Just as pi stretches on indefinitely, so might Yoshiko Chuma’s “π=3.14 ... Nothing, or Everything.” At the outset of this multimedia work, which opened on Thursday at La MaMa, the performer Nick Vaughan explains that the dance has been in rehearsal “for 10 days, or three years, or continuously since 1976,” the year that Ms. Chuma, a veteran choreographer and activist, arrived in New York from her native Japan. “It is a work perpetually in progress.”
Indeed, the turbulent “Nothing, or Everything” — subtitled “With Dry Tech Endless Peripheral Border - Fukushima - Kabul - Amman - Ramallah - Berlin” — shares much with Ms. Chuma’s “Love Story, Palestine.” Presented three years ago in the same space, at the same festival (La MaMa Moves!), “Love Story” addressed many of the same themes: borders, translation, displacement, home. It’s eerie, so many months later, again to hear the phrase “I feel that we limit ourselves, and it’s not necessary,” spoken by the dancer Miriam Parker. These issues don’t go away.
Ms. Chuma doesn’t limit herself in her mixing of media — careening movement, layered projections, improvised music, multilingual text — or in her making of messes. She erases boundaries between onstage and backstage, between center and margins, with the more than a dozen members of her company, the School of Hard Knocks (dancers, narrators, musicians, technicians), always in view. And she tears down more literal walls: a white curtain, peeled away, reveals another and another, until the whole theater is exposed.
One of the first and most engrossing moments in this cascade of events is a phone call to the daguerreotype artist Takashi Arai, who photographed residents of Fukushima, Japan, after the 2011 nuclear disaster there. Holding an iPhone to a microphone, Jake Margolin reaches Mr. Arai in Japan to discuss Mr. Arai’s work, which has inspired Ms. Chuma. But escalating music, like static on the line, drowns out their exchange.
That kind of disrupted momentum recurs: within sentences, as when Saori Tsukada and Ryuji Yamagachi, seated at one of many tables, rhythmically interrupt each other, or dance phrases, as when Megumi Eda begins a languidly precise solo that trails off.
Though “Nothing, or Everything” sometimes lags or spins out of control, it gets at something deep and unsettling about the arbitrariness of borders: Where do they begin and end? Who decides, and how? As Ms. Tsukada says in one fleeting fragment of a rapid-fire monologue: “I would call that a border. Would you call that a border?”