Beware the microphone-wielding performer who asks various audience members for their names, hometowns and childhood memories. In other words, if you’re not into sharing with others, stay in the lobby until the lights dim for Arena Dances’ “The Main St. Project” at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

Of course, this warning proves the point behind artistic director Mathew Janczewski’s uneven new work, which he has developed over a four-year period.

On Thursday night those of us engaged with our smart phones pre-show had to steel ourselves for a possible unplanned exchange when the affable company member Dustin Haug started making his rounds. In a world where virtual connectivity thrives, actual human contact seems intrusive.

“The Main Street Project” builds upon the idea that our society is losing something valuable, namely the personal touch that thrives in communities where relationships are built upon more than clicking “like” on Facebook. Part of the premise is pure nostalgia — even in the most close-knit places some people are isolated, intentionally or not — but it also rings true in many ways, as borne out by the various voices and movement actions in the work.

A dynamic solo for Timmy Wagner shows off Janczewski’s talent for choreography that curls in and around the body. Film and video from Cully Gallagher depicts people of different ages recounting fond memories or reflecting on making friends.

The dancing onstage and club music is bright and optimistic, inspiring a feeling of camaraderie. But the work loses direction because it too narrowly focuses on the negative aspects of information overload, without acknowledging the positives. This seems like too easy a direction to follow.

As the stage fills with crumpled newspapers (a nod to so many information sources and sadly the threat to print media’s future) the dancers dart about more anxiously, gathering and coming apart again, pulled towards different goals.

Images of fireworks quietly exploding, however, offer a provocative counterpoint. They remind us of when people come together to enjoy a common event whose beauty is enough to overcome the allure of digital distraction.

“The Main Street Project” is best when focusing on the basics — like when Elise Erickson and Kimmie Allen simply balance against one another longer than it seems doable. They are leaning on each other because it is necessary. If one falls, so does the other. And their strong shoulders only exist in the real world.

 

Caroline Palmer writes about dance.