WELLESLEY — The pleasures and perils of outdoor performances are affected by all the things you can’t quite control. Friday’s site-specific performance in the Wellesley College Academic Quad of Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener’s “reveal” benefited from gorgeous if chilly weather in a stunning plot of green, ringed by majestic oak trees and the classic architecture of the surrounding buildings. The audience camped out on the edges in the grass, and as the late afternoon sun started to set, shadow play added an extra dimension to the performance. Given the central setting, there were surprisingly few distractions: a baby softly whimpering, passersby in conversation, the caw of crows and squawks of blue jays.
All this set the scene for a work designed to explore how performance can transform space and spark dialogue. Periodic bursts of acorns fell from the trees onto both audience and dancers, adding an extra layer of wildness to the work’s provocative vignettes. And for the most part, Mitchell and Riener (the college’s Mellon Visiting Artists in Residence) along with guest dancer Cori Kresge seemed to feed off the energy of the open air.
The piece started off matter of factly, as the dancers in street clothes entered the quad from three directions to form a triangle at the center. Slow motion leans, poses, and balances, with arms and legs oddly angled, suggested a fanciful, ad hoc moment of skewed tai chi. When Riener abruptly walked away, heading toward the audience, the other two departed as well. Scene change.
Mitchell’s return was marked by seemingly drunken stumbles and falls to the ground. OK, now we had a different story. He staggered and rolled, his head bobbling as if too heavy for his body, arms and legs moving with a loose-limbed rubberiness. He shuddered convulsively before taking off in a run, bounding off trees before disappearing out of sight.
Another shift: Kresge emerged in black leotard and tights, a large sheet of shiny black vinyl affixed to one arm and the opposite leg, like a deformed bat. The vinyl sheet created an off-center cape that caught the air as she jumped and spun, ballooning out behind. When Riener re-emerged, he was costumed in a nude leotard with a long orange banner draped across his back and down his arms, dangling beyond his hands like droopy wings that crackled as he jumped and twirled, flailing with a kind of feral glee.
As he climbed into the split of a tree trunk, Mitchell and Kresge entered from opposite diagonals, similarly costumed and engaging in their own slow-moving poses, ungainly sprawls, antic struts, and manic wiggling. Much of the time, “reveal” most resembled child’s play, an epic, bizarre game of pretend that projected as a bit self-indulgent, with little cohesion or focus. What were we to make of all this? But part of the point seemed to be to invite wonder, stir the imagination, and foster heightened perception in a space newly transformed by the action therein. And toward the end, “reveal” did coalesce quite beautifully, as the three dancers gradually moved into a diagonal of stillness. Deep breath, work over.