‘Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment,’ an edgy collision of dance and psychology

Dancing vs. Blood on the Cats Neck
From Dancing vs. Blood on the Cat’s Neck 2005

In Witness Relocation’s “Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment,” a documentary film about overpopulation in rats (based on the 1962 Scientific American article “Population Density and Social Pathology,” by John Calhoun) is heard playing on a TV. People go through their daily routines and relationships. These relationships then begin to echo the disintegration of the rat society in the documentary. The society of the human beings falls apart. Then, in a series of ‘contest dances’, reminiscent of the Olympics, drinking games, marathon dancing, and basketball training drills, performers are eliminated from the show, in random order every night, until only two are left. And then there is a happy ending.

The company will recapitulate the competitive atmosphere of the closed environment of the rat experiment. In an eerily comfortable living room, danced scenes of daily life play out, and all the little things you don’t normally notice are blown up and magnified, with brutality and beauty and a sick sense of humor. The music spans many genres – from orchestral to pop. The room gets more and more crowded, furniture gets tipped over, and there’s a voice over describing the disintegration of a society of rats. The idea is planted that it has something to do with what is happening to all these people. Suddenly everybody is playing life or death games, and from these contests, the losers of each round are kicked out of the show, until only two remain and it is a different two every night.

The work is a New York version of “Dancing vs. Blood on the Cat’s Neck”(2004), which was produced by Witness Relocation in Bangkok, Thailand at Patravadi Theatre. Bangkok Magazine cited the piece for its “Raw physical intensity against a backdrop of grace and beauty.”

The piece is created by the company, directed by Dan Safer, choreographed by Dan Safer with the Company and designed by Jay Ryan (lights and set) and Tim Schellenbaum (sound).

“Dancing vs. The Rat Experiment” will be performed October 26 to November 13 at La MaMa E.T.C. (Annex Theater), 74A East Fourth Street, Manhattan. Performance are Thursday-Sundays at 7:30 pm. Matinees are Sunday at 2:30 pm. Tickets are $20; there is a discount for students and seniors. The box office number is (212) 475-7710 and online ticketing is available at www.lamama.org

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.