Jodi Melnick’s Moment Marigold at BAM Fisher
In ancient Greek mythology, the Horae (hours) were the three goddesses of the seasons, the keepers of time, and the guardians of Zeus’s cloud gates to the heavens. They were (and are) nearly always depicted in motion, dancing gracefully as clouds themselves, their limbs and hair pushed back by a slight breeze to usher in the spring or fall.
In Wednesday’s premiere at BAM Fisher, downtown choreographer Jodi Melnick and her fellow dancers EmmaGrace Skove-Epes and Maggie Thom were twenty-first-century Horae, floating silently on an ethereally lit stage by Joe Levasseur and wearing feminine hipster costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung. Tangled poses bookended a work of unraveling formalism, as the dancers moved with flowing intricacy in relation to one another and Steven Reker’s fluttering music. Melnick herself is a stunningly virtuosic mover: her wiry frame is supple yet strong; it’s easy to see her time spent working with Trisha Brown in her muscle memory. In a solo near the end of the piece in which she danced holding a knife, she was like a gentle assassin, menacing yet in complete control of her body and situation.
In Moment Marigold, Melnick culled movement from her “never-ending desire to create new physical sequences and sensations in the body…the living, sensing, biological plant that we implement as our aesthetic material”, according to her program note. This often meant that any meaning gleaned from the work was secondary to Melnick’s formal considerations: there were phrases of intricate entwining, in which the dancers clasped hands and whirled their arms around each other, pushing, falling, and recovering. The points of physical interaction were loaded; at times, I found myself wishing the dancers would touch. When they finally did, it was casually glorious, a quotidian moment made monumental.
These instances of ethereal beauty were placed—sometimes haphazardly—next to sections of solo work with all three dancers on stage. These washed over me blandly: to see three bodies moving simultaneously with such idiosyncrasies yet sans visible structure became too hard to follow, so I tuned out. Their generally glazed-over countenances didn’t help matters. Sometimes, this postmodernist aesthetic felt a bit dated—too much Trisha and not enough Jodi.
Lack of context also hindered any perceived poignancy: I noticed this in the knife solo and in the work’s final scene. Envision Melnick looping an arm under Skove-Epes’s leg, while Thom’s back rests against Melnick’s until they collectively submit to gravity and into a new position. After a series of these gorgeous tableau-vivant-like moments, the women arrived at a final resting place on their backs. Melnick slowly rose to unfasten the young womens’ ponytails, meticulously laying out their long strands with maternal tenderness—first Skove-Epes’s, then Thom’s. At last, Melnick circled back to lie down, unfastening her own auburn locks and brushing them out like a sunburst, her matriarchal figure finally at peace. It was an image of powerful, feminine beauty, but rather unexpected—I found myself wishing the hair motif and Melnick-as-matriarch had been explored earlier so that this final moment might have had more weight. As they lay there, eyes closed, they were goddesses rather than real live people—beautiful yet untouchable.