Relative Collider plays with mathematics and linguistics to a metronome beat

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      A Liz Santoro/Pierre Godard production. A Dance Centre/PuSh International Performing Arts Festival presentation. At the Scotiabank Dance Centre on Thursday, February 4. Continues until February 6

      Tick, tick, tick tick. You can’t leave a performance of the French–U.S. production of Relative Collider without that metronomic score still counting off eight beats in your mind.

      The show thrusts us into a strange universe—an austere, brightly lit world where three dancers step and click their heels to that tick in complex patterns, their counts activated by a deadpan Pierre Godard at his on-stage laptop. At first their steps are almost imperceptible, but as the movement gets more elaborate—leaps, skips, and clenching fists—Godard starts to recite words to the relentless beat.

      Except his text sounds like nonsensical nursery rhymes—words with no meaning set to mathematical structures amid obsessively ordered movements. When the dancers finally start zigzagging through the space, their patterns resemble ricocheting pinballs or the automated birds on that Playful Penguin Race toy. And through it all the performers remain resolutely expressionless, shifting their gazes and offering up no answers.

      It feels like a lab experiment. And are we, the audience, the guinea pigs? Is it a study in existentialism, order versus chaos, or maybe hypnosis? To understand, you need to realize that choreographer Liz Santoro, who also dances in the piece, is a scholar in how we receive and give attention. As for her cocreator, Godard, he’s a math academic and former quantitative analyst who has worked in theatre and now studies linguistics.

      So science, math, language, and dance all intersect in this peculiar little experience. Is it entertaining? Well… It’s more an exercise in trying to figure out patterns, then surrendering yourself to the notion that, like the universe, they’re unknowable.

      It’s also a chance to marvel at the trio of laser-focused dancers, who can rivet our gaze to different subtle movements. When they’re concentrating on intricate foot-stepping, they hold their upper bodies still, and just watch the control when they raise their arms at a glacial pace. By the end the only indication of the physical demands of the piece is the glow of sweat on their skin; their faces can never express the exhaustion of the piece’s climax.

      Whether you’re frustrated, numbed, hypnotized, or entranced by the end of Relative Collider, Santoro has succeeded in gaining your attention and making you question it.