With Rude World, Molly Lieber and Eleanor Smith conclude their intimate trilogy that started with 2012’s Beautiful Bone and continued with 2013’s Tulip, a trio of works danced and choreographed by the two women, who have been collaborating since 2006. Part of PS122’s COIL festival, Rude World takes place in the black box space at Long Island City’s Chocolate Factory, with two rows of folding chairs at the north and south ends and black curtains forming the east and west sides. The forty-five-minute improvisation-based performance begins as Lieber and Smith, both naked, enter the small, dark room. Lieber sits on a reserved chair as Smith stands right in front of her. Over the course of several minutes, Lieber slowly caresses Smith’s body, from shoulder blades to calves, while her face moves into Smith’s backside. The only sound heard is that of a far-off ventilation system, barely audible, as well as the soft gulps of the audience members. The opening sets the tone for the rest of the show, as each dancer gets a solo in which they embrace the space with runs and jumps; in between, the central section features their bodies entwining, virtually becoming one as they twist, turn, and roll, pushing and pulling each other, using various body parts in a creative vocabulary of movement bordering on the sexual. They also stand face-first against the black curtain, slowly moving up and down as if trying to merge with the barrier. Through it all, Madeline Best’s lighting shifts ever so subtly, melding with the silence, which is interrupted only by Lieber’s and Smith’s heavy breathing — and yet more audience gulps.
Developed during a residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, Rude World is a mesmerizing work that gently tantalizes and taunts the audience. Lieber, who has danced for luciana achugar, Neil Greenberg, Maria Hassabi, Juliette Mapp, and Melinda Ring, and Smith, who has performed with Ivy Baldwin, Katie Workum, Juliana F. May, Vanessa Anspaugh, and Molly Poerstel, boldly reveal themselves, daring the crowd to look at them and their bodies. The piece gets confusing when each dancer puts on at least one article of clothing, perhaps emphasizing the nudity too much. But the brief wardrobe changes also tell the audience that the dancers know that they’re being examined in a way costumed dancers aren’t, with usually hidden body parts on view and moving along with hands, legs, heads, etc. Of course, nudity in contemporary dance is nothing new, but it can still be bold and thrilling when used in intelligent, unique ways.