The lines between stage and audience were blurred in more ways than one at Thursday night's opening performance of One of Sixty-Five Thousand Gestures/NEW BODIES.
Jodi Melnick's solo, co-choreographed by late postmodern dance pioneer Trisha Brown, begins delicately. Melnick dances her own piece with reserved trepidation accompanied by the violinist Hahn Rowe, whose strings mimic the sounds of a broken, out-of-tune grandfather clock. Melnick's time seems to hang in the balance of her outstretched arms. Her movements grow in confidence and scope as the minutes go on.
One young woman turned to her friend and whispered what sounded like, "This is terrible," at the start of NEW BODIES — so named because it features three classical ballet dancers ditching the theatrics of the Lincoln Center for a more free-form approach.
The impossibly beautiful Sara Mearns walks through the audience and sits pensively at the foot of the stage, as if contemplating what she should do for this specific audience (which, if you know Spoleto, skewed older and white.) Taylor Stanley's lithe and slinky figure walks to the back and opens an exit door, adorning the stage with an angelic touch of natural light. They're joined by Jared Angle. Soon, the three principal dancers from the New York City Ballet shed their regimented skins and dance with abandon for the next 45 minutes, though it should be noted that Mearns' first moves, a series of impressive leaps, gave away her solid training.
Violinist Monica Davis and pianist Robert Boston rounded out the troupe.
Melnick's powerful choreography took precedence during the silent section of NEW BODIES. Suddenly, a simple rise of the foot, without lifting the heel from the stage, conveyed apprehension or shyness without distraction. A slump of the hip and shoulder translated to self-satisfaction, swagger, and haughtiness. Dancing, and more specifically, the human body, doesn't require talented musicians, an epic storyline, a formal technique, or even a theme. We find beauty in people, and their postures and poses, every day.
All of that nuance came crashing down when Melnick, the God-like creator of this abstract affair, shattered the fourth wall and walked onto the stage. There was a pretty funny romp where Melnick described how a heart attacks happens as Mearns lied on the ground unresponsive.
Melnick then snapped Mearns out of her trance, invited a Spoleto organizer onto the stage, and helped line up chairs for an indulgent, impromptu audience Q&A. Melnick was bursting at the seams to explain how the works came about. The other performers, with the exception of Mearns, were fairly microphone-shy. The whole thing was, perhaps, a way to talk away the confusion of the two girls whispering next to me earlier in the show. For the sake of purity, I wish they'd just been left alone to hate it.