I went to the Renewal movement's national kallah a few years ago, and most of what I know about their ideas and worship styles comes from that. (Much of the rest comes from reading the Velveteen Rabbi's blog.) At the kallah I encountered a lot of worship motifs that I think of as "new-age", such as drumming, movement/dance, yoga, meditation, and an abundance of creative English readings displacing set liturgy. But I also encountered well-done music that enhanced worship, and a focus on core kavannot (intentions) behind the prayers. At the time I described the kallah as a whole, including both worship and learning, as "decent with a high standard deviation".
So with some trepidation, and a resolve to leave if necessary, I went to the service. There were a couple good ideas there, but also some things that turned me off, so I'm glad this was a one-shot. I didn't walk out, but nor would I go again.
I'm not going to give a detailed chronology, but I have some observations of things that stood out:
There was quite a bit of "guided meditation" in the service, particularly the earlier parts. She had chosen three themes from the weekly torah portion and she focused once on each of those (and then came back to them during the torah service). The torah service was a fine place to talk about those themes, and I would not have minded one (shorter) mention of these themes earlier on (like my rabbi sometimes does before p'sukei d'zimra). I found the prominent focus on these themes during the service proper to be somewhat off-putting. They hindered my worship; they did not enhance it.
P'sukei d'zimra, the psalms of praise, contained only: a five-minute chant on the first line of the opening passage; a four-minute chant of the first line of Ashrei, and a full treatment of Nishmat. These struck me as peculiar choices. I would have expected Psalm 150, which is all about praising God through music, to be an automatic inclusion in a music-focused service. And given all the text that was omitted throughout the service, I did not understand the choice to include Nishmat. I mean, it's a fine text and I've no objections, but why that one among all the others? Why not Psalm 150, and the psalm specifically for Shabbat? Puzzling.
Kriat sh'ma included the v'ahavta in English but not Hebrew (odd -- even people who don't know much liturgical Hebrew know the v'ahavta) and then she had the congregation chant "Adonai eloheichem emet" repeatedly while she chanted mi chamocha (yes, everything in between was skipped). While the style of having the congregation chant one passage while the leader chants a longer prayer works well for me in principle, this one did not because the congregation should be participating in the praise of God that mi chamocha (who is like you, oh God) is all about. Especially the Shabbat before Pesach, since that is the text that the Israelites sang at the Sea of Reeds after being rescued. We should be saying that together and we did not have that opportunity. So, good general idea, bad specific application.
Somewhat surprisingly, she did allow room for us to pray the t'filah (amidah, central prayer) individually. I was worried that she would pick a couple lines out of it to chant in lieu of doing the full prayer (or at least allowing us to do so ourselves). If she had abridged the t'filah I would have ignored her and done it on my own; if that had been impossible I would have walked out, no question.
That said, she did replace the Kedusha with a chant on one line; I tuned that out and prayed it despite the distraction. (There were a few other places where I found myself praying texts that she was skipping, tuning out what she was doing as necessary. I don't remember where the others were. Oh, one was the rest of the sh'ma.)
Tangent: somebody said to me that morning that we as individuals are responsible for our own prayer instead of relying on the leader to fulfill our obligations for us. True in part, but if I can't rely on the leader to lead appropriately, why exactly should I come together with a community at all? I can pray by myself at home, after all. When I am the leader I am ever-mindful of two competing obligations to the congregation: to pray in a way that they can fulfill their obligations through me, and to lead in a way that allows them to fulfill their obligations themselves.
There were times during the service where she led chanted prayers in English. I hate this. Hate hate hate. To me, the prayer nusach (melodic system) is bound tightly to the Hebrew language. I have (rarely) heard chanted English work for scriptural readings (though I wouldn't make a habit of it), but there we're talking about a performative act, not something participatory. I don't know if that's the reason it's different, but it's an observation. But for prayer, I am fine with chanting in Hebrew, reading in Hebrew, or reading in English, but not chanting in English. (Lest you think this is a reaction to something new, let me just note that I grew up in the Catholic church, where they switched from Latin to English prayers but kept the chanting, and that bothered me too -- for years and years. I wasn't mature enough to articulate it then, but it was weird, and weirdness disrupts focus.)
Let's talk about movement. There are a few places during the standard liturgy when we are supposed to move in particular ways -- bowing in several places, and, during the kedusha, rising up on our toes during the "holy holy holy" passage (in imitation of the angels that the source text is about). So there are places where tradition dictates movement, and that's fine. And I've been to services where people seemed to spontaneously move in ways that are not directed; one person at Hebrew College made a lasting impression on me one Shabbat when, during that same part of Kedusha, he opened his hands palms-up as if to say "I am open to God". (I never talked with him about it; that's the message I took, not necessarily the one he meant -- if in fact he meant anything at all by it.) Since then I have sometimes found myself doing the same thing. So movement is fine, and innovation is fine. But I was a little put off by directed innovative movement during this service. If it works for you, just do it; if it works for others they'll do it too. But crossing the line from doing to directing, with social pressure to comply, felt disruptive to me -- it felt fake, instead of being a real expression of anything. (I did not comply with her directives.)
Many of the melodies were very nice (and lent themselves to harmony). Most consisted of a single phrase, repeated a lot, and lasted several minutes. We do some of that in my regular Shabbat morning minyan (though not the "several minutes" part), so maybe we'll be picking up some new melodies from this.