When we say that something has "gone into the ether," we mean that it has vanished. It's not exactly gone -- it hasn't disappeared from the world entirely -- but for us it might as well have. Talk of the "ethereal" references that which we find elusive, something otherworldly and possibly insubstantial.
Aether is Lucy Guerin's title for the full-length dance work her eponymous company will present, courtesy of the Pittsburgh Dance Council, as part of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's Australia Festival. The piece examines the assault of information we undergo daily through interactions other than face-to-face conversation: telephone, fax, e-mail, Internet, text messages, television, print, billboards. This surplus of attempted communication often breeds malfunction: When we're barraged with data we end up overwhelmed, and the impossibility of ferreting out what we actually need or want to know can lead to surrender. We'll probably never get it, so we don't even try.
To investigate the struggle to dissect and analyze this onslaught of words and image, choreographer Guerin offers a whole composed of two divergent halves. With motion-graphic designer Michaela French, Guerin begins by reconstructing the bombardment. There are projections of spooling digits and evolving formulas, and twitchy and seemingly uncontrolled movement; the sound, by Gerald Mair, evokes a maelstrom of beeping and whirring, with fuzzy, static-corrupted announcements exploding into chaos, too many things happening for any one to emerge with clarity.
In the Aether's latter segment, communications technology is stripped away and we're left with the human. While the opening salvo demands flawless practical skill of the dancers -- who must become almost robotic as their bodies jolt from motion to motion but their eyes rarely meet -- the closing segment requires that they show up as individuals. Here, Guerin veers from the technical precision of dance and moves into theater, requiring connection that goes deeper than the body.
While the confederacy of these dissimilar segments might seem surprising in a single evening's presentation, it's a little less of a shock for those familiar with Guerin's body of work. Though her company is relatively young (the ensemble was formed in 2002), it's already developed a solid reputation. Guerin had previously earned a name as an independent choreographer and dancer, first based in New York City and later returning to Melbourne, Australia. (She's an Adelaide native.) She established a company of her own so that she could devote her time to generating new works to tour. At that, Guerin has been extremely successful: In the five years since the company's birth, she has taken pieces throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as Australia.
The company's stock-in-trade is trafficking in the unpredictable, exploring every avenue. Projections have been used; sets have been elaborate; ultra-orchestrated scores and fantastical costuming have accompanied frenetic, micro-managed choreography in which the creator controls every motion down to the dancers' breath and the cast of their eyes. In other works, all of this is dropped in favor of simplicity, and burrowing into the depths of what it means to be human. Subject matter swerves from the intimately personal to the hugely historical. But rarely have all of these vast and varied continents been landed upon in one piece. With Aether, Guerin has managed to encapsulate the myriad of styles she's been known to conquer into a single evening of performance.
Lucy Guerin Inc. peforms Aether 8 p.m. Sat., Nov. 3. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-40. 412-456-6666 or www.AustraliaFestival.org