Choreographers make odd couple
BECKET - Sharing a double bill at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival this week, the choreographers Jodi Melnick and David Neumann are a bit of an odd couple. Melnick, a delicate and precise mover, keeps her emotional cards close to her chest; Neumann moves with a sweeping generosity and wears his heart on his sleeve.
The title of Melnick’s 2009 “Fanfare’’ is a pun - Burt Barr’s stark set design features two double fans - but the dance itself is a straightforward, even austere movement study. A lengthy solo for Melnick is peppered with fragmented bursts of ballet-class movements and investigations. She pauses, inclining her head, seeming to consider what her arm really looks like in a certain position. Her solo becomes almost a primer on the use of flex/point, in/out, and bend/stretch in dance.
Ultimately, her absorption lasts longer than ours - the introspection teeters on navel-gazing - and the shorter duet with Dennis O’Connor, while full of more ritualistic concentration, is like a welcome blink after a long, though lovely, stare.
Though Neumann provides the comic relief on this shared bill, he is as much a truth-teller as a jokester. In his solo “Tough the Tough (redux)’’ and the 2006 “Hit the Deck (Studies and Accidents),’’ the slapstick works because it is both ridiculous and familiar, a sendup of the pratfalls of the human condition.
Dancers from Neumann’s company Advanced Beginner Group join him for “Hit the Deck,’’ a great chaos of a dance that also includes two game musicians. Pianist Carol Wong moodily plays bits of Igor Stravinsky compositions, while the dancers enter and exit agitatedly. Kennis Hawkins and Will Rawls eye each other across the stage, smoldering, before engaging in a tango-like duet. Natalie Agee, moving with a jerky strangulation, is released when tenor Timothy Fallon stands at the piano and directs gorgeous, wordless notes toward her. Agee’s small body expands as tightness drains from it; she arches gloriously back, her arms unfolding and reaching into infinity. If laughter is the best medicine, then surely beauty and kindness are the best desserts.
For “July,’’ a duet for Melnick and Neumann commissioned by Jacob’s Pillow, the back of the Doris Duke Theatre is opened, unveiling a magically lit evergreen and creating a background that could suggest Adam and Eve in the garden or any couple on summer holiday. Like that other odd couple, Felix and Oscar, the two find a way to make their differences work. Melnick’s cloak of vulnerability opens and Neumann’s comic facade drops, and they meet in a tender middle place.
Janine Parker can be reached at email@example.com.