Back in February 2017 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Italian visual artist and choreographer Alessandro Sciarroni seemed to stop time with the Bavarian Schuhplattler dancing of his “FOLK-S_will you still love me tomorrow?” The show he’s brought to the ICA this weekend does just the opposite. “UNTITLED_I will be there when you die” (subtitle courtesy of the My Morning Jacket song) deploys four professional jugglers in a perpetual-motion meditation where time never stops, and neither do the performers.
“UNTITLED” begins with the four jugglers — Lorenzo Crivellari, Edoardo Demontis, Victor Garmendia Torija, and Pietro Selva Bonino — taking the stage in silence, all dressed in T-shirts, pants, and sneakers, each with one club in hand. They stand motionless for a few minutes. Then, one by one, they start: throw with the right, catch with the left, throw with the left, catch with the right. The throwing isn’t synched, but the plopping sound you hear each time someone catches a club creates a kind of clockwork tick-tock.
Eventually they fall into a unison stabilized by Pablo Esbert Lilienfeld, whose sound console, stage left, turns out a piano rhythm reminiscent of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies” backed by electronic slurps and burps. After about 15 minutes, the jugglers all retrieve a second club. One juggles the two clubs in the conventional way; the others throw both clubs up at the same time, or throw one high and one low. You start thinking about counterpoint, about how juggling defies gravity, about the different ways we juggle our lives.
From time to time, clubs get dropped. Given the amount of juggling that’s done in “UNTITLED,” it would be astonishing if they didn’t. Nobody tries to snatch the club up and pretend it didn’t happen. The performer stops, looks balefully at the fallen item, picks it up, and starts over. It’s a reminder that even countless hours of practice can’t make perfect.
The jugglers move up to three clubs, and then four. They spin while juggling; they juggle behind their backs. The music speeds up, so the juggling has to get faster. Life, you realize, gets more complicated as one grows older and has to take on more clubs.
Thirty-five minutes in, the music pauses to gives everyone a break. One juggler gets five clubs going; another balances the thin end of a club on the bridge of his nose. When the music starts up again, the lights go down and the jugglers, each now with four clubs, weave in and out, creating a pattern of shadows against the white back wall. Still moving, they begin to toss clubs to one another, and we see juggling as a metaphor for life’s interactions.
We might like to see more of that, but the show is almost over. The lights come up, the music stops, and the jugglers attempt a complicated interplay. Friday night, they succeeded on the third try; everyone applauded, and that was the show. Only 50 minutes total, but a full evening’s worth of thought.
UNTITLED_I will be there when you die
Presented by Alessandro Sciarroni. At Institute of Contemporary Art, Barbara Lee Family Foundation Theater, March 15. Repeats March 16. Tickets $15-$25. 617-478-3103, www.icaboston.org