Former gymnast Jodi Melnick's name might look familiar to Miller Theatre enthusiasts. She recently appeared onstage, albeit in a much less physically demanding role, as a mezzo-soprano in David Lynch's Lost Highway. In the new show Becky, Jodi and John, Melnick explores a different realm of artistry: she dances with a precision and articulation that comes from years of gymnastics training.
Melnick seems to have a penchant for working with artists who like to stretch the limits of creativity-including John Jasperse, who is the show's artistic director and choreographer as well as Melnick's co-star. Though admirable for its freshness, Jasperse's intent-to draw attention to art's struggle against the concept of "irrelevance"-is still overtly abstract. Lynch and Jasperse both tend to work with an artistic conceptualization that remains obscure to the viewer. During a brief interlude in Becky, Jodi and John, for example, a remote-controlled elephant on wheels inexplicably scoots across the stage in rhythm with blasting rap music and club lighting.
As absurd as some of Jasperse's work can be, unconventionality can be a refreshing change when conventionality often means pretension and unnecessary self-importance. With the piece, Jasperse set about the task of examining "the inescapable constancy of self and its paradoxical capacity to radically transform as well as how the phenomenon of dancing informs this transformation." Becky Hilton, Melnick, and Jasperse, all 43, met two decades ago, and their familiarity is reflected in their movements throughout the piece. Becky, Jodi and John explores the themes of interdependency, the confluence of life trajectories, and the self-awareness evoked by age.
The piece, which opens with a projected visual anecdote about Chrysta-a fellow dancer and close friend of all three performers-underscores the theme of group identity and its relation to the self. Chrysta provides commentary by means of a video recording throughout the piece, and she flirts with irony when she says, "I was never really interested in being myself." Throughout the piece, Chrysta provides the audience with sound bites that reinforce the work's thematic content. On the subject of irrelevance, she muses, "When you have the same answer to every question ... you become irrelevant ... and I feel that in my body."
In the piece, the self-awareness that is a fundamental part of the human experience is channeled through the dancers' acute awareness of their own bodies. Following Chrysta's playful media commentary at the opening of the piece, Jodi follows with a monologue that laments the physical deterioration that has accompanied her own aging process. Her commentary on the state of her knees and toes indicates a self-awareness that reappears in John's decision to appear fully exposed on stage. Though a bit jarring at first, John's physical bareness as he partners Jodi, along with the choreography that manipulates gravity to create situations of danger, ultimately communicates the theme of interdependence.
When all three dancers share the stage in Becky, Jodi and John, it is clear that Jasperse deserves his success as a choreographer in the relentlessly competitive New York City dance world. Jasperse's choreography subtly encapsulates the familiarity amongst the dancers. The way in which their personal narratives have become intertwined after 20 years of contact manifests itself in the synchronicity of their dancing. The signature rhythms with which the dancers respond to the music, however, serve as a palpable metaphor for how the individual processes the collective to create something distinctly personal.