Dismemberment figures prominently in Atalee Judy’s new evening-length dance-theater work, Deadtech. But it’s a doll or robot that gets dismantled, its arms, face, and/or gear stripped away until one wonders what’s beneath it all, if anything. In fact that seems Judy’s motive in this piece: to uncover what’s human in the high-tech–and low-tech–wonders that humans create. (Or, by extension, what’s human about humans.) The “mechanoid” main character, Deadtech, has survived apocalyptic destruction and can rediscover human life only by watching old movies, among them An American in Paris and Mary Poppins. It’s a great premise for a dreamlike collage of disparate scenes; lots of video projections and a score of mostly assaultive music, a lot of it by Nine Inch Nails, establish a universe that’s ours and yet not ours. Here a woman can emerge from the mud like an enraged newborn from the womb, covered in slime and filth instead of amniotic fluid and blood–indeed, the “infantile” Deadtech (Judy’s description) seems to be searching for a woman in his video adventures, though the alternatives he turns up are not appealing. In one section, images of prancing Lipizzan stallions are juxtaposed with a live performer strutting in a short skirt and eight-inch platforms. Not exactly subtle–at times Deadtech’s social criticism has a sledgehammer bluntness. But Judy can be deliciously indirect, allowing more delicate currents to surface: this section hints at the similarity between harnessing horses and bondage and connects both pastimes with modeling and ballet, occupations that require starvation and torturous footgear. The associative strings of words defined on-screen are also evocative–and delightfully retro. With 21 performers (including Margi Cole and her troupe, the DanceCOLEctive) in some 15 sections, Deadtech gives the viewer plenty to think about. Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 773-244-2365. Opens Thursday, August 26, 8 PM. Through September 5: Thursdays-Sundays, 8 PM. $15; Thursdays “pay what you can.”

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