The performers were at their best during the high-energy numbers, starting with the very first vignette performed on a hospital gurney, where a greased-up Juan Carlos led us through the transition from death to hell’s door, portraying a new corpse surrounded by doctors who prod and manipulate his limp and lifeless body. The sheer control and strength it took to appear limp while doing flips and sommersaults through the hands of other dancers still blows my mind; I could have watched this for the entire hour. This illusion of dance, portraying lifelessness while performing extreme acts of athleticism, is something that the company does very well.
Modern dance loves props: chairs, crutches, tables, silk scarves. Without the story line that comes with ballet, modern dance often uses physical objects to alter movement and space, to give a focus and inspire play that may reward the dancer and audience with something entirely new and never before done. In Of Meat and Marrow, the gurney became a major prop, reappearing in multiple vignettes, as did a gigantic six-spoked jack (like the kid’s game) and a metal horse trough. When the props appeared, I felt a distinct break from the continuity of the story. It felt like, "We just gave you a little plot, and now we are going to take a break for some modern dance before we return to the story." The only thing that kept me from not minding the abrupt transitions was the sheer pleasure of watching the dancers play with their props. Like the acrobatics with the gurney, the dancers' climbing, jumping, flying and sliding through the giant jack was breathtaking.
The dancers' pace and precision was phenomenal. The production effectively evoked, through imaginative lighting and provocative movement, feelings of fear, paranoia, danger and discomfort. If only they could have applied that same fascinating display of manipulation and art to their handful of slower pieces, I think Of Meat and Marrow would have been completely engaging from start to finish.