(Dance Review) Jodi Melnick and David Neumann at Jacob’s Pillow

David Neumann in Tough the Tough (redux) (photo by Cherylynn Tsushima)

David Neumann in Tough the Tough (redux) (photo by Cherylynn Tsushima)

Jodi Melnick and David Neumann
August 10-14, 2011

Review by Anna Rogovoy

(BECKET, Mass., August 10, 2011) – Fanfare, choreographed and performed by Jodi Melnick with Dennis O’Connor, is a limpid, fluid work with an innovative set designed by Burt Barr. Barr places two chrome fans on pedestals several yards away from each other, and projectors oriented in front of the fans cast huge oscillating silhouettes on the back wall of the Doris Duke Theater stage. The image of two figures tossing and turning has a subtle but deeply felt symbolism, particularly when Melnick, after dancing alone for the majority of the piece, is joined by O’Connor for several unison phrases. But Fanfare’s truest beauty lies in its main practitioner, as Jodi Melnick is one of the most rivetingly lovely performers to be seen.

Melnick executes her personal movement vocabulary — a luxurious amalgamation of influences including the postmodern stylings of Sara Rudner and the ballet-infused technique of Twyla Tharp — with a casual unassuming-ness which stops just short of being disconcertingly frank. Through steady eyes she gazes out at the audience, even as her body transmits a current of movement. The brush of a finger across her cheek initiates a turn which then becomes a walk around the space. Her fist drops to hang beside her thigh and her leg, foot perfectly pointed, swings up to the side. Small, crisp gestures and full-bodied sweeps of movement are equally tantalizing. O’Connor, whose firm articulation is perfectly pleasant, hardly registers beside her.

A worthy match in sheer appeal is David Neumann. In Tough the Tough (Redux), a solo comprised largely of pedestrian activity, Neumann is winningly endearing. Representing “mankind” as narrated by the voice of DJ Mendel (text by Will Eno), he fidgets with his garments, struts, frets, and generally displays a sort of eager yet awkwardly hesitant attitude towards each and every action. In addition to sheer charm, Tough the Tough draws on images for much of its structure: Neumann holding four open folding chairs in his arms, Neumann contorted on the floor, Neumann staring up at something unseen beyond the ceiling. In the frugally parsed yet excellent sections of pure dancing, Neumann is best described as a swirling current of buttery isolations and weighted swings. “Amazing, really, the way we all go on,” says the narrator, and amazing it is to see such a seemingly relaxed yet present performance.

Hit the Deck (Studies and Accidents), a quartet by Neumann for his company, Advanced Beginner Group, speaks to chance encounters and unpredictable situations. In the vein of phenomenally witty choreographer Monica Bill Barnes, the four dancers exude a self-effacing quality as they tackle the absurd, tender, and vain activity that is performing a dance piece. Their smiles crack into grimaces, and they partner with the excited nervousness of students learning these moves for the first time. A crash echoes from the wings before Natalie Agee staggers onto the stage to strike a melodramatic pose. Never overdone, it’s uproariously funny, and full of exuberant dancing.

The last piece on the program, July is a world premiere duet commissioned by the Pillow from Melnick and Neumann, who have not previously collaborated with each other. Created in the space it is performed, July utilizes the versatile Duke Theatre to the fullest, opening the doors at the back of the stage to reveal the greenery of the Becket countryside. The two dancers bring their unique sensibilities to this work, allowing the inherent disparities between their physicalities to flourish.

In duets without contact they explore the space around each other, creating almost-continuous lines and shapes with their separate bodies. In unison sequences, their differences are pronounced, Melnick’s sinuous grace contrasting Neumann’s swirling energy. When contact is introduced it seems as though they are jostling each other, stumbling into one another’s arms with the comfort (and tension) of old lovers. They meet on the floor, snuggling against each other briefly before reaching away and mirroring each other in a series of gestures. July is rich with implied personal connection, subtle movement, and intimate tableaus, and all of these combined with the captivating glory of Jodi Melnick and David Neumann render it wholly successful.


Anna Rogovoy is chief dance critic for The Rogovoy Report. She studies dance, literature and writing at Bennington College.




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