A residency in Wyoming, the country's least populous state, "in a town with 26 people and 26,000 deer" planted the seeds for Ryan T. Smith and Wendy Rein's Mine, on view at the Joe Goode Annex, which opened December 6 and shows through December 15.
The result is visually arresting. Sean Riley's set design presents a barren, alien landscape fraught with subtle peril: strung with white ropes from which rusted iron rods dangle like the sword of Damocles cloned and clustered overhead, amid which three birdcages hang. Kidney-shaped surfaces occupy two corners, where other rods jut upwards and around and other ropes strain and coil. The initial lights are bright fluorescents, harshly ricocheting off the concrete and plaster surfaces of the room. Seating is placed on two sides of the performance area, with twenty or thirty chairs on each side, creating the paradoxical sense of intimacy of numbers and unbreachable distance between those one faces.
Five dancers enter, one at a time, facing off. The quiet intensity of confrontation is disrupted by the clatter of supernumeraries--the house manager, the box office volunteers, the ushers--walking through the space unconcerned. The dance begins with what at first appears to be a kiss but then turns out to be a magician's trick of pulling a rope out from between another person's teeth. The ropes recur throughout, used to mark out boundaries, swing through the air, constrain or pull or tether or bridle each other.
Mine is filled with inexplicable aggression. In another context, a lift might signal trust, flight, affection; here it is done as a bid to disorient or displace the other. The dancers are muscular, precise, and tense with a controlled energy that detonates in vicious rushes to pin the others to the wall or the floor, mirrored in the way Joel St. Julien's quiet electronic score pulses with an ominous bass. A dancer runs and cannonballs into the others, crumpling them down one by one. Fingers repeatedly count down into fists. One dancer promenades another in a choke hold. Mine seems not to mean the cavity in the earth from which we rob the earth of ores but more the explosive concealed under the surface and the cry by which we claim territory.
Watching RAWdance in Mine is a bit like observing another species or a sequestered religious cult with particularly cruel and severe customs. The brutality is performed without apparent cause or effect, as if it were a way of being. The muscularity of the dance and its stark lines do not evoke beauty or ease. Instead, Smith and Rein appear to be striving after a discrete series of contests and an overall impression of disquiet.
RAWdance presents Mine at 8 p.m. Dec. 11-15 at Joe Goode Annex (401 Alabama). Tickets are $21-$25; rawdance.org.