Lemieux Pilon 4D Art pays tribute to filmmaker Norman McLaren at Kennedy Center

The Canadian troupe Lemieux Pilon 4D Art is expert at integrating live performers with film figures. You remember Gene Kelly dancing with the animated mouse Tom from “Tom and Jerry”? They do that sort of thing on stage.

It’s seamless and beguiling throughout much of “Norman,” the company’s heartfelt tribute to filmmaker Norman McLaren (which wraps up a three-night stand at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater Saturday night). Never heard of McLaren? Apparently his short films, many of them abstract and whimsical — shapes and squiggles moving in synch with lively music — were staples on Canadian TV in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 90-minute “Norman,” created by multimedia whizzes Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon with choreographer-dancer Peter Trosztmer, will show and tell you everything you need to know. Trosztmer narrates, playing the part of a young man obsessed with McLaren. He describes watching the shorts as a kid, and then you see snatches of the films projected on a huge screen across the stage. Trosztmer, smitten, frequently dances inside the images.

More cleverly — and “Norman” is nothing if not visually clever —Trosztmer retreats upstage into an office setting, where his research churns up video interviews. Trosztmer sits, and a cinematic figure sits next to him. More celluloid “people” begin to hover through the space, each talking about McLaren. All kinds of testimonials are worked in this way, filmed talking heads and bodies (including McLaren himself) ghosting the room and seemingly interacting with Trosztmer.

“He was the first person to give a line a heart and soul,” one expert says, and the films will make you believe that. The colorful shapes pulse and leap, glide and multiply; the effect is strangely charming, even though you’re simply watching moving forms in synch with catchy music. (Sample McLaren titles: “Lines: Horizontal,” “Lines: Vertical,” “Spheres.”) You can see why McLaren compared his art to dance, and why Trosztmer wants to dance along.

He partners fluidly with the images, swirling and tumbling and appearing to collide with the lines and balls and people — it’s very knockabout. Sobriety is restricted to a late passage with Trosztmer creating a slow, agonized and angular dance after some of McLaren’s darker, war-worried earlier works.

Give Lemieux, Pilon and Trosztmer credit for proportion: dance is second fiddle here, rarely upstaging the intriguing little movies that this group aims to celebrate. Every now and then the collaboration hits a sweet spot, especially when Trosztmer jumps into the shenanigans with some of McLaren’s stop-motion slapstick bits — the kind of silent-with-music shtick that can make a chair move away from a man who keeps trying to sit in it (“Chairy Tale”). It’s all a little weird but kind of wonderful, a retreat to the oddball delights of bygone Saturday mornings.

Norman

Created by Michel Lemieux, Victor Pilon, and Peter Trosztmer. Choreography by Peter Trosztmer and Thea Patterson; set and costumes, Anne-Seguin Poirier; lights, Alain Lortie; sound design and additional music, Michel Smith. About 90 minutes. Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at the Kennedy Center Eisenhower Theater. Call 202-467-4600 or visit kennedy-center.org.

First Post byline, 1992; covering theater for the Post since 1999. His book "American Playwriting and the Anti-Political Prejudice" will be published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2014.

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