“That was the most sex, drugs and rock’n’roll I’ve ever seen…without music.” Never mind music—choreographer Melinda Ring’s new work, X, barely used any sound. My friend’s remark about the dance referred to the carnal inner forces driving each moment, not the bright colors or loud sounds that serve as markers for youthful abandon. Five female dancers wore white dresses—lacey/flowery but fundamentally simple—while shuffling, undulating, jiggling and stamping (and sweating) in near silence. There was some whispering, occasional grunts and coos, and added audio texture from Enrico Wey and Kimberly Hamlin from the balcony, but dancers’ breaths and footfalls were the audible heartbeat of X. At one point, an unseen voice cried, “More love!” Meanwhile the bodies onstage simmered, the energy level building slowly—the movement impulse might shake the extremities, or take up residence in the pelvis.
Presented in May in the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Church in the East Village (Danspace Project’s home), X focused the spiritual connotations of the space as if through a prism: squeezing a spectrum of transcendent outburst from the reverent purity of the Christian setting by filtering it through a bottleneck of artistic constraints and psychedelic inspiration. Dan Graham’s 1984 film Rock My Religion, which links rock music to Shaker religious practices, was the point of departure for Ring. The physical common denominator, for filmmaker and choreographer, is that transformative, euphoric state accessed by flinging, jarring, restraint-be-damned movement. X took the path to salvation—or wholeness, or at least a better plane of existence than corporate monotony—through the most expansive, encompassing corporeal available: the antithesis of stripped-down, discipline-oriented approaches like yoga.
Not that X was a constant, full-throttle aerobic showcase. Instead it was a shaggy beast, held together by the thin formal threads of its circular structure, which steered its participants around the stage center, around each other, and around to the beginning cluster (its title refers not to the drug favored by the trance dancers of rave culture, but to “the center”). Despite all that, the show hangs in my mind’s eye now as a swagger, rough around the edges and wandering all over. Really it was a sprawling mess, like the Velvet Underground frenzy “Sister Ray” that is distortion and repetition and improvisation and chaotic simultaneous riffs. Rhythms formed and dissipated.
Ring collaborated with visual artist Martin Kersels, whom she has known since middle school, to add a vertical dimension to X. A chandelier sculpture was suspended above the dancers, with lightbulbs dangling. Over time, the lightbulbs descended, intruding into the earthly realm and hovering like fireflies. This seemed to confirm the passage of time and the completion of the ritual, and X ended with a return to unison and an embrace of sound. The dancers lay in a circle on the floor, and each grasped a bulb like a microphone to emit her non-verbal utterances with the rest of the pack. Then darkness.