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When One Dancer Is a Ghost in the Room

For Ms. Pirici, this question extends into all the traces we leave behind, from online profiles to selfies. Like it or not, she said, we are fragmented beings. “The notion of the individual that has total control and free will, it’s false,” she said. “There are all of these technologies about putting things in a box.”

Boxes, you get the feeling, aren’t really Ms. Pirici’s thing. She started as a ballet dancer, beginning her training in the fourth grade in her native Bucharest, Romania. Starting in the ninth grade, she attended the Vienna State Opera Ballet School on scholarship. It was, she said, a conservative country and her time there overlapped with the rise of extreme right.

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From left, Juli Brandano, Jennifer Tchiakpe and Jordan Isadore on the lightbox in “Co-natural.” Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

The school was also conservative, yet it made traditions outside of ballet available to its students, from contemporary dance and flamenco to jazz. “Slowly I just started to understand that I didn’t want to close my world and continue with classical ballet,” she said.

Ms. Pirici returned to Bucharest and eventually discovered the National Dance Center, an institution for contemporary dance and performance. She began showing work there and experimenting. “I was looking for ways to move out of this situation where people come and sit down and look at something,” she said.

In 2011, she began placing live bodies in relation to public monuments. This series of what she called “sculptural actions” featured minimal movement and gestures, and that method has seeped into “Co-natural” when the performers enact poses from sculptures, including those of Lenin, Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee.

In Bucharest, she began the actions as a form of protest. While the dance center was struggling from a lack of funding, she said, a bronze sculpture, costing around 2 million euros (or around $2.5 million), was being installed nearby.

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And hologram makes three: Jennifer Tchiakpe and Miguel Angel Guzman with the projected image of Farid Fairuz. Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

“We would produce the sculpture with our bodies in front of the actual sculpture as a sort of ironic gesture,” she said. “A message that if this is the only art that gets funded — this solid, ossified, official art — then we can also produce a version of that, which is even cheaper and more flexible and on a human scale.”

There was also a political dimension. She said she was often asked when showing or discussing the monuments work in Romania: “‘What happens if you leave these images alone? Maybe they’re harmless.’ But I don’t think they are. I think there is a subtle way in which these images and our visuals surrounding works on us and shapes us and transforms us.”

Because there was so much discussion and debate in Eastern Europe about the removal of monuments related to communism after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ms. Pirici said, “When it started to happen in the U.S., I actually thought, wow that’s kind of late.”

Ms. Pirici doesn’t believe such monuments should be destroyed, but that instead they should be “recontextualized and placed somewhere else in a different setup,” she said. “This was also what I was doing with performers: O.K., we leave this here, but what if I add someone on top of it? Or someone enacting a horse here? Maybe this changes what it signifies without having to tear it down.”

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Jordan Isadore. Credit Vincent Tullo for The New York Times

That idea of placing bodies next to objects comes into play in “Co-natural” with the hologram, a life-size image of the dancer Farid Fairuz. “It looks as if it’s in the space, but it’s a projection,” Ms. Pirici said. “But because it has no background, it feels as if it’s being displaced. It feels like a spirit.”

And there are advantages. “The biological body wants toilet breaks,” she said, “it gets tired, it decays.” A hologram, though, makes no demands.

In “Co-natural,” the hologram, shown throughout the day on one-hour loops, exists in relationship to the dancers, who perform for four hours at a time. (They do need bathroom breaks.) As the performance develops, dancers accumulate gradually and then disperse so that in the final hour only one remains.

The hologram “only exists in relation to the others,” she said. “ You feel like he’s really here. It’s quite a big object. It shakes your mind.”

At times, the dancers also perform on a light-box platform that reminds Ms. Pirici of a laboratory table — she likes its science-fiction vibe. One aspect she highlights is choreography for the hands, which was inspired by the movement of factory workers.

In the end, Ms. Pirici is driven by the idea of exploring presence through connectivity. “I’m not saying that live performance is coming to save us from the alienation of the image,” she said, with a laugh. “I’m trying to create an alliance. It’s about how live bodies and images influence and shape each other. You can reshape the images around you, and they will reshape you in turn.”

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