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A surreal look at music and movement

‘The Tenant’ gets unofficial world premiere in Placid

Choreographer and director Arthur Pita, left, works with composer Frank Moon during a rehearsal of “The Tenant.” The dance play is at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts tonight only. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

LAKE PLACID — In a pair of pink heels, Cassandra Trenary stood on top of the black wall. She must have been at least 10 feet high.

The scene called for her to jump off the wall to her death. She could jump straight down feet first, but is that how people commit suicide? Perhaps a belly flop would look more believable, but a free fall from that high up is a little scary, even if it is onto a pile of crash pads.

Choreographer and director Arthur Pita will present his dance play “The Tenant” at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts tonight at 7 p.m. Though the world premiere is Tuesday at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, the LPCA is technically the debut venue. “The Tenant” was also finalized and practiced during a residency at the LPCA’s dance studio.

The original story written by Roland Topor in 1964 follows Trelkovsky, a shy man who rents an apartment in Paris. The previous boarder, Simone Choule, attempted suicide in the flat. Reality starts to blur when Trelkosky questions his identity and begins seeing himself as Simone. It was later adapted to the screen by Roman Polanski in 1976.

While the novel has multiple settings, characters and plots points, Pita stripped down the story for the stage.

“In the book, there are a lot of people, actually,” he said. “If you had to do this the way the book and the film are, you’d have a much bigger cast because you’d have neighbors, and the concierge and the landlord — all sorts of people. What I wanted to do was go straight into the apartment and cut out all the people on the outside, really just focusing on Trelkovsky and his inner demons. We also brought in Simone in a much stronger way, where in the book she’s just the former tenant before he moves in. There’s also the character of Stella. Normally, he goes out to meet her, but we’ve brought her in, and in a weird way she becomes more of a symbolic character. It’s been interesting going from the pages, and once you find your rules and structure, you can make it fly.”

Pita’s adaptation is also set in the near future instead of the ’60s. The apartment has become a self-sufficient prison. Facial recognition and scanners make it so that Trelkovsky doesn’t need to meet his landlord in person or leave to pay his rent. The apartment is relativity bare other than a bed, a sink and a large set of glass doors overlooking the Parisian skyline. The walls and floors are black yet reflective almost like a dark reminder of Trelkovsky’s alienation.

“You’ll see someone going through very surreal trauma,” Pita said, “so I’m hoping every single person will have a different experience of what it is.”

“There’s a lot of ambiguity to the story,” Composer Frank Moon added. “How much of it is real, and much of it is a dream? If you watched it a second time, would you view it differently?”

Pita believes a good performance shows the marriage between dance and music.

“I think the music is 50 percent of what’s going on, but what makes a good dance is really so many elements — the performer doing it, the actual steps and the interpretation. I would say dance needs to really pull the audience in and demonstrate its structure and have enough space so it becomes clear for the audience to appreciate everything that the human being is doing with their body.”

Moon said the score for “The Tenant” is multi-layered, featuring piano, violin, singing, vocal sounds, guitar, cello, percussion and a mouth harp. The music shifts from jazz, to classical, to ambient, to techno.

“We’ve also got a layer of sound design,” he said. “Every gadget in the apartment like the lock on the door, the facial recognition software, the bed, everything has a sound to it, which adds another layer to the soundtrack, and I feel like that is part of the music.”

Pita and Moon have been working together for the past eight years on various projects. When it comes to creating a show, Moon said Pita thinks of a concept and then the dance and the music progress together.

“We’ve done it in different ways where we’ll compose the music first and then choreograph it,” he said, “but most of our collaborations have a symbiosis. In the rehearsal room, the music is written whilst the movements are being created.”

Pita has earned the nickname “the David Lynch of dance.” Publications such as the New York Times and the Guardian have used this moniker, but Pita isn’t a fan of it.

“I really actually don’t like it,” he said. “I am a huge David Lynch fan as well as many other influences around me. Of course, Lynch’s work is very influential, but like everybody, there’s a lot of colors and sides to me. To get boxed as ‘the David Lynch of dance’ — I’ve done fluffy, pretty ballets as well as darker more disturbing pieces.”

Pita’s lighthearted show from 2007, “Mischief,” which had dancers performing with an array of floppy noodles, wouldn’t necessarily be classified as Lynchian, nor would “Bjork Ballet,” a show inspired by the titular Icelandic singer.

“I don’t think anybody should be boxed in like that,” Pita said.

Pita said the world of dance, both ballet and contemporary, is becoming more popular. Shows like “Dancing with the Stars” and “Strictly Come Dancing” in England have brought dance to mainstream audiences. They feature judges who talk about dance and teach people how to observe the art form. Social media and online content update dance and make it more accessible. He’s also noticing more collaborations between choreographers and filmmakers. He himself created dance scenes in the highly acclaimed 2014 sci-fi movie “Ex Machina.”

“I think it’s developing in a very exciting way,” he said. “I do think, though, that you can’t beat the live experience, especially when it comes to dance. It’s so three dimensional and reads best in a live situation.”

Moon added that dance is a technical and athletic art form that takes chances.

“If you are actually watching a live dancer, you’re aware that what they’re doing is risky and acrobatic,” he said. “You don’t get that if you’re watching a screen, especially something that’s been prerecorded. Knowing that something could go wrong, it’s that element of risk that keeps you engaged.”

The dancers and crew performed the suicide scene again; this time with the sound, music and lighting of the real show. James Whiteside, who plays Trelkovsky, was in the front row recording with his iPhone. Trenary, with excellent poise, walked toward the glass doors as Beethoven boomed. She threw the doors open. It was quiet now, other than the breeze and cars rushing by. She looked out toward the Eiffel Tower, then turned back and silently said goodbye to her apartment. She climbed to the roof, tilted her head back and let her body fall. A brief moment of silence was followed by a boisterous crash and the sound of shattering glass.

If you go …

What: “The Tenant”

Where: Lake Placid Center for the Arts, 17 Algonquin Drive

When: 7 p.m. today

How much: $20 advance, $25 at door, $60 VIP package

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