The scaffolding has been rolled in. Stage lights are scattered around the floor. It looks like the show is over, or hasn’t happened yet.
For his solo work “Compression,” the choreographer Niall Jones has arranged, or disarranged, a small theater at Performance Space New York into this in-between state. He wanders around in a jumpsuit, as if it might be his job to finish setting up or taking apart.
“You ready?” he asks, sounding like a D.J. or an announcer getting a crowd excited. But his acknowledgment of viewers, who are perched around him on scaffolding pushed up against all four walls, is intermittent. He might be talking to himself.
This flickering engagement is the most intriguing aspect of the 90-minute performance. For much of it, Jones acts as if he were alone, moving around equipment, listening to his music (techno, industrial, Björk, Boyz II Men). But he also calls out light and sound cues to suit his shifting moods. Occasionally, he dances — twisting and undulating from his hips through his wrists. (Jones is a supple, slinky mover. He could be cast in the implied show that’s over or hasn’t happened yet.) Then he keeps retreating to a light-and-sound console, fiddling with the controls.
The room is equipped so that the sounds of Jones’s labor are amplified. When he drags around a mirrored acrylic sheet, it sounds heavy. He’s absorbed in this aimless-seeming activity yet when he slips and causes a loud bang, he says, “Sorry.” And if he bumps into an audience member, he smiles apologetically.
Later, the bumping turns intentional, as Jones strips to the waist and uses the scaffolding as a pole dancer might, briefly transforming the theater into another kind of club. The viewers on Tuesday night looked pleased and amused to have the undulating Jones rub past them or dance in their laps.
Each performance, apparently, is a little different. (The work can also be visited as a performance-less installation, on afternoons through Nov. 6.) On Tuesday, two moments stood out for me. The first: when Jones, wearing a transparent mask on his face, expelled air, matching his moves with the sound of decompression. The second: when, on top of some mobile scaffolding, he descended through a hole in the deck, illuminated only by the flashlight he wore. For a few instants, I followed him somewhere else in my mind, down some duct of the imagination.
Ultimately, though, the work’s evocations of fugitive presences are too fugitive, its images and energies too underdeveloped. It’s the sort of performance that asks you to adjust to the dim lights, dissembled materials and desultory action — to the absence of what you might expect from a performance — in hopes of tuning in to some other wavelength. “Compression” is a good word for what’s missing.
Through Friday at Performance Space New York; performancespacenewyork.org.