A man was reading out loud as the audience entered the darkened theater for Melinda Ring's "Willingly," at Highways in Santa Monica Thursday night. Seated in the front row, he melted right into the pre-show chatting until someone finally "ssshhhed" and a reverent hush fell.
What actor John Bellucci continued to read intermittently during the 50-minute performance was a Garden of Eden tale, but plot wasn't prominent, since his voice was barely a murmur. Onstage, Brian Brophy, barefoot in a black suit, and Ring, naked except for oversized men's black shoes, moved through images that added up, sort of, to performance-art noir.
Movement was minimal, mostly slow crawling, some stamping patterns and frequent rising and falling into poses that resembled graceful sculpture. Brophy had some fragmentary dialogue that shot out as if from a pressure cooker, but Ring was silent and somewhat impassive. Looking a lot like a buffed Audrey Hepburn, she had a way of shifting from side to side--leading with the rib cage, with arms waving--that looked very like psychedelic dancing of the '60s. A wavering electronic tone could be detected in the frequent moments of near silence.
The only light source, a small lamp with crumpled black shade, was either hand-held or placed on the floor, creating jagged shadows. Frequent moments of slow motion and "close-up" were created by one dancer focusing the light on the other's decreased movement, strengthening the work's relationship to film. That is, if you think of a film that has very little happening except light and shadow. What Ring has in "Willingly" is a series of enigmatic black-and-white scenes that foreground the surface of her naked body--and very little else.