"Tron: End of Line" is a glorious train wreck, a five-car collision at the corner of pop culture and technology. It takes off from the "Tron" empire, inspired by the ur-video game "Pong" and first realized in Steven Lisberger's 1982 sci-fi flick "Tron": part live action, part animation, representing the parallel worlds of "real" life and the life of programs — our avatars — populating a mainframe computer.
Running through Aug. 24 at the Victory Gardens Biograph, Chicago Dance Crash's new "Tron" combines the company's trademark acrobatics, fight choreography, hip-hop styling and dash of classical dance (choreography by Jessica Deahr) with a soundtrack ranging from Max Richter to Daft Punk, Lorde and Les Tambours du Bronx. Zach Moore's video projections establish the A.D. 2155 setting, while costumes outlined in what appear to be malfunctioning LED lights turn the dancers into zigzag lines for the mainframe episodes.
In some ways "Tron" resembles the Crash's 2005 show at the Storefront, "Tribulation and the Demolition Squad." But where that was set in a wittily conceived and executed "Mad Max" world, pitting four adorable heroes against three charismatic villains, "Tron" inhabits a cold, machined universe that simply ups the ante on our current culture wars.
Here, our heroes are single mom Kait and her computer-genius teenage daughter. The villain is a corporate saboteur. At least I think he is. Mark Hackman's prolix voice-over narration twists and turns and takes many philosophical detours. Like the stage design — flashes of light against murk — the largely obscure text has some touch points: fatherless children, the pursuit of power, the roles played by destiny and by generosity, impulse and intuition. Unfortunately, its many points of departure and few points of arrival offer no clear lines of battle, no actual commentary on the significance of family life.
The special effects can be impressive — notably, a video projection that seems to lift Kait into the stratosphere. But the darkness that sets them off also obscures the dancers, whose interludes are all too few. Among the highlights: soldierly marching in the straight lines dictated by machines and corporate culture, "Green Table"-like vaulting during a shareholders' conference, a dizzying series of flips, handstands, cartwheels and roundhouse kicks in the quintet opening Act 2.
Perhaps thrills and chills, gleaming lights and surreal futuristic scenes are the only aim of "Tron." And perhaps, to gamers, nothing else matters. But in a theatrical context, video game conflicts without real consequences or resolution are less than satisfying.
When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 24
Where: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.
Running time: 2 hours
Tickets: $30 at 773-871-3000 or chicagodancecrash.com