“The Half Life,” a new dance piece created by Live Action Set, oscillates between dying and rising from the dead. Like a pendulum, the ebb and flow of energy expands and contracts throughout the work.

The work premiered earlier this month and returns to the Southern Theater this weekend.

In physics, a half life refers to the amount of time it takes for half of the atoms of a substance to disintegrate. For example, radioactive material decays by a half life, and then another half life, and so on exponentially. The concept proves a ripe metaphor for Live Action Set’s show, where each half life is portrayed as a separate movement that the dancers (performed by a rotating cast each night) play out before starting anew each time.

It appears that co-creators Joanna Harmon and Noah Bremer want to present something that’s universal, an accessible presentation about the human condition, but without specifics of a particular situation or circumstance, the work doesn’t hit an emotional chord.

After entering from the audience in a ceremonial procession of souls, carrying cloths they lay on a kind of altar at the back of the stage, the dancers spread out on the floor, becoming primordial organisms that wriggle and writhe as part of a larger whole. They rise up, gaining speed and energy before a shift occurs, halting the trajectory toward a different direction. A score by Linnea Mohn, of the band Rouge Valley, propels the movement. With Mohn’s haunting vocals, the music offers the perfect counterpart to the ritualistic mood of the performance.

The work is made up of segments. At one point the dancers move in slow motion across the stage. At another their chests jerk up and down as they pant with short, quick breaths. While each of the segments takes a different direction, they present a pattern of struggle and pain, then release.

There’s a lot of emotion demonstrated by the performers, but it doesn’t translate to the experience of the audience. Because the emotion evoked comes without a lot of context, there’s little to root for — to grasp. Presented as an existential burden of carrying on with one’s life, the suffering exists in a vacuum, without a lot of information about why it is happening or why the audience should care.

(7:30 p.m. May 20-22 & 30, 2 p.m. May 31. $24. The Southern Theater, 1420 Washington Ave. S., Mpls. 612-340-0155. southerntheater.org.)


Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis writer