Gold leaf, honey, tar, blood, wax, flowers, leeches, pheasants, arrows: such are the materials used by Seattle-based experimental theater company Saint Genet, whose new work Paradisiacal Rites opens at Seattle performance space On The Boards this week. The company returned in early May from Krems, Austria, where the piece made its lauded debut at the Donau Arts Festival. The show combines dance, installation and original music, typical of past work such as The Dorothy K-a piece Robert Wilson included in his "Works and Process" series at New York's Guggenheim Museum in 2011.

Saint Genet is lead by 31-year-old director Derrick Ryan Claude Mitchell, from Reno, Nev., who, in an interview with A.i.A., described Paradisiacal Rites as "inspired by American hysteria as examined through the lens of the Charles Manson trials, the final moments of the Jonestown massacre, the Oscars and extreme intoxication." Echoing the dramaturgy of Bertolt Brecht and Antonin Artaud's theater of cruelty,Paradisiacal Rites exemplifies Mitchell's densely layered technique, which includes experimentation with modes of performance achieved through sleep deprivation or substance abuse.

Saint Genet's performances can be tremendously painful to watch. Within Paradisiacal Rites's dreamlike installation of gold pyramids, mechanically undulating beside a burial-style mound of earth, and a field of swaying wheat, where white, long candlesticks burn in green glass wine bottles, many of the scenes in Mitchell's performances are not merely challenging, but repulsive. Medical leeches, for example, are often used to drain performers' blood in view of the audience, then later presented as documentation of the work. The characters' sexual desperation is communicated with movements and positions that are equally aggressive and intimate. The work's power is founded in this marriage of beauty and pain. In a conversation with A.i.A., Mitchell cited "moments of sadness, blood marriage, and the agony of loneliness and silence" as informing the piece's visual landscape.

In addition to hyperventilation and sleep deprivation, for past performances Mitchell has subjected his performers to acts of physical endurance such as jumping, bouncing or shaking limbs incessantly. The attention to physical harm and the limits of consciousness may call to mind the work of Chris Burden, Marina Abramovic or Vito Acconci, but Mitchell amplifies these acts' effects by involving an entire cast.

Mitchell founded the company, formerly called Implied Violence, in 2003. Saint Genet's presentations are executed by an exceptional roster of collaborators including set designer Casey Curran, composer Brian Lawlor, choreographer Jessie Smith and associate director Lily Nguyen. Paradisiacal Rites runs at On The Boards May 16-19.