Though dance has become prevalent in museums, it still often feels tacked on and unintegrated. Not so at the Met Breuer, where Andrea Miller’s new “(C)arbon” is being presented in conjunction with “Like Life: Sculpture, Color and the Body (1300-Now),” the exhibition of figurative sculpture. If you amble through the two floors of the exhibition before ascending to the floor for performances, the connections are easy to see.
It may be a coincidence that Ms. Miller’s tenure as the first choreographer to be artist in residence at the Met overlaps with “Like Life,” but how convenient it is. In response to 127 representations of the human form, surely an artist who works with living bodies would have something to say.
Ms. Miller does, and not just in the sense that any choreographer would. Beyond her concern with the sculptural ways a body can be posed, she has long shown a particular interest in emphasizing flesh. I can think of few other choreographers who make me pay as much attention to skin and the blood underneath, and this connects her to a theme of “Like Life.”
There are some discontinuities, too. The artists in “Like Life” tend to either idealize the human form or try to reproduce it as realistically as possible. Ms. Miller is more of a Mannerist. In her attempt to express rawness, she courts the distortion of extremes. Bodies are contorted, habitually bent. To the extent that her dancers resemble figures in the exhibition, they look like St. Sebastian and other wounded martyrs.
Or, to approach the differences from another angle: The sculptures in “Like Life” keep asking you to judge their lifelikeness, to believe the illusion. In Ms. Miller’s work, the bodies are unmistakably real, but the art can seem hard to believe.
That’s a problem again with “(C)arbon,” conceived in collaboration with Ben Stamper, whose projected films of corporeal curves are too reminiscent of a chic underwear ad. The portentous tone is exacerbated by Will Epstein’s soundscore: an assemblage of surf and ambient noise that could easily be sold as a sleep aid.
Still, the program description of “(C)arbon” as “an anthropological study” isn’t misleading. The work’s three sections — a solo, a duet and a trio, each about 30 minutes long — run simultaneously in three connected galleries, but you can view them consecutively, as I did. The choreography, created by Ms. Miller in collaboration with her dance company, Gallim, is a collection of images that strike and fade. But cumulatively, it makes some sense as a fantasy about early man.
In several of Ms. Miller’s earlier works, human interaction has seemed to stem from the urge to merge. In the trio here, the dancers press into one another with such determination that one of them ends up suspended off the ground. Later, when their huddle sways and their feet shuffle, you could see it as the origins of folk dance.
The duet, performed on a platform by dancers in red boxing shorts, is a cross between a wrestling match and a sex scene in “Clan of the Cave Bear.” After tussling and smashing mouths, the pair finds another impulse for dance, showing off for each other with what looks like prehistoric twerking.
The solo is a fitful illustration of Darwinian evolution. A dancer unfolds on the floor, amphibian-like, then crawls, learns to stand and climbs an inclined plank of mudlike clay. A final fall off the edge reminded me, as Ms. Miller’s works chronically do, of a better dance by Ohad Naharin. But before that, as the soloist perched on the plank as if on a dock, gazing into the distance, I was reminded of something else. For an instant, the dance seemed like life.
Andrea Miller and Gallim
Through May 24 at the Met Breuer; metmuseum.org.