Anna Myer may be the gutsiest choreographer on either side of the Charles River these days.
She's got classicism in her bones yet anything but on her mind: Genre mixing, role reversals, a reach-across-the aisle "yes we can" aesthetic - those are the building blocks of "Street Talk Suite Talk," presented by the City of Boston at the Strand Theatre Saturday.
The afternoon-length confluence of rap poetry, original violin/viola compositions, and Myer's iconoclastic movement style - a kind of cracked-apart ballet littered with shards of modernism - extends her artform-bending "All at Once" (2005), in which Myer and the New England String Ensemble sent movement and music spinning into one another's territory.
That the meshing doesn't always, well, mesh, is almost beside the point. Myer and her collaborators on "Street Talk Suite Talk" - nine local poet-rappers, six dancers, composer Jakov Jakoulov, and violinist/violist Mark Berger - are out to whack our commonality home. You find yourself looking beyond the frequent lack of integration of the elements - say, the dancers, frozen upstage in flouncy skirt or red ruffled top, arms reaching downward, while the rappers, in jeans and T-shirts, stand separate, talking. "Don't you see?" the eclectic group seem to be saying. Urban nightmares - betrayal, retaliation, estrangement, confinement - such violence steals all of our lives.
The message reverberates.
Indeed, that such disparate sensibilities can share a stage and present a polished, meticulously structured work rather than some "night of stars" smorgasbord is a major feat. Yet it's that success that makes you yearn for more of a real conversation between the parties.
Then again, it may be the artists' very natures that choke that off. Berger's edgy strings match Myer's cool abstractions well. Among the dancers, rattling fists toss imaginary dice, arms swing stiffly or cut into right angles, a bounding woman is caught, straight as a pipe, in a man's arms, fingers pinch then pull - as if tugging a thread taut. Conversely, the rap is hot, passionate - tales of literal blood, sweat, and tears fairly shouted to the rafters. "Hopefully I make it to graduation," intones one. "The strength within me fading," says another.
How difficult to make the twain meet.
Still, there are moments, like flashbulbs popping, when they do: Not just palms but entire forearms, squeezed tight, meet in prayer. A man presses his head into another's chest, commingling embattlement with love. The two foreshadow a rapper's recollection that "caskets keep passing by," as the second lies supine, and the first hooks an elbow around an elbow to drag his friend along.
Surprisingly, the most integrated - and hence powerful - sequence springs not from a movement or music expert but a spoken-word poet, Tu Phan. As the Dorchester native releases his chilling, gleaming words, he uses his body as a kinesthetic instrument. He begins in a spotlight center stage, his wrists crossed, plumbing the metaphor of hands and arms bound by a straitjacket. The cadence, the never-endingness of the piled-up meanings, grab you by the throat. "Give my fear something else to wear," he says. "Disarm people's arms and legs. . . . Let the sun heal my wrists, let my palms kiss my mother's spine. . . . Even though we have no hands to touch it doesn't mean we don't know how to feel."