With "Daylight," Sarah Michelson questions theater conventions, quite literally putting the audience on stage in a multitude of ways. The award-winning New York-based...

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With “Daylight,” Sarah Michelson questions theater conventions, quite literally putting the audience on stage in a multitude of ways.

The award-winning New York-based choreographer has earned much attention in the past five years for her radical reinterpretations of theater space. With this piece, she builds on that reputation, dragging the audience out of the comfort of our darkened seats and stranding us, startled and blinking, in the harsh glare of our own expectations.

Michelson blows apart the On the Boards space, disregarding the existing theater seats and instead placing three new sets of viewing stands on the stage. Such an arrangement leaves only a narrow runway on which four main dancers perform, amid stark lighting and a haze generated by a smoke machine.

It soon becomes apparent that things are happening behind us as well. There’s a live band, for example, sitting in the unused theater seats and playing a rather interminable cover of Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit “Baker Street.”

A smattering of female dancers wearing identical, nude-colored leotards has appeared, situating themselves amid the permanent seats and throughout several rooms.

Crowd mentality being what it is, once a few people start craning their necks to see what’s going on, others follow — despite the nagging feeling that it’s rude to ignore the four dancers on the runway.

This is exactly what Michelson is counting on. Throughout the performance, she sets the audience off-kilter: What is the “right” thing to be watching? Are we allowed to stand up? Can we leave our seats and walk around? Really? Is that the ending? Or is this?


Wednesday night at On the Boards, Seattle

The psychology of the exercise is compelling, but one of the reasons it works is that the dancing on the “main” stage isn’t that interesting. Two women and two men enact a fairly benign modern dance. While executed well, the movement lacks originality and is neither pedestrian nor sophisticated enough to captivate.

Arguably, the most notable choreography takes place outside the main stage. The women wearing nude leotards enact a vaguely shy, vaguely sexual series of small movements. The dancers work almost entirely with their legs, moving a foot back and forth, a leg out and in, seeming to beg to be watched — and to be left alone.

Perhaps Michelson is trying to tell us that the things to which we should be paying attention are often beneath and behind the obvious. Perhaps she’s urging us to change our perspective. But the problem with choreographic exercises like these is that the physical gimmicks often surpass the actual dancing.

Does the quality of the dance merit all the hoopla? In the case of Michelson, it’s debatable. And if the point is that dance isn’t the most important element, why bother with it at all?

Brangien Davis: brangiendavis@yahoo.com