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Review: An Age-Old Riddle Ginned Up for Postapocalyptic Times

What has one voice but four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three legs in the evening? So goes the riddle of the Sphinx, and the answer, as Oedipus discerned, is man: crawling as an infant, bipedal as an adult, walking with a cane in old age.

“4|2|3,” a work by the choreographic duo Baye & Asa that had its premiere at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on Thursday, takes its theme and structure from that riddle. It comes in three parts, the first performed by children, the second by young adults and the last by the veteran dancer Janet Charleston (who doesn’t need a cane).

The setting is industrial and vaguely postapocalyptic. At the rear of the stage stands part of a building that looks like it is made of concrete (scenic design by Soren Kodak). It has a door in it and a rectangular aperture like a window without glass. A cylindrical chute juts out from a wall horizontally on supports.

The ambient soundscape, by the cellist and composer Mizu, is industrial, too, with assaultive waves of rumbling, buzzing, hissing and screeching. But it’s organic in shape, and within the layers of electronics and processing, the scraping and singing cello is a voice in the wilderness.

The children (Leora Champagne, Kristen Lieng and Sasha Lecoq, all excellent) aren’t infants, but they do trade off doing a monkey walk on all fours. Much of their choreography has the form of children’s games like Ring Around the Rosie, and they treat the grim setting as a playground. Sometimes, they look warily at the door and window, and as their play turns more aggressive, they throw one another to the ground and drag the floored child by the feet. As the lights go down, something worse may be about to happen.

At the start of the middle section, the chute bellows smoke. The five adult dancers echo some of the children’s movement, but now everything is more violent and faster, as they yank one another around in weaving patterns. They look at the window and door, portentously, but when the door finally opens, it’s oddly inconsequential: The dancers go in and they come out.

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