“O.K., good.” That’s something people say to signal that whatever has just occurred is sufficient, that it’s time to move on.
“O.K., good” is also one of the things said in Melinda Ring’s “Strange Engagements,” a dance work that opened at Danspace Project on Thursday. At the end of a section or two of the 40-minute piece, performed in the round without sonic accompaniment, one of the dancers says, “O.K., good” or announces the title: “This is called ‘Strange Engagements.’”
What happens between these pauses is indeed strange, at least in a sense. Huddled or clumped, the dancers wriggle and shake, rolling their heads and hips as if in a dark corner of a rave before it develops into an orgy. Periodically, they stomp their feet or clap, as though in sync with some song we can’t hear. It’s like a silent disco inhabited by people with the oddly loud footfalls of small children.
But it isn’t nearly strange enough. On her website, Ms. Ring explains that she began by videotaping the dancers’ “raw” improvisations, which is easy to believe while watching the final product. She also explains that this unadorned, amorphous-seeming movement has been carefully arranged. And this, too, is apparent in the dance, as when everyone snaps into unison or sequences recur or two dancers distant from each other synchronize.
Yet much else in Ms. Ring’s extensive, intelligent website gloss sounds aspirational when checked against the dance. She likens “Strange Engagements” not only to her own 2010 work “X” but also, somewhat jokingly, to “Hair” and “Meat Joy,” the 1964 Carolee Schneemann piece in which nearly naked people writhed together amid raw fish, meat and poultry.
Where’s the meat? Where’s the joy? “Strange Engagements” is about as Dionysian as a diagram. It’s not wild or even wacky; it’s strangely dull. One floor-bound segment is slightly more interesting; as the dancers roll around, struggling to get up, their motion makes waves, as it were. Later, there’s some minimal social dancing — a minute bouncing and twisting, like a whispered conversation with the beat — that registers as accurate observation, something you’ve seen before and probably done. But then the lighting (by the always game professional Kathy Kaufmann) shifts, or everyone just freezes in an awkward position. The dancers regroup, move on.
What’s the measure of “O.K., good” here? At one point, Paul Hamilton, a veteran performer who can maintain his authenticity and dignity in any situation, lies prone, with Rainey White on top of him, looking at his hands, and shaking his head. I wished him escape.
Instead, the dance continues until the cast is exhausted, collapsed into stillness. Ms. Ring, seated in the audience, says, “O.K., good,” and it’s over. Good enough, it seems, for them.
Through Feb. 1 at Danspace Project; danspaceproject.org.