Noémie Lafrance’s Melt Ends the Summer, DanceNow Heralds the Fall

Gooey doings under the Manhattan Bridge, plus a choreography sampler at DTW

Sydney Skybetter and Dusan Tynek are both fine craftsmen—expert at melding choreographic structure, movement, and spatial design to imply feeling and relationships. Both choose excellent music and use it well. Skybetter’s 2008 Cold House You Kept, set to Henryk Gorecki’s String Quartet No.2, was choreographed in collaboration with the other strong performers (originally seven, now four). You feel both the tenderness they have for one another and the antagonisms; it’s the latter that gradually empties the stage, one person and a time.

A quartet from Tynek’s Middlegame makes we wish I’d seen the full work back in June. Two couples—one dressed in white, one in black underwear—wrangle and switch mates mostly within the confines of four chairs set up in a square. Their ingenious behavior varies from polite and well-bred to guardedly violent, while the guitar playing of the great Carlos Paredes and Parrish’s red-lit sky heats the atmosphere to a sensuous simmer.

The evening concludes thrillingly with an excerpt from Kyle Abraham’s 2010 Live!In it, Abraham blends charisma and choreographic smarts with savvy allusions to street culture. He saunters on, commandeers a mic, and asks us, “How you feelin’?” Please note that his apparently casual outfit (by Kendell) features a shirt with a silver back and sleeves subtly sprinkled with sequins. He can speak in two different voices, draw currents from what he hears on tape (Kotchy, Pan Sonic, Mariah Carey, plus rap artists Slick Rick and Dougie Fresh), and turn his body into a personal and cultural reverie. He performs his big, juicy, get-down dancing, sudden little jerks, rippling arms, mobile neck movements, and strutting steps like a thinking man. And when have you ever seen someone lope into an easy-does-it version of a ballet assemble, then drop down for a circle of floor-bound barrel turns?

Nic Petry, David Parker, and Jeffrey Kazin in Parker’s "T4Three."
Steven Schreiber
Nic Petry, David Parker, and Jeffrey Kazin in Parker’s "T4Three."
Wallflowers? Noémie Lafrance’s "Melt."
Jerome Madramootoo
Wallflowers? Noémie Lafrance’s "Melt."

Details

DanceNow’s Festival Twenty Ten Dance Theater Workshop
September 8 through 11

Noémie Lafrance’s Melt
The Salt Pile
August 19 through September 12

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A bit of cooler, autumn-appropriate weather hit New York the weekend of 9/11. That means that I didn’t see the final performance of Noémie Lafrance’s Melt in its full-summer mode. The program for this site-specific installation shows a close-up photo of a dancer’s shining lower face and neck, with a thick liquid dripping in strings from her chin. To achieve its full effect, Melt requires dog days.

That effect is still pretty stunning. Meltis minimalist compared to Lafrance’s 2001 Descent, which had audience and performers moving around a tall spiral staircase in the clock tower of a city building; Noir(2004), whose spectators watched a gangster drama from seats in cars parked in a municipal garage; and Agora (2005), which filled the dry McCarren Park Pool with neighborhood-appropriate activity. Instead, it confronts the audience with a single, startling, subtly changing tableau.

To get there, you walk way east on Pike Street until it becomes Pike Slip (water once flowed in here) and walk through a fence gate that leads you under the Manhattan Bridge to where massive piles of salt used for winter road work are stored. If you’re lucky, you get a low beach chair that enables you to lean back. Otherwise, you stand or crouch (Melt is only a bit more than 30 minutes long) to confront, at quite close range, a high, blotched concrete wall.

At different levels along the wall, seven women sit suspended on metal ladderback chairs. They wear seatbelts, but these are concealed under cheesecloth costumes that bare the women’s legs, but release long swags of fabric to hang down on either side. The garments have been soaked in a mixture of lanolin and beeswax, and the dancers’ faces and limbs gleam with it. So, although it’s a seasonable 8:30 p.m. and—even with Thomas Dunn’s lighting design bathing the performers in various dramatic ways—they do not drip, the image of women melting is still beautiful and troubling. Add to that the intermitting clatter of subway trains passing overhead, the soft roar of Erin McGonigle’s sound score, and the twin beams of light from the World Trade Center memorial event fighting a misty sky, and you have a potent spectacle.

The women have a small repertory of actions, which they may perform in concert, or at different times, or alone. They lean slightly forward, staring past the audience. They bend to the side and feel the wall with their hands. They loll, seem to fall asleep, and suddenly jerk upright. They thrash their legs. They reach out and gather in air. Things like that—all carefully orchestrated, but, I sense, with options that the performers can choose among. In Melt, a little seems like a lot.

From the dancers’ slow, rapt maneuvering, all sorts of images seep into your mind. Sometimes you see them as prisoners, legendary Andromedas resigned to the coming of the sea monster. Or maybe the wall is their native habitat, and they’re sirens luring Odysseus onto the rocks. I imagine that, on a hot August night, you might see them, not as idealizations of sweating city dwellers, but as lives subjected to slow decomposition. Whatever you think, or don’t think, Lafrance’s spectacle is mesmerizing.

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