Melinda Ring

The choreographer explores the group experience.

  • RING THE BELLES Dancers perform a previous work by the choreographer, Hmmm.

RING THE BELLES Dancers perform a previous work by the choreographer, Hmmm.

Melinda Ring, a rising figure in dance and performance, always felt pulled toward New York, even though in Los Angeles—Santa Monica, to be exact—she was a mere 12 blocks from the beach and making a modest living as a choreographer and dancer. “I wasn’t, like, the big fish,” Ring says over tea in Chelsea, “but I was getting to be a medium-size fish.”

In the end, a rent-controlled apartment in California didn’t mean much when locals responded to the name Martha Graham with a blank expression. “I knew that in New York most people on the street would know who Martha Graham was,” she says. “Also, I didn’t want to drive anymore. I imagined myself on the subway reading and being really relaxed and not being anxious getting places.” After a pause, she adds dryly, “That’s the only thing that didn’t turn out to be true. I’m the same anxious person on the subway.”

Still, it was a roundabout journey: After earning an MFA from Bennington College, Ring moved to New York on September 1, 2001. “It seems important to say that for some reason,” she says, with a wry laugh. In her newest work, X, presented at Danspace Project beginning Thursday 13, Ring takes inspiration from Dan Graham’s film Rock My Religion. The production features five dancers and a suspended chandelier structure by the artist Martin Kersels, who is part of the current Whitney Biennial (in case you’re curious, they went to junior high school together).

In the film, Graham aims to find the connection between rock & roll and the Shaker religion. “It’s a very rough-and-tumble film,” Ring says. “It seems too long; it seems like a cockamamie premise. The footage is not shot so pristinely, and [the film] maybe many generations away from what it was.”

Still, she found herself watching it a second time, transfixed by the idea of building an endless Shaker circle dance that would blend the rock & roll experience and ecstatic states. “The dance is inspired by that, but I don’t think it fulfills that,” she admits. “It is pretty much in a circle. It isn’t endless. I thought that it would never stop turning, but it doesn’t do that exactly.”

There’s no music, though there is still a strong connection to rhythm. “If somebody reads this, they’ll say, 'Rock & roll—so it’s going to be really loud.’ It’s not going to be like that. It’s not the sound aspect of it, which is really weird. So what is it?”

First of all, X refers to the center. “It’s also about worshipping the unknown—X is always the unknown,” she says. “So it’s really the symbol and the idea.” Ring also researched Shaker services, but doesn’t apply that brand of ecstatic movement directly to her dance. “They would shake out their sins and then they would stomp on them, and they thought this would purify them and they would be opened up to receive a gift, which would be a dance,” she says. “So dancing was really part of their services.” Rather, in X, she is inspired by the group mentality: “If you are really collaborating, if you have all these minds put to something, you can make something,” she says. “It can get extra better. If there’s some Shaker idea in this, in a stronger way, it’s the group mind, the group experience. It’s what the group came up with together.”

Unlike in other works by Ring, the movement is culled entirely from improvisations performed by her cast—Talya Epstein, Maggie Jones, Molly Lieber, Marilyn Maywald and Antonietta Vicario. For her, that has upped the collaborative level. “It’s almost like I’m making a dance for them,” Ring explains. “It’s like it’s a little bit removed from me in some way. But when I say that I’ve given the dance to them, I feel they have helped so much to create it. I’m sort of stealing their souls.”

Recently, Ring collaborated with another artist, Jennifer Nelson, in for the birds, an installation at Los Angeles’s the Box in which the two artists created living choreography in a gallery they shared for 21 days with 21 birds; next January, Ring will oversee the fourth Platform in the Danspace Project series. But at the moment, in terms of X, she finds herself in a funny place. “I shouldn’t tell you this, but I would really love to leave the dance and come back to it,” she says. “I don’t know that it would change so much, but it’s a really complicated dance. I could probably work on this dance for a year nonstop. But when something’s left undone, I work on it in something else. The process will continue after the dance.”

Melinda Ring performs at Danspace Project Thu 13--Sat 15.

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