Chase Brock, the choreographer for Be More Chill, a highly-buzzed new musical that opens on Broadway in February, heads a Brooklyn-based dance company which he founded in 2007.
The Chase Brock Experience’s latest dance-theater piece, The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes, which premiered last weekend at Theatre Row, is a 70-minute glance into a not-so-distant future when artificial intelligence no longer appears artificial.
Eric Dietz’s snazzy electronic score proves far more exciting than his scenario, but Brock’s smart staging and often whirlwind choreography gloss over a somewhat trite story. Lithe performers and Brock’s ace deployment of top of the line visuals also contribute to the production’s allure.
Stories about artists who fall in love with their creations are scarcely new, witness the ancient Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea. A prime example from the dance world is Coppelia, an 1870 ballet about a life-sized mechanical doll (which just so happens to be subtitled The Girl with the Ebony Eyes).
In Dietz’s futuristic situation, an engineer named Oliver (Spencer Ramirez), having already developed two robots with differing degrees of sophistication—designer Loren Shaw garbs the masked dancers who depict them in yellow and white plastic—at last unveils his masterpiece: Co (Yukiko Kashiki), a lovely, ultra-realistic humanoid.
Oliver becomes bereft and eventually angry when Troy (Travante S. Baker), his boss, is smitten with Co and soon takes her into his personal life. Later, confirming the warnings of an anti-robot evangelist, the melancholy Co turns out to be malevolent. The ending is not a happy one. If this story seems rather familiar, Dietz still manages to deliver several surprises along the way.
Crafted as a series of brief scenes, the scenario offers a number of striking episodes, including a visit to a nightclub, a rhapsodic interlude as Co experiences her range of motion, and an erotic dream during which Oliver replaces Co in Troy’s bed. Brock’s brisk choreography provides contrasting movements for these incidents. Perhaps Brock’s most dramatic and expressive work illuminates Oliver’s several times spent working away in virtual reality as his head, shoulders, arms, hands, and fingers rapidly gesticulate in flurries that lift and spin the rest of his body with centrifugal forcefulness.
Meanwhile, Dietz’s enjoyable post-minimalist score shimmers and pulsates with an echoing, electronic sheen as the music drives the story forward with anxious energy. Keyboards and strings, performed live and mixed with prerecorded music, render the attractive, Philip Glass-y score with a satisfying fullness of sound under the musical supervision of Rob Berman, the music director of the Encores! series at New York City Center.
A young six-member company, some of whom assume several roles, bounds through the work with considerable vitality. Spencer Ramirez, an athletic yet sensitive performer, delivers a vivid impression of the idealistic Oliver, who contrasts against Travante S. Baker’s surly, hedonistic Troy. Yukiko Kashiki deftly portrays the bionic beauty caught between them as an intriguing amalgam of supple physicality and an enigmatic personality.
Brock enhances his production with fine visuals. Jason Sherwood’s setting of vertical plastic strips suggests a modernistic workplace even as it mirrors the action and also at times reflects the moving projections designed by Alex Basco Koch. Brian Tovar’s lighting design relieves a dusky atmosphere with splashes of bright color and waves of illumination. And, yes, the designers manage to give the title figure her alkaline eyes of a phosphorescent blue.
The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes opened December 28, 2018, at Theatre Row and runs through January 13, 2019. Tickets and information: chasebrockexperience.com