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Flash Review 2, 11-9: Wanderland
From Dreams of Kentucky to Nightmares of Flossing with Melnick & Heron

By Chris Dohse
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 dental hygiene.

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, beaming.

"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.

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