Tesseract: a dance that plays with space, time and perception

Tesseract: a dance that plays with space, time and perception

Faced with the challenge of incorporating live dance with 3D projections, Rashaun Mitchell and Silas Riener found themselves tinkering with space, time and reality itself.

The world-renowned choreographers were brought on board by Charles Atlas, who was commissioned by EMPAC to create a dance installation that utilized 3D projections.

Mitchell and Riener were accustomed to working with Atlas but they, as well as just about everyone else in the professional dance world, had yet to work in 3D. “Most dance companies just don’t have the resources  to work with such high-tech equipment,” Reiner says.

Tesseract at its core is a very EMPACian project–combining modern dance with emerging 3D technology and presenting the performance in a way that blends human and machine.

Their initial approach was to choreograph a large performance where dancers interacted with 3D projections, but they found 3D projection had not advanced enough to meet all of their needs. Their solution was to put together a film that incorporates dancers and 3D images.

The entire installation is a six-piece work of science fiction called Tesseract and takes place in two parts: the first is a stereoscopic 3D projection; the second plays out live on stage.

“Our first idea was an all encompassing 3D dance experience where cameras would be on stage projecting recorded images with 3D manipulation,” Reiner says. “That was our starting point. What spun out of that because of certain constraints on  projecting live 3D are these two parts that we’ve worked on separately for two years.”

Reiner and Mitchell say they both entered the project with a deep fascination with science fiction but the theme became all the more appropriate as they dug into the project. “We were all barreling into unknown territory with tech and we thought there is a real analogue with the unknowns of space travel,” Mitchell says. “So we have all of these kind of post-human beings talking about the body being aggregated by tech or transformed some way by the camera, by the way the body is framed.”

The pair soon discovered that choreographing for stage is quite different than choreographing for film. They say the camera soon “became a character” of sorts in their film. “The technology definitely put parameters and  limitations on us but it was our job to pound to and push at those boundaries, test those boundaries, to see how extreme we can [go], to see how it works with film and respond and go back in to redraft things,” Reiner says.

Mitchell says the camera in many ways alters time and space around the dancers. “The way we use space and the way time passes is all different on film. The eyes are so active when watching the screen. It’s a different experience from watching a performance. So we ended up jam packing the film. There are so many tiny interesting things to do with space and time.”

What should you expect if you attend a performance of Tesseract?

‘We’re hoping they don’t run screaming, that their eyes don’t roll back in their heads,” laughs Reiner. “I think that there is a lot of take in and really something for everyone.  Just in our very initial screenings amongst ourselves our crew, we all realize it’s unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. There isn’t an explicit logic to a lot of things and [it] can leave people puzzled. I always try to tell people that’s not a bad thing to be confused. If you don’t know where to place something or name it, that’s actually a really powerful moment in artwork. Rather than dismissing something because no one explains it to me, it is worth saying, “I’ve never seen anything like that, I’m going to take time to think about it.”

Tesseract will be performed in EMPAC’s Theater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, Jan 27-28 at 8 PM. Tickets at



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