by Neil Greenberg
Dance Theater Workshop
New York City
April 6, 2005
©2005 by Nancy Dalva
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.
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
April 11, 2005
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