I have not often been invited to experience my heart “from the inside out,” but that’s what the website for Jody Oberfelder’s latest creation, “4CHAMBERS,” promises. Six dancers lead an audience through four rooms and corridors, using multimedia performance to symbolize a journey through the heart.
Waiting in the lobby, I tried to get myself in the mood for the performance. I read the books that are laid out: one on heart psychology, an anatomy coloring book, and “The Magic School Bus Has a Heart.” I listened to the audio recording of voices reading excerpts from the books over sounds of fluid, flowing heartbeats and violin strings. I observed the photos of the dancers dressed only in white underwear, feeling their pulses. This prep work gave me a little bit more of an idea of what I was about to explore: the relationship between the heart as a scientific, life-giving organ, and as the idealized source of human emotion.
Keep in mind that “4CHAMBERS” takes place in a basement and very distinctly has the feeling of every haunted house you went through as a kid. The lighting—at times red, dim, dark, or stark—and curtain-framed, white-tile-clinical décor of the rooms gave me a creeped-out, anticipatory feeling that kept me in the moment rather than feeling like a detached observer. That is the whole point—the interaction, the forced eye contact, the touching, the play of bodies, and the up-close sensuality take away the barrier between the audience and the performer. It forced me to be open to experience in a way that is easy to avoid when you’re sitting separated from the stage.
The heart-based aspects of the performance are intellectually intriguing. We were subjected to a strange psychological interview via webcam while hooked up to heart-rate monitors. It seems that the procedure served to inform us about how being put under stress affects our hearts. There is also a kaleidoscopic video of dancers running down corridors, bouncing against the walls and each other like blood cells flowing through an artery.
But the real gem of the experience is interacting with the dancers. The choreography is spectacular and visceral, made even more thrilling by its closeness. The audience is pulled into place, either into the formations of the dance itself or along the periphery. At times we were manipulated and guided into a free, play-like dance with the performers.
While I never felt particularly immersed in my own heart, interacting with the dancers did cause me to question the effects of basic human interactions. What is it about eye contact that feels so revealing? Why does the mere act of touching and being touched create a feeling of such connection? What is it about the heart that makes it such a potent representation of life and emotion? By evoking these meditations on my own humanity, “4CHAMBERS” succeeded as an extremely satisfying artistic experience.
4CHAMBERS runs at Brooklyn’s Arts@Renaissance (2 Kingsland Ave. in Brooklyn) through March 22. Tickets are $75. Audience is limited to 12 per performance.