding light of Foster and Rainey.
The academics created the machina sans Deus, a table-shaped creature suspended so its four "legs" (manipulated by computer commands) could bend its "knees" inwards with spider-like efficiency.
Anna Noble is the interlocutor between the technology and the dancers and the unrelenting master of both. She wears "Accelerometer Devices" on her wrists, airplaning her arms so that each wrist commands a different-colored cube projected on the back screen. They stretch, dissolve, and spring back, much in the way a body might, or like dancer Annie Wilson who opened the work lying on the floor, contorting herself in twists and twitches that presaged the movement.
Snippets of Gabriel Prokofiev's electronic and percussive music wafted between sounds like the airy raspberries babies make or the harsher, bilious blurbs adult bodies make, or spun into metallic, cistern-like echoes.
Inside the dangling legs, the dancers undulated as if by shock waves while the lower legs folded up into them. In threat or embrace? Five of the dancers, including Eiren Shuman-Sutton, Felicia Cruz, Daniella Currica and Sun-Mi Cho (Artistic Associate of Carbon Dance) writhe in tight formation as if trying to integrate themselves into one another but collapse from the tension.
Much of the choreography was ballet-based, suited to the machine theme. Four of the dancers leave the stage to join us in the audience greeting us in street clothes to watch Cho's angst-filled solo with us. It leaves her limp on the floor, with Noble still in charge. Are Cho's signs vital? Are Noble's hands cold?
In an earlier, silent moment, we heard dogs barking outside at cars rumbling on the cobblestones -- the old and the animal, the new and the human.
This is a shared, alternating bill with Carbon Dance Theatre: Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. www.carbondancetheatre.org