For a moment, the stage was a study in movement and stasis. Two dancers in orange tops and spotted leggings had locked shoulders, as if wrestling in a standing position. From the angle of their bodies, each seemed to be straining — and failing — to push the other back. Behind them, on a huge screen, computer-graphic versions of red-and-yellow billiard balls (or so they seemed) barreled across a red table.
This tableau, set against an eerie soundscape of synthetic squawks and brass tones, was one of the more memorable images from “MindFluctuations,” the dance-and-visual-arts work that Maida Withers Dance Construction Company premiered Thursday night at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium. Created by Maida Rust Withers (who choreographed) and Brazilian computer artist Tania Fraga, the 90-minute piece was high-concept and high-tech, featuring dancers who took turns wearing a “neuro headset,” which reportedly captured their emotions and inner states and fed those variables into the changing imagery on screen.
The results sometimes achieved a bracing sci-fi spookiness. At other times, the screen imagery looked incongruous, while the dancing seemed heartfelt but loose and workaday.
The aforementioned quasi-wrestling scene was notable because there was a discernible correlation between the choreography and the screen pictures. One of the dancers was wearing the headset: Was his yearning to move, temporarily stymied by his fellow performer, powering those restlessly careening billiard balls? Even if the dynamic was not that straightforward, the juxtaposition of motion and stillness was elegant.
More often in “MindFluctuations,” the connection between dancers and screen imagery was enigmatic. In one screen sequence, angular shapes like faceless pterodactyls winged over receding orange discs. Meanwhile, onstage, four dancers knelt, crouched, raised arms, spun on their feet and completed other low-key movements. Another segment featured a dancer engaged in comparable steps and gestures while, on screen, a shape resembling a huge gorse branch wheeled and swelled.
When the screen imagery turned less abstract, the effect could get a little cheesy. At one point, a dancer in a long-snouted mask capered in front of what might have been a visually distorted car park. (Sculptor David Page was the show’s mask designer.) At another point, a group of performers — in the brightly colored T-shirts and shorts that constituted standard costumes for the evening — clustered in a group, rocking their hips and twisting their hands together, as an onscreen photo of a child violinist seemed to bob over Times Square; the choreography evoked people ruing the modern urban world. (Withers, who had a brief solo in the show, designed the costumes. Her company, celebrating its 40th-anniversary season, has created previous works involving technology.)
Throughout “MindFluctuations,” the music composed and performed by John Driscoll and Steven C. Hilmy — electronic screeching and droning, rustling, shivery bell sounds and more — contributed an air of mysteriousness. Driscoll also was credited as co-designer, with Peter Labiak, of a “robotic loudspeaker” that stood stage right, its swiveling top section contributing sonic distortions. This piece of technology was distractingly cute; it seemed tailor-made for a blind date with Pixar’s Wall-E.
Wren is a freelance writer.