WELLESLEY - Tishman Commons, at Wellesley College, is an architecturally eclectic space, with rectangular solids descending from the ceiling intercut by six-sided solids, and framed by long slender windows of varying heights rising from the floor. It’s a setting made for artistic improvisation.
Saturday afternoon, choreographer-dancers Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener, and Eyvind Kang, a composer-violist, and Jessika Kenney, a vocalist, made the most of that space, visibly and aurally, with their windswept world premiere, “Weathervane.’’
The site-specific piece is a multilayered collaboration in which bodies twist and splay, pulse and skitter, in a dialogue with sounds that may, in turn, “call to’’ them, answer, embrace, or buffet them about. The improvisation is structured - the four have set “transition points’’ - but the rest is a coming together of sensibilities now.
As the piece proceeds, the space itself transforms: You begin to see not just positive space - the bodies, the set’s two stand-up fans, and the white vellum vines creeping up the windows - but also the negative space, the shape of the air surrounding those “things.’’ Over the work’s 30-plus minutes, positive and negative space collide, fracture, and reassemble in new configurations. It’s like watching a televised weather map: with “fronts’’ of varying colors whirling across a screen.
Those transformations are intuitive, natural. Riener extends his back flat, forming an obtuse angle with his hips, his outstretched arms extending the line well into tomorrow. Mitchell descends into a long lunge, the triangle of air between his bent front leg and straight back one reverberating as his front heel stomps. The former’s positive space not only contrasts with the latter’s negative one; the dancers are also textural counterpoints to each other.
Kenney’s vocalizations - pure tones that emanate not just from the center of her being but seemingly from far back in time - bounce off the dancers’ limbs as well as the angled walls, changing pitch as they soar. Her “Ah ah ah’’ gives way to “doe doe doe’’ - the “D’’ clanging off the window glass, sparking a dancer’s weight shift. Kang’s pluckings and bow swipes across the viola’s strings scatter now discordant, now melodious notes for the dancers to move between and through. Acoustics gives way to electronics, with the sounds’ reflection reaching us because the speakers face the back wall. When the dancers lean into Kang and Kenney’s electronic score, the sound seems to hold them up.
Roles switch with the flick of a switch. The audience becomes part of the action when Riener and Mitchell each stand behind a turned-on fan: Our hair blows as they sing. Kenney and Kang merge sound with movement as they crouch and crumble the vellum window vines. Now the set, too, has become the score.
In one remarkable sequence, the musicians stand centerstage, back to back. A single energy courses through Kenney and Kang, emerging as trills and even bleats from her, buzzes and plucks from him. The dancers, on opposite sides of the musicians, are caught in the rise and fall of their Siren call, and their phrases quicken. Mitchell clunks to the side, his ankles crossed, then spins on his backside and rolls like a pipe. When he stands and faces Riener, he conjures an eerie reflection: He’s looking into a mirror but the images don’t match.
The closing song, from Kang and Kenney’s shimmering “Aestuarium,’’ throws “Weathervane’’ into relief. Translated, aestuarium relates to a tidal inlet where seawater meets freshwater. Here dancing meets music meets space and time. Riener and Mitchell toss paper airplanes. The planes arc through the air on the wings of the song. Their landing pattern is as targeted and random as improvisation itself.Thea Singer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.