Brooklyn-based dance company The Chase Brock Experience is bringing a cutting-edge thriller to the Wilson Center stage on February 27. “The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes,” written by Eric Dietz and choreographed by Chase Brock, is a 70-minute dance narrative. The unique concept merges Brock’s creative expression with the almost limitless reach of artificial intelligence (A.I.) infiltrating society. Its Wilson Center appearance marks the first time “The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes” will be performed since its off-Broadway run ended in 2019.
The story follows an entrepreneur and a hot-shot coder secretly working on a project that will bring to life an A.I. being named “Co” (the titular girl with alkaline eyes), played by company member Yukiko Kashiki. The performance gradually intensifies as Co becomes more human, taking on lifelike qualities. There are elements of a love triangle, hints to a violent ending, and the progression of A.I. on everyday life. Despite its focus on technology, Brock says the show is actually about the human experience and morality.
“Ultimately, all these things we put on are teaching us about ourselves, and that’s the only thing we can create as humans,” he says. “So, we were looking for the humanity inside this piece, even though it’s ostensibly about artificial intelligence.”
According to Brock, “The Girl with the Alkaline Eyes” is as much a genre exercise as it is an opportunity to comment on the integration of A.I. in modern society. “People were very interested in what our positions were about A.I., but the truth is, we really wanted to tell a fantastic story,” Brock says. He claims he and Dietz were aiming to surprise the audience with a high-energy storytelling performance in the form of a dance thriller—something relatively unseen before in the dance world.
The title alone holds intrigue. The word “alkaline” has many different associations: pH balance, the color blue, balance within the human body, plants and nature, salt, etc. The word is multilayered, just like the show itself. “We liked the idea that alkaline suggested acid and electricity and danger, and you could get burned,” Brock says.
Of course, making a show this complex takes time. Brock worked on its choreography for six months, and took a year in total to construct the performance and create a dance narrative. He uses dance as language, first finding it for the human characters and then cracking the code for how Co would communicate through movement. However, his show wasn’t complete until Kashiki was cast.
“The moment she stepped into the role, suddenly it felt right,” Brock says. “When I would ask her to do something or show her something, it became very clear what the language was going to be.”
Just as important to the production are its sound and design. There are natural instruments, like cello and violin, offset by technological sounds, such as the voice of Siri. Brock wanted to merge the two, but didn’t want one to overwhelm the other.
The use of color in the performance is reflective of the characters and their displays of emotions. Costume designer Loren Shaw translates the persona of each character into a color and its associated meaning. Co is given a soft, lifelike skin tone, for example, while other A.I. characters are awash in blue.
Following suit, lighting designer Brian Tovar created an artistically economical stage design using only eight colorful lights. “The hardest part is really just the putting together of all these elements,” Brock says. “It doesn’t have to resemble the thing you originally imagined. Quite often you transform it into something that’s not what you imagined, and it’s better. Or it isn’t; it’s just synthesizing this into a whole.”
Brock calls it the most rewarding part: seeing an original idea translated tangibly and making something where there was nothing. The 30-something wunderkind of the dance world has been doing as much since he began dancing on Broadway at age 16. By 19, he was working as an assistant choreographer to the likes of Ann Reinking and Kathleen Marshall. In 2007, yearning for creative freedom, he started his nonprofit dance company with money he saved by doing commercial work on a cruise.
“I immediately rented a theater and said ‘I’m going to put on a dance concert, and I don’t care if two people come,’” Brock remembers. More than 13 years later, The Chase Brock Experience has performed dozens of shows in front of thousands of people.
Brock maintains a busy freelance schedule, and his impressive list of credits includes the high-flying Broadway musical “Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark” and the 2011 off-Broadway show “The Blue Flower.” The latter earned him a Lucille Lortel Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography.
It’s not the first time Brock has brought his work to Wilmington. In 2013 The Chase Brock Experience staged a week-long residency at UNCW that ended with a performance of “Mission: Implausible” at Thalian Hall. In 2019 they hosted another week-long residency to workshop the first half of their upcoming show, “Big Shot.” It, too, will premiere later in the year at the Wilson Center. But, first, Wilmingtonians can catch “The Girl With Alkaline Eyes” next Thursday. Tickets are available for purchase at wilsoncentertickets.com.