Playfully idiosyncratic and multidimensional, Daniel Linehan’s Zombie Aporia is a collection of six short pieces, each with its own distinct flavour. In his second visit to Sadler’s Wells’ Lilian Baylis Studio Theatre, New-Yorker Daniel Linehan focused on bringing together contradictions. By combining different contrasting ideas, Linehan explored the result of these contradictions, and even questioned the norms that dancers and audience members take for granted. While some of these questions are by no means innovative, Zombie Aporia was able to stay fresh and creative, while still having a clear serious intent.

The overarching feel of the piece is very minimalist, with the three performers announcing each new segment and completing costume changes onstage. A video screen is set to one side of the space, and a laptop atop a small table is one of a few props placed around the stage. Though the performers quickly disregard the fourth wall by directly addressing the audience, the interaction feels very formal and utilitarian.

Beyond the performer-audience interaction, the entire piece felt very emotionally detached and clinical, with the performers more like scientists carrying out experiments than people dancing for an audience. Each segment incorporated a lot of text, and this text was most often said or sung without any sense of emotion or physical attachment, despite the fact that the words themselves held emotional meaning. While this was an interesting artistic choice, and seemed to be a purposeful contrast, it did become a predictable aspect of the piece, which wasn’t altogether a good thing.

Zombie Aporia fell into a pattern where each 6-8 minute segment introduced a concept, expanded on this concept, and then repeated this expanded line of inquiry until it abruptly ended. This format was engaging from the audience perspective because we had time to watch and try and grasp Linehan’s train of thought, then once understood, we could watch the performers continue to explore each concept. The beginning solo and subsequent trio in Music and Dance is a perfect example of an interesting and successful use of this structure.

Other highlights of the evening were the segments Human, Cool, and My Body. Human explored the live performance paradigm, and how audience and performers behave in that setting. It was exciting to watch because of the use of technology and the precision Linehan achieved during the execution of the solo. Cool, a duet between Salka Ardal Rosengren and Thibault Lac, was an experiment in body manipulation, and how that manipulation affects the sound of the voice. Finally My Body was an exercise in movement and voice where one dancer seemed to orchestrate the movement of the other two – sitting and conducting the action while the dancers scrambled to keep up with his hand motions. This was absorbing because it was clear that the dancers were receiving cues from their “conductor,” but the movement seemed set and the voice work was almost on auto pilot. My Body’s concept was exhilarating because of the ultimate multitasking and rapid fire exchange.

However, it seemed like sometimes the concepts could be pushed farther and sent to more extremes. In Before Now and After, fashioned after Bruce Nauman’s “Good Boy, Bad Boy” from 1985, the three performers stand next to the computer screen. Linehan whispers sentences into Lac’s ear who then repeats them for the audience to hear. Simultaneously Lac holds hands with Rosengren, who has her eyes closed and changes the colours on the laptop screen about every 30 seconds. Linehan wears a sly smile as he whispers into Lac’s ear, while both Lac and Rosengren adopt the same detached composure. While this is initially a striking image, it quickly becomes less interesting, and seems to only regurgitate the concepts Nauman explored in his work, rather than adding to it.

Despite some weaknesses, Zombie Aporia was a visually and conceptually interesting set of tasks, which communicated a clear intent to combine opposing ideas and stretch the perception of live performance. Through referencing other artists, utilising technology and experimenting with voice, Linehan presents a body of work that is serious in its intention, yet light-hearted in its actualisation. Expect to laugh, question and explore alongside the performers as they execute one dance experiment after the next.