writers on dancing


Auteur, Auteur

Dance by Neil Greenberg
Dance Theater Workshop
New York City
April 6, 2005

by Nancy Dalva
copyright ©2005 by Nancy Dalva

Extroverted, introverted. Hermetic, exuberant. Improvisational, prepared. Personal, impersonal. All of these qualities are embodied in Neil Greenberg's current choreographic practice, which seemed a bit distanced at Dance Theater Workshop, where you can see his new pieces called "Partial View." Greenberg's long been into body work, but it comes across here as head work. Part of this may be effect rather than affect. That is to say, it might be caused by the theater, which has a really unfortunate ratio of width to depth, and an arena-style seating which eliminates the experience, and even the notion, of foreground and background, instead providing downstage, where the dancers tend to disappear behind the heads of the people in the front rows, and less downstage. Or, the distancing, with the dancers working very hard, but not projecting into the room , may be caused by the limitations of using one body to establish a formal vocabulary. Or, maybe Greenberg, having been anti-technique for years, is now against projection, against theatricality.

The first part of the piece is a solo called "partial view solo," in which we find the choreographer in handsome form, and also handsome spirit. For no matter what he is dancing, Greenberg is soulful—which is not something he can do much about, nor is it something anyone can copy. And he's loveable, another quality no one can assume, like a costume, or learn, like a technique. Or copy, like a style, which is what he is here setting forth, in a twenty minute movement primer in which he codifies his own carefully acquired vocabulary, in a series of near repetitions, torqued to different directions. Greenberg famously abandoned Cunningham technique for bodywork some nineteen years ago, but where his own performance used to have an aura of intentional reduction, it now has a feeling of pressing to his limits. Same kind of thing, but played out on a different instrument—let us say one more mellow.

And yet, what he is up to is quietly violent—he is exploding a phrase, and somehow following up each of its fragments—at least that's what it looked like to me, for it is clear there is a formal logic here. It is also personal. It all looks, in a word, like Neil.

And what comes next, the quartet called "Partial View"—moving from lower case to upper case in the titles—also looks like Neil, times four. Each of the dedicated individuals—Justine Lynch, Paige Martin, Luke Miller, and Colin Stilwell, all in simple colorful tops and plain trousers (provided by Liz Prince, a skillful editor of daily attire)—moves like Greenberg, and does his moves. These four do not interact by touching or partnering—there was one accidental touch in passing, and wow, was it a shock!—but by subtle variations in synchronization. (Thus, with all four on stage, if two people do the same thing at the same time, that is a duet, played against two solos; if three do it, it is a trio played against a solo; if all four do the same phrase in slight dis-synchronization, each facing a different direction...Well, you get the point.) Each is involved in an impersonation, a kind of mimicry of Greenberg's style, from which there is deviation of two varieties: either they embody him and get past it, or they don't quite get there, just because of who they are. There is a curious gender neutrality that isn't neutral at all, because although the moves are the same for everyone, the girls are lovely, and dishy; and the guys hunky, and dishy. Luke Miller has two solos that illustrate this paradigm to perfection: in the first, he is spookily like the choreographer. In the second, he attacks the movement with such ferocity that he is himself. Ah, transcendence!

The choreography is interworked with pristine and artful video and photography by John Jesurun, whose sensitivity to the Greenberg method is echoes by the images he projects behind the dancers: explosions, things flying apart. Things run backwards and forward. Captured images—Baghdad at night under fire, a house flying apart, a child swimming, etc., etc., transcend what they are and achieve formalist heaven, but retain the emotional force of their origins. And then there is the video, in real time, of the dancers as they dance, projected behind them. Here, Jesurun is a brilliant practitioner of what you might call "corrective architecture." He provides what the theater cannot: long vistas, multiple directionality, interesting perspective. He is also here a devotee of the double screen, as if in response to the dancers' quadruple doubling of the choreographer.

The composer Zeena Parkins is the third participant in the composition, and what she explodes is the harp, an instrument she rescues from the heavenly baroque. For the solo, she plays solo on an acoustic instrument, but electonically tracked on top of herself. She wrenches the strings, she rakes them in harsh glissandi, she pounds the sounding board in a ferocious extension of Castilian style, incorporating the very sounds harpists are taught not to make: buzzes, twangs, and such. She adjusts the pedals to take advantage of the instrument's innate capacity to double notes, so that adjacent strings sound the same tone. She revels in half steps, double flats, and clamor—none of this is played live, which would be interesting, but surely steal the show, a real risk here anyway. For the quartet, Parkins plays an electric harp of her own invention, augmented by marimba, vibraphone, framedrums, wooden flutes, and voice. It's a real conflama she has going, and if her approach were symphonic, she would overwhelm the choreography. But because the music transpires as a sound track—that is, episodically—it supports the dancing.

Still, maybe the music keeps you from thinking too much. Maybe it doesn't. Maybe the videography makes you think too much. Maybe it doesn't. Michael Stiller lights the whole thing without too much manipulation, but some. You looks where he wants you to. He's an auteur. In fact, what we have at DTW is a pack of auteurs, with Neil Greenberg the subject. They're all scripting from their own points of view, but it's his story they're telling, if partially.

First:  Paige Martin, Luke Miller in "Partial View". Photo by Jason Akira Somma
Second:  Justine Lynch, Colin Stilwell in "Partial View". Photo by Jason Akira Somma

Volume 3, No. 14
April 11, 2005

copyright ©2005 Nancy Dalva


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last updated on April 11, 2005