Overlapping themes in the three-part work offer stylistic contrasts but share a true, and funny, outlook.
Live Action Set's "Basic North" is subtitled "a performance in three directions," but it has a single purpose. The smart work, which opened on Saturday night at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis, strips down the absurdities of modern life. This is accomplished using the sort of humor that sneaks up on you -- physical and subtle -- but also by inspiring discomfort about compulsive habits that ring all too familiar.
It's funny -- and a bit painful -- because it's true.
"Basic North" is made up of three "chapters" directed by Dario Tangelson, Emily King and Ryan Underbakke, and Noah Bremer. They wrap around one another, with overlapping themes, movements and moods -- forging a link between real and virtual realms. The denizens of Tangelson's "Without Wax" delve into social rituals. Bremer's solo "Quiet Heart" employs gentle slapstick to find purpose in an irrational world. King and Underbakke's "Start Select" choreographs pixilated madness sparked by a soundtrack of bleepy 8-bit Nintendo tunes.
Most striking is how the six performers in Tangelson's section respond to the environment. Their eyes are wide open, yet blinking incessantly. Steps are taken with measured precision -- as if in an old-school video game. Startled stares greet audience laughter. Words come in short bursts -- sound bytes about morning rituals or menu choices. Enlightenment is found in such mundane moments as the mechanics of giving a hug.
The chaos generated by King and Underbakke offers stylistic contrast. A trio of dancers tumbles through the space like feisty fairy avatars, their candy-colored wigs and costumes seemingly pinched from Katy Perry. As both guides and gate-crashers through all aspects of the show, all seem intent on shaking up conversations, especially those that begin and end with bland assessments of how busy we all are.
Bremer is the everyman. Fresh off a touring role with Cirque du Soleil, he makes full use of his considerable clown skills and comic timing while tackling a recalcitrant mike stand and vacuum cleaner. But like the rest of us, he is just as often thwarted by what he can't see or comprehend.
These aspects of "Basic North" come across much more neatly in writing than on stage. And that's to its credit. There's a winning sense of spontaneity and creative evolution whirring from within this work's core. You just keep wondering which direction the artists will turn to next.
Caroline Palmer writes regularly about dance.