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Review 2, 11-9: Wanderland
From Dreams of Kentucky to Nightmares of Flossing with Melnick & Heron
Copyright 2005 Chris Dohse
NEW YORK -- Jodi Melnick
dances with the kind of porcelain beauty and rare, compelling physical
presence that would make watching her boil water a satisfying experience.
In her solo, "Wanderlust, Kentucky," seen October 28 in a shared
program with Scott Heron at Dance Theater Workshop, she seems to
be caught in the repetitive rut of memory as she relives events
that, according to her program notes, "may or may not have happened."
The spot on the map
where these things occurred is also imaginary. Or it's as real as
anything else that exists in hindsight, regret or longing. Melnick
stumbles across an area that seems obsessively mapped, hurtling
herself from the pelvis into curlicues as erratic as a bumblebee's
flight, tracing suggestions of legible gestures. Or she settles
for a fragile rest, allowing herself to be viewed simply, as an
object, not quite a person.
Warming up, she fans
herself as if in a mint julep heat. Maybe it's Derby Day in her
imaginary state. She's dressed for a party, with a filigree of cartography,
no a flower, on her blouse. The back wall fades into a pastel pumpkin
wash, corresponding to her casually gathered orange hair. The rat-a-tat
of a Confederate battle recedes into a chorus of hissy crickets.
Maybe similarities to
Trisha Brown's complex movement invention could be drawn: the perpetual
machines of joints and limbs in simultaneous initiations, space
holds and tumbledown interdependence. Repeated positions of the
body or phrase material performed in familiar areas of the stage
begin to suggest a code, a manuscript written in a language known
only to our heroine's body. Underneath the variation, Melnick's
sustained energy recognizes an overall monotony, as if she were
an insomniac acknowledging, "Here we go again. And again. And again."
To appreciate the subversive
delight of Scott Heron's "Flossing and Other Dances," it is best
to read them through the lens of clowning rather than dance. Heron
embodies buffoonish characters unknown by Barnum, but who contain
familiar elements: the village idiot, the class clown, the town
crier, the canary in a coal mine. He is simultaneously wretched
and cute as a button, a churning urn of disgust and desire.
Like in the rollick
of Punch and Judy, both of whose genders Heron channels within instants,
levity threatens violence. The cautionary tale of "Flossing" --
a tapping, high-heeled box of floss visited by the Ghost of Tooth
Fairy Past -- warns of the nightmare that awaits us all if we neglect
The details of his slapdash
aesthetic and visual foolery beguile. At the same time, he chews
the scenery with an abandon that creates underlying anxiety. Will
he hurt himself or spew some unspeakable fluid into the audience?
At one moment, Heron and a collaborator, singer/composer Corey Dargel,
look adorable in mismatched wigs. Dargel croons in the world-weary,
butter-and-rust style of Stephin Merritt while Heron organizes a
surreally expanding collection of faux cupcakes. Later, he abjects
himself on the floor among the seats, nudging his body under people's
feet, thereby shedding -- and nearly shredding -- the prom gown
he'd been barely squeezed into. A crowd-pleaser: in "Donovan X3,"
he pulls his shorts down so he can get a better look at his own
butt, which he then draws on a pad of paper and shows the audience,
"Big Lake," a film by
Thomas Little and Heron, is a Halloween jewel, cutting between Heron
as a weepy drag Ophelia -- mad as a wet hen and haunting some unlucky
body of water -- and upside-down close-ups of another, Max Schreck-like
Heron who seems to be regurgitating a gobfull of bugs. These are
shamanic rites using structure and necessity as girders within apparent
anarchy. Heron posits a self that isn't a noun, a fixed entity,
but a verb, a becoming: our decade's Stan Laurel.