Dance Review: David Neumann’s feedforward at DTW
If there is an argument in the dance world that pits those who believe dance need only to be aesthetically beautiful in a simple, if contemporary manner against those who desire a more intelligent investigation of movement as art, David Neumann’s feedward, a deeply felt meditation on athletics and the human condition now in its second of a two week run at Dance Theater Workshop, will provide the latter group with solid evidence that theirs is not only the high road, but it is a road no less beautiful, and rife with meaning.
In David Neumann’s comic approach to dance as theater, he allows vernacular movement–here, physical activity derived from the many incarnations of sport in our culture; movement from players, coaches, referees and commentators–to narrate the passions and dramas of the human experience in a way that, while not being traditionally beautiful like, say, ballet presents the body as a beautiful object, inspires an idiosyncratic beauty that is not tied to any preconceived notions about physical beauty, and, instead, shows us beauty in unexpected ways, and through a lense that is intelligently angled to capture the beauty of human achievement.
All of this transpires on a an abstract court of sorts. The stage at DTW is fully exposed, and white tape marks out lines and rectangles that intimate field of play aesthetics. A table lies off to the side with three time bells on it. Upstage is a series of round mirrors that have painted on them prime numbers up to eleven.
His dancers, who comprise the “advance beginner group,” vary in size and shape. From the tall, nerdy lankiness of Neal Medlyn, to the short, gymnastic compactness of Taryn Griggs, to the averageness of Chris Yon and Andrew Dinwiddie, to the stereotypical slimness of Lily Baldwin, the ensemble provides a panorama of physical textures that are used in marvelous ways, and not only to humorous affect. Although Neumann’s work is generally known for its humor, this work is infused with a passionate dichotomy of the glory and tragedy that sports inspire. (It is of this counter critic’s opinion that a few too many in the audience dealt with some of the physical diversity by falling into a rut of laughing any time Yon or Dinwiddie had a solo moment.)
It might not be entirely the audience’s fault, as the piece begins on such humorous turf. Taryn Griggs opens the work with what appears to be a solo inspired by gymnastics. Around her, Matt Citron and Neal Medlyn provide oral commentary that has little to do with what she’s actually accomplishing on stage. This provides a wonderful introduction to the oblique constructions of Neumann’s work, all of which, through juxtaposition and reorganization, allow something new and meaningful to emerge out of physicalities we find so familiar, although dislocated and sometimes abandoned.
The music, composed Eve Beglarian, is a wonderfully layered score for electronic music (sometimes the chirping of crickets or the baas of grazing sheep, other times the squeeking of sneakers on a basketball court, and just as often, synthesized and remixed music for trombones) and a live quartet of trombones. It should be understood that the musical element here is the unnamable source of pathos that Claudia La Rocco cited in her New York Times review. At moments, it does make you want to cry. Maybe not only on its own, but some of the bittersweet harmonies and clusters written by Beglarian cast a reverent light upon certain wonderous moments in the dance, capturing the heightened sense of importance, of mission and accomplishment, that we take sport to inhabit.
But the humor is just as satisfying. A trio of cheerleaders, dressed in hot pink jumpers, is molested by Kyle Pleasant in a chipmunk mascot costume–although this chipmunk has an erection. (Awesome costumes by Kara Feely.)
Yon and Dinwiddie were often hilarious. Yon as a dance anti-hero, and Dinwiddie as a referee clad in black spandex shorts and a puffy gold pleather jacket opened at the top to reveal a very 70s patch of chest hair; he has the penultimate solo in the work, and with just a few simple movements–a swish of the hip, a raised hand, a side look with the eyes–he commands the stage.
Citron and Medlyn were attractive as commentators and as dancers, each offering their own standard of lankiness. Their often deadpan commentary, written freshly by Karinne Kiethly, traversed the panorama of flat and bizarrely artificial sports dialogue to comic genius.
Medlyn’s role in the work, the biggest role, culminates in a ten or so minute meditation on a single pitch in a baseball game. The stage is washed in green (mood lighting by David Moodey) as his inner monologue is amplified around him, and behind, we see the visualization of a single blade of grass (selected out of several thousand that go whizzing by) emerge on a television screen. Then a still shot of the moon appears. And as the pitch finally comes through–when Medlyn’s body performs the complete motion after several aborted attempts–the moon transforms into a ping pong ball that bounces against the sides of the monitor. And you understand that in a world where the moon can become a ball, a single pitch can mean the whole world. And that, at least to some of us humans, is beautiful.
“feedforward” runs tonight through Saturday at Dance Theater Workshop. Performances being at 7:30PM.
It should be noted that Counter Critic is a huge tennis fan, and has also played baseball, football, ping pong, cricket, soccer, rugby, and volleyball. Word.