Birdbrain is an odd duck. Though the title of this evening-length deconstruction of Swan Lake suggests comedy, it’s not really funny–but it’s not tragic either, since all the Sturm und Drang of the movement produces no emotion whatsoever. Presumably that irony was intended by choreographer Garry Stewart, artistic director since 2000 of the 37-year-old Australian Dance Theatre, based in Adelaide. In an interview he talked about the difficulty of “making contemporary dance in a culture that is focused on sport and television.” And Birdbrain is pointedly lowbrow, though in an intellectual way. The dancers sometimes pose like Gap models, an effect reinforced by their unisex pants and T-shirts, often emblazoned with identifying words: “over ture,” “hero,” “Odile,” “beauty,” “drama queen,” “fucked up.” Most of the music is blaring techno-pop, and the projected images of classical ballerinas in traditional productions of Swan Lake are sometimes blown up so big that they turn into a meaningless collection of dots. The movement includes hip-hop, break dancing, contortionism, and yoga poses, often upside-down; the dancers are energetic and proficient, and the choreography is exciting in a thrashing sort of way. It’s not really new, however, and it’s not sufficiently varied: arms and legs and torsos swinging violently have an impact but little nuance. The show is interesting if only because it’s unusual–and smart. But a projected message toward the end–“The lovers hurl themselves into the swollen waters of the lake”–crystallized for me the problem with the piece: it only references emotion, it can’t evoke it. Watching the videotape did make me sad, but only to think that princes and swans could no longer make us cry. Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300. Opens Thursday, November 7, 8 PM. Through November 9: Friday-Saturday, 8 PM. $24. Note: Australian Dance Theatre will conduct a master class Saturday, November 9, at 1 PM at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; the cost is $15.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Alex Makayev.