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Dance Review (NYC): Melt

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They say that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, as if that’s a bad thing. But what is dance, after all, if not a response to the architectural space of a stage? The choreography of Noémie Lafrance has long taken this concept to heart. In her most famous work, the music video for Feist’s “1234,” her canvas is a conventional warehouse, with a team of dancers creating a human wall for the chanteuse to navigate. More often, Lafrance takes her dance to such challenging venues as a municipal parking garage (Noir), the spiral stairwell of a twelve-story Stanford White court building (Descent), and the McCarren Park Pool (Agora).

Photograph by Pat Padua
Photograph by Pat Padua

Melt finds Lafrance with her strongest marriage of form to site yet. It was previously staged with three dancers saddled to a courtyard wall in the Black and White Gallery, then located in Soho. When I tried to see that show in 2003 it was rained out, but the new venue, a salt pile under the Manhattan Bridge, is an inspired and inspiring space.

A cast of seven are outfitted in cheesecloth drenched in beeswax and lanolin, and titularly melt in the summer and stage-light heat. They fall and drip and swoon and reach up towards the bridge; they sleep, with a lone sentry watching out for her sisters. If they seem to beckon F Train passengers, it is not with the ambition of Icarus; rather, these melting mortals are fastened to a concrete mast. With their backs against the wall, they leave traces of wax behind them, which reminds me of a piece I created when as a child I spelled KIMBA on my bedroom wall with Vicks Vaporub. Interestingly, Melt is the second work of art I’ve seen this summer that recalls the exploration of a child who doesn’t mind making a mess.

During the Friday evening performance I attended, subway trains rumbled directly above the site at reliable intervals, and it was indeed hard to know where Erin McGonigle’s electronic/ambient score (which features, among other ensemble players, thousands of amorous crickets) ended and real life began. When a motorcyle roared across the bridge towards Brooklyn, it was like a featured soloist.

But the venue is so impressive that the dance becomes secondary, overwhelmed by the sonic and industrial spectacle. Perhaps this is where Icarus comes in, as the proud artist approaches the sun to battle it for glory but falls apart, no match for the brutal environment. While the fantastic interplay between art and reality enhances the work, the work finally seems a meditation on distraction and serendipity, and the ephemeral nature of human endeavor. In Melt, it is not dust to which we return, but vapor.

Melt drips through Septmber12th at the Salt Pile, Corner of South Street and Peck Slip under the Manhattan Bridge. Take the F Train to East Broadway, and while you’re in the neighborhood, stop by the Chinatown branch of Xi’an Famous Foods for a cumin lamb burger that will make you melt without beeswax.

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About Pat Padua

Pat Padua is a writer, photographer, native Washingtonian, and Oxford comma defender. The Washington Post called him "a talented, if quirky, photographer." Pat has also contributed to the All Music Guide, Cinescene, and DCist, where he is currently senior film critic.