It takes a while for “Come Through,” the stunning Bon Iver/Tu Dance collaboration, to announce its themes. But if you pay attention to the enormous clock projected on the back wall as you enter the theater, its hands stopped at 1:53, you’ll know what time it is from the get-go.
Not to sound like one of those obsessed bloggers who parsed the meaning of every leaf on every tree in TV’s “Lost” back in the day, but God and heaven are cited frequently in “Come Through,” so I’d bet money the clock is a reference to Luke 1:53, a biblical verse about inequality: “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.”
It opens with “Power Full Words” (I’m guessing at titles, based on the words in video projections by Aaron Anderson and Eric Carlson). Nine dancers look down as they move in unison, searching the stage for something. Actually, given the power of their bodies and the purposefulness of their movements, it’s more like stalking than searching. And they likely seek the same things folks have sought since the Bible appeared: freedom, justice, equality.
An SPCO Liquid Music commission, “Come Through” explores those themes first with the fluid choreography of Uri Sands, whose dancers partner without regard to gender, race or size (in one eye-popping image, the smallest-by-a-mile person lifts the largest). One early song, “Two Women Running,” opens with just that. The organic movement of the two speedy women is in marked contrast to Bon Iver leader Justin Vernon’s heavily processed music, powered by a computer blip like the one that drives “Say You Will” on Kanye West’s “808s and Heartbreak” album (Vernon figures prominently on Kanye’s following album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”).
The wan videos of forest fires and lightning are the least successful element of “Come Through.” They’re fine but familiar — stuff you might have seen in an REM video from the mid-’90s. But everything else works beautifully and seamlessly, climaxing as Vernon sings “Took the Long Way,” with band and dancers building their intensity in perfect synchronization. Sands’ choreography seems to nod to the “Wade in the Water” section of Alvin Ailey’s classic “Revelations” and then veers off in a more modern direction that blends hip-hop and ballet.
The dancers look up and take more notice of the audience as the show progresses, perhaps encouraging us to join their search, and in “I Can Hear Crying” they raise their hands to the ceiling in a gesture of hope. “Crying” finds “Come Through” at its most explicit, with excerpts from Viola Davis’ speech at this year’s Women’s March, weaving her references to Jim Crow laws into the collage of images, sounds and movement.
Clad in black, almost like stagehands, and perched on a platform, the band cedes the spotlight to the dancers in “Come Through.” I’d happily sit through either the music or the dance on its own, but as the two art forms connect to each other, they become an exponentially more powerful force. And when has that ever not been a great idea?