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Review: These Art-Historical Nudes Become Bodies in Time

Nine naked people pose on a grassy lawn, like statues in a sculpture garden: standing, sitting, squatting, reclining in stillness. The light is warm, and bright but melancholy music plays. This is the scene that greets you as you enter “Aging Prelude,” a brief and delicately composed new work by the choreographic duo Chameckilerner (Rosane Chamecki and Andrea Lerner), which had its premiere at the Chocolate Factory Theater on Friday.

In the postures of the performers, who range in age from their 20s to their 70s, you might recognize works of art like Degas’s “Spanish Dancer” (Jailyn Phillips-Wiley, an arm curved over her head, the other in front of her torso); or Rodin’s “The Thinker” (Ted Johnson, who sits hunched on a tree stump in the grass, chin on hand). The physical lexicon of “Aging Prelude” comes from images of nudes in painting, sculpture and photography throughout history. The choreographers are explicit about their source material, displaying these images on a wall in the theater lobby.

While these artworks capture bodies at a single moment in time, often fetishizing or idealizing their subjects, “Aging Prelude” is more interested in how time alters and marks a body, as well as the body’s sense of itself. A meditation on change, this 45-minute work is also a fresh start of sorts. In 2007, after more than a decade of making highly physical and psychological dance works, Chemeckilerner, a Brazilian duo based in New York, presented what they framed as their last. “Exit” explored, in their words, “the concept of extinguishing themselves as an artistic entity”: a “funeral rite” for their career. “Aging Prelude” is a quiet resurrection.

The performers remain still for a long while, as Paul Parreira’s music, with its looping strums and reverberations, washes over the space. The audience sits on the cast’s level, surrounding the grassy area (Taylor Friel’s set design). Bria Bacon is the first to drop out of her opening pose, stride to another location and assume a new art-historical position. The music fades, leaving only a faint ticking that will eventually fade, too. Bobbi Salvör Menuez, slouching and holding up a loose fist, speaks into the near-silence: “I am holding a frog.”

That’s a description of Charles Ray’s 2009 sculpture “Boy With Frog,” and other performers follow suit, matter-of-factly giving voice to the figures they embody. “My fingers are reaching to God, who’s floating in a cloud,” Jody Oberfelder says. “I’m standing on top of a large scallop shell, floating toward the shore,” Phillips-Wiley says.

As the speed of switching places and poses seamlessly picks up — a pleasure of this work is its pacing — the performers shift into describing themselves. They comment on their scars and tattoos and asymmetries, on physical attributes lost or acquired, on layers of experience accumulated like the rings of the tree trunk onstage. “I started using mobility aids seven years ago,” says Anne Gridley, who walks with a sparkly red cane. “This scar is from a C section,” says Cristina Latici (a longtime Chameckilerner dancer). They complete the phrases “my body tenses when,” “my body relaxes when,” “my body desires.” More and more, we are able to see ourselves in them.

Individual statements start to sound more like a conversation, as the poses become more communal, too: five performers joining in a circle; four holding hands in a line; three assembling like backup singers. A sense of bodies — people — in relation, rather than isolation, further deepens in the work’s final moments.

With its spareness and simplicity, “Aging Prelude” feels almost slight — it ended before I was ready — yet also fully realized. Perhaps the “Prelude” of the title signals there is more to come, or perhaps this is it, a stand-alone beginning, an opening onto the unknown.

“Aging Prelude”

Through Oct. 28, Chocolate Factory Theater, Queens; chocolatefactorytheater.org.

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