again: Neil Greenberg.
Make the Call
Mae G. Banner
By Neil Greenberg
College Dance Theater, Jan. 28
Neil Greenberg makes the audience work at it. His dances are
constructions of disparate parts that play elements against
each other so that our minds run on overdrive as we try to
make sense of what we’re seeing.
In Partial View, a work in progress that Greenberg
and his company of four dancers are building during their
three-week residency at Skidmore College, the dancers spiral
and swerve like separate molecules, each propelled by their
own energy. A gestural move—a flexed wrist or a swiveling
hand—may pass from one to another dancer, but the timing is
random and unpredictable, and each dancer remains alone.
never has his dancers touch because that would suggest a narrative,
or at least an easily imagined relationship. An alumnus of
the Merce Cunningham company, where he danced from 1979-1986,
he’s absorbed the Cunningham aesthetic of “all things equal;
nothing privileged.” So, he keeps the dancers in separate
corners of the stage and leaves the middle empty.
View is a collaboration with John Jesurun, a video designer
and MacArthur grant recipient, and also with composer Zeena
Parkins, whose quiet, spacey music was as abstract as the
dance. Space-shifting lighting was designed by the Dance Theater’s
tech master, Lori Dawson. The video coordinator and operator
was Ray Roy. Costumes by Liz Prince were street clothes, but
of clear, bright colors, the better to catch the video camera’s
Actually, there were three videocams. Two tripod-mounted cameras
stood upstage right and left, capturing the close-up of a
dancer’s hand or hip, or, when they took a long view, creating
distance between the audience and the dancer or even turning
front views into back views and the reverse.
The third camera was an overhead, which sometimes showed a
foreshortened and distanced view of the dancers that focused
on the tops of their heads and sometimes showed Jesurun’s
projections of a breaststroking swimmer, a 1920s flapper in
a feathery white swan dress, or a quartet of helmeted Nazi
soldiers marching up the concrete stairs of a public building.
The effect was dizzying. If you believe live action is always
better, more honorable, than television, you’re mad at yourself
when the video images seduce your eye away from the dancers
and you have to force yourself to watch the “real” thing instead
of the TV “distraction.” If you’re of the TV generation, you
may miss the live dancers altogether.
Adding the video dimension is a first for Greenberg, who founded
his company in 1986. The cameras underscore one meaning of
the dance’s title: that whatever one sees, it’s always a partial
with Varied Materials (2001) has no video, but does use
projected lines of text to label sequences as “Hopscotch Material”
or give other clues to the originally improvised sources of
Like Partial View, Greenberg’s Construction
confounds us with snatches of music (a smooth duet by Ray
Charles and Betty Carter, high-culture ballet music by Tchaikovsky,
and a low-down rant by Sister Sledge) that start and then
stop just when we’re getting into them. There’s lots of silence
accompanying this dance.
Also, the lighting design by Michael Stiller sometimes creates
depth onstage and sometimes destroys it, bringing the dancers
forward by erasing perspective. Again, Prince’s costumes are
street clothes, this time in browns and tans.
The dancing itself is deliberately awkward and graceless (which
takes a lot of control on the part of these finely-trained
dancers, including Greenberg). I got the impression of ordinary
people inspired by the idea of movement, trying to be graceful,
tipping off balance, but continuing, undaunted.
The “Hopscotch” part was danced big, with feet wide apart
and flat-footed jumps. The “Wrist Material” was extravagantly
beautiful, making traceries in the air even while the dancer’s
feet went off-balance.
Greenberg entered, dancing fast, imperious, taking up heaps
of space in a solo to Tchaikovsky that he had originally made
for Baryshnikov and the White Oak Project. Then came Colin
Stilwell with huge “ta-da” arms and balletic jumps and beats
to the side (called cabrioles, or goat steps) followed by
elaborate deep bows.
The dancing was more dry than lush, its roots in improvisation
clinging to the dancers’ bodies. It was formal, but not elegant.
The dancers, Greenberg, Stilwell, Justine Lynch, Paige Martin,
and Luke Miller remained in their own orbits. Were they responding
to each other or (in Partial View) to their images
on camera? Or, were the dancers initiating movement that the
Greenberg is saying, “You choose.”