TESSERACT: An Interview with Silas Riener

Roger Q Mason


Princeton University's Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts is, by my estimation, an ideal artistic education.  It is the perfect blend of practical and theoretical training, emphasizing an interdisciplinary model for learning about and developing work.  Some of the most interesting, exciting, and daring new practitioners - of theatre, of dance, or performance, visual, and cinematic art - are products of the Lewis Center.  I am a proud alum of the program.  And while I was there, I had my heroes.  As I've mentioned in articles past, I oftentimes look to dance and dancers as inspiration for my works in dramatic writing.  I feel that dance teaches you about pure storytelling: it is bodies moving and striving through space without the trappings of dialogue, monologue, set, elaborate prop and world building.  It's raw.  Some of my favorite artists are dancers.  And some of my favorite dancers are Princeton folks.
Not long ago, Silas Riener debuted his collaborative venture Tesseract at REDCAT in DTLA.  The piece was a stunning, genre-bending melding of dance, film, and live video recording. It was divided into two movements: one on film and another involving dance and video generated  in the moment on stage.  A major motif in Tesseract was the interplay between human objective and subjective experience and imagined space-bound future.  The piece mined this motif to not only imagine an extra-terrestrial future for the human race but also to show how human interaction, particularly bodily interaction, has a transcendent effect on man's relationship to time, space, and place.
One of my favorite interludes in the performance was performed in the video.  It was a duet between Silas and co-choreographer Rashaun Mitchell.  In the duet, Silas and Rashaun explored the corporeal and otherworldly nature of intimacy, particularly queer intimacy.  Screening this segment on film rather than performing it live actually had a magnifying effect on the viewer - forcing us to grapple in a larger-than-life way with the closeness and ecstasy of torsos, toes, heads and legs touching and galvanizing one another with human heat and electricity.  In short, it was riveting.  And as a fellow member of Princeton's Lewis Center, I sat at REDCAT proud to know that I came from the same stock as this extraordinary artist.
Before Silas jetted back East to debut Tesseract at BAM, I took some time to ask him about our mutual Princeton past, his storied work with Merce Cunningham, the present and the future.
Roger Q. Mason (RQM): I always reflect fondly on your work in the Program in Dance at our mutual alma mater, Princeton. How did your time at Princeton help prepare you for your work in the dance world?
Silas Riener (SR): I think working in dance within the context of a liberal arts institution prepared me for the kind of critical thinking and wide ranging reference points in contemporary practice. There were other ways that it didn't prepare me for how to work as a dancer in this field. Those things I had to learn by making mistakes all on my own.
RQM: What is one of your fondest experiences working with Merce Cunningham?
SR: I've always thought that dancing for Merce in a way ruins you a little bit for the rest of your viewing experience, because you spend so much time with the same works, watching them and dancing them over and over and over again. It's a kind of deep meditative experience that doesn't exist anywhere else.
RQM: I'm really excited by the hybridizing of dance and technology in Tesseract.  What was the process like merging live performance with tech-based storytelling?
SR: The process of building Tesseract was a constant back and forth examining the tech elements and possibilities, and seeing how the dance itself was responding to them, or creating situations for a camera interaction to exist, and building the dance from there. They are deeply intertwined, and one really can't exist without the other
RQM: What's next for you?
SR: Tesseract premieres in New York City next week (Dec 13-16 at BAM) and in January Rashaun and I return to California to premiere Desire Lines: Retrofit at SFMOMA, a durational installation work.

Roger Q. Mason is a writer whose work gives voice to the silenced. A recurring theme in his writing is the intersection of race, history, and memory.

Mason’s plays include Orange Woman: A Ballad for a Moor; Onion Creek; and The Duat. Mason's works have been seen at such venues as McCarter Theatre Center, Ensemble Studio Theatre/LA; Son of Semele Theatre; Teatro Vista at Victory Gardens; and Chicago Dramatists. He is an Activate: Midwest New Play Festival finalist, New York Theatre Innovator’s Award nominee, and the winner of the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival Encore Producer's Award. Mason holds an BA in English and Theatre from Princeton University, an MA in English from Middlebury College, and an MFA in Writing for the Screen and Stage from Northwestern University.

Mason has received commissions from Steep Theatre and Chimera Ensemble in Chicago, as well as the Obie-winning Fire This Time Festival.

For more on Roger Q. Mason, visit www.rogerqmason.com