Nomie Lafrance

Seven dancers Melt away.

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  • Photographs: Shaul Schwarz

Photographs: Shaul Schwarz

In 2003, Nomie Lafrance unveiled a work-in-progress at a small gallery in Williamsburg, in which three dancers, dripping with greasy lanolin, perched on a wall and, well, melted. The piece stands out in Lafrance’s site-specific oeuvre; since that time, she has presented more ambitious productions—in a parking garage (Noir), in an abandoned swimming pool (Agora) and atop a Frank Gehry building (Rapture), as well as having choreographed three videos for Feist (including “1234”). But with its intimate proximity with the audience, Melt is transfixing. Now expanded from 12 minutes to 30, Melt features seven dancers who will dissolve—this is an occasion in which the hotter it is, the better—at the salt pile under the Manhattan Bridge. Lafrance spoke about looking back to look forward.

“The inspiration was a little spiritually driven, in the sense that you feel extremes that can be temperature—it’s as if you’re starting to separate, or your soul is starting to evaporate from your body. Their bodies are melting; maybe there is some pain associated with that. It’s a mutation. There is a feeling of isolation, like they might have been on these chairs forever. They have secrets with the wall. A wall is so cold and final. It symbolizes that limitation or the end of something; at the same time, it is this idea that the human body is like a piece of art.”

“When I first came to New York, it was so unbearably hot. It’s the feeling that your body is going to disintegrate, and the idea of the body as material. If the sun started to approach, would we melt or liquefy or just transform into a different state?”

“I choose dancers who have an aspect that is both sensual and natural, but there is very dancey material as well. There are sections that are slightly improvised, but for the most part it’s choreographed. There will be more moments of quiet in this version, because I want to go deeper into that feeling of exhaustion—some of the dancers are going to start to fall asleep for a little while, and I’m going to have some solos where they go into a trance. There’s a little more theater in the movement.”

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On Melt:
“I had the inspiration when I was going to the PS1 Warm Ups—there is a room with concrete walls. Of course, they rejected me. Those kinds of institutions like to choose you; they don’t like you to choose them.”

“There are many walls, but this space is nice because it’s not somewhere where you would go. It’s like going far away in Manhattan, which is almost impossible. And the pile of salt is amazing—it’s big and long and aesthetically, the feel is very industrial. I want to do something in the salt pile— I’m still working on it because they don’t want me to use it. They’re being very difficult. It’s not the first time; it’s always a challenge. This is owned by the Department of Sanitation. Sometimes I think I understand why nobody else does what I do. You can’t blame them because they don’t understand what you’re doing. They don’t understand that it’s not dangerous. But New York is also a city where people like to say no the first time, the second time and the third time. You have to go for the fourth, the fifth and the sixth time until you get maybe. It’s nothing compared with what I had to go through with the McCarren Park Pool [with Agora]. And we didn’t get our contract until a week before the show and the contract still said in three places that they could cancel the show at any time even though we had put in all this money to actually renovate the pool. You’re really putting yourself out there a lot to make these things possible. I’m not trying to complain but it’s a challenge and this city needs to give back sometimes.”

“The lanolin has a feeling of suffocation: everything you touch is so sticky, you feel like you can’t get out of it. Some people react more claustrophobically to being covered in something slippery. Everything becomes sticky—you can’t touch anything dusty because then you have it all over you.”

“The costumes are made from cheesecloth from raglady.com. They’re little pieces; I sew them together in a certain arrangement and it becomes a little camisole and then it has these tentacles that go down and underneath. The dancers wear underwear and a little harness that they wear under—so they can move but you can’t actually see it. It retains them. They’re snug but it has possibilities.”

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On other projects:
Lafrance is currently working on her Rapture series, which will feature site-specific performances at Frank Gehry buildings over the next five years.

“I’m developing choreography for audience. I’ve been thinking about this since 2006 and I’m also starting to develop, not a technique, but an idea for training dancers in pedestrian movement, which has to do with running, walking and skipping. This is something I developed in the piece Manor Field [which was created in collaboration with the participant dancers of 'Dance Across Borders’ at the Fisher Center in 2007]. It took place on a really large field and the dancers were running and skipping; it was about a decrease in speed, starting with running, then skipping and walking and still. It was all about topography They were tracing topography with different patterns and there were rules about how they could use the space. I also started developing that with Agora II and the Feist video. It’s a project where a group of people become the architecture in a sense. It’s participatory—so the audience becomes the performer and the medium.”

“I would like to develop Noir [a 2004 work performed in a Lower East Side parking garage where audience members viewed from cars] as an Off-Broadway show. It will be more of a play with dialogue and more of a story, for sure. Where [the original production] wasn’t a success for me was that it didn’t have a plot—in the end, it was just images, and it didn’t amount to a complete experience. I’d like for it to be less of an aesthetic experience and more of a narrative one.”

“I’m going into a more developmental stage now. It’s a beginning of a new phase. I think I’m going to be spending a little more time just developing these ideas instead of running around with my head cut off on a production. Part of that is also that I never have worked with a company of dancers. I want to start a new idea of a pick-up company. I’ll have a core group and second, third and fourth groups, and it will go from 20 to 60 to 200 so I will be able to work with different groups. Everybody has an involvement three or four times a year; there will be other opportunities for dancers to work on other projects; some of them are larger and some of them are smaller. I want to develop a language. A lot of times I’m working with dancers and they don’t understand that I want to deconstruct their dance training in a way; I don’t want them to be untrained but I don’t want them to be trained either. I want them to be able to apply very simple movements like walking and running, and it’s not like I’m saying to them, 'Just run naturally.’ In a sense “run naturally” doesn’t mean anything; it just means run however you run, but I actually want them to run in a particular way that reflects a more universal natural movement. Nobody’s training the dancers in this kind of simple language.”

“I want to bring counts and music to the world of film because they don’t really count—even when they make music videos! They don’t understand that they’re not being musical in the way that they are shooting something. I insist that we record music and that we count and that we keep true to those counts when we edit—otherwise, you’re not even on the music and it looks terrible. Some people can’t tell. That’s why a person like me coming into that world can help in all of these more refined details.”

Melt is at the salt pile under the Manhattan Bridge in Manhattan Aug 19--22 and 26--29.

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