Sometimes, if you fall asleep again in the morning after waking, you'll have a dream so vivid it seems to take hours and days, when only a few minutes have actually gone by. Paige Barnes' Molt has that disorienting effect. The work is under an hour long, but it is packed full of images and materials, not all of them immediately understandable.
Molt Paige Barnes at Consolidated Works, 500 Boren Ave. N., 800-838-3006, www.locateperformance.org. $10–$15. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., through May 13.
Molt began life in a improvisation workshop in 2004, but it's acquired film, text, props, and a sound score—a panoply of tools that add to the hubbub without necessarily amplifying the kinetic impact. The dancing is varied and beautiful, but doesn't seem any stronger for all the accessories.
There are dancers onstage as the audience enters the theater, lying in front of a pair of Lucite screens filled with digital images from industrial parks. The pixels in the images seem to vibrate, like heat shimmering off the pavement, so that the scene looks gritty and hazy, and the dancers share that indolent quality as they begin to move. But soon they are spinning and swooping, leaving that sleepy place behind, and the dance seems to develop apart from the images on the screen. As the film cuts between scenes of abandoned buildings and a small girl playing among the ruins, it suggests a different world than the one we see flesh-and-blood people inhabit.
Barnes makes better use of these screens as translucent windows, placing backlit dancers behind them so their silhouettes hover over the performers in front. Moving them toward and away from the screen, she plays with the size of their shadows, small and fuzzy in the distance or larger than real life when they get up close, looming above human-scale figures. The relationship between the dancers in the front and these ghostly shapes isn't spelled out. They could be dream images, voyeurs, or just people on the other side of the screen, but Barnes makes deft use of them.
Still, the most powerful moments in Molt are purely kinetic. Barnes works here with techniques where the focus is on multiple impulses in the same body, off-centered movement, an emphasis on action rather than shape. Linnea Simmons manages to connect seemingly disparate movements into long phrases, spiraling down to the floor and up again without an arbitrary moment. Dorienne Gantar-Raynolds spends much of her time behind the screens, calibrating her gestures to that exacting picture frame. Beth Graczyk performs with great specificity, so that a tumbling sequence has myriad details all flowing into one another.
Alongside this kinetic rush, the film and theater elements of the work seem vestigial. Jeff Huston's electronic score substitutes volume and intensity for rhythm, incorporating subliminal speech and samples of ambient sound, and the childlike voice murmuring about being man and woman and boobs and dicks doesn't seem to have much relation to the love and sensuality Barnes mentions in her press materials. To take the title literally, Molt isn't fully fledged. It's at an in-between stage, not pure dance, but not integrated movement theater, either.