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Flash Review 1, 2-26:
Man or Mechanimal?
Neumann's Own & More at Symphony Space
By Faith Pilger
Copyright 2001 Faith Pilger
In a time that feels
precariously balanced upon the ideals of pragmatism, materialism
and capitalism -- with fatalism lurking just around the corner --
artists seem to have taken on the roles of magicians. They create
something from nothing, answer questions with riddles and display
illusions that sometimes still shock and amaze.
On Saturday, an audience
swarmed about the entrance to Symphony Space in anticipation of
a particularly exciting evening of collaboration. This final performance
of Face the Music and Dance, a program curated by Bill Bragin and
Kay Cummings, was absolutely sold out. Perhaps it was Laurie Anderson's
widespread appeal partnered up with the ever-growing buzz about
the talent of David Neumann. For whatever reason, the theater was
live and wired for this double program of premieres in electronic
invention and modern dance which began with Allyson Green Dance
and Paul Dresher.
Both choreographers presented
a new group work created in collaboration with a composer as well
as a related solo. In the case of Allyson Green, she performed alongside
composer Joel Davel in her solo, "Shadow Catcher." Mr. Davel literally
plucked his music from the air using two wands which triggered a
wide palate of samples. The Buchla Lightning (invented by electronic
music pioneer Don Buchla) is as fascinating in theory as it is in
performance. As you might imagine, the result is quite visual, and
yes, it is a brilliant and magical illusion. Unfortunately for this
collaborative conversation, the musician upstaged the dancer and
left the "conversation" unclear. The best moments were unison gestures
and the few times that Ms. Green departed from an established vocabulary
of prettily abstract movement to explore stranger gestures herself.
Ms. Green's larger work,
"In The Name," was much more successful. Apparently developed in
Slovakia and inspired by the choreographer's experiences working
in Eastern Europe, the dance seemed to express an atmosphere more
than a specific story. This mood was created through a choreographic
cross-section of folk dance and more physical, Contact-based partnering
executed by a strong and diverse group of dancers. Composer Dresher
and Mr. Davel performed behind the ensemble in the shadows. This
solved the problem which occurred in the previous solo and, although
I was curious about the instruments (Mr. Dresher playing his recently
invented "Quadrachord" and Mr. Davel on the Lightning and another
new instrument, the Marimba Lumina), I think it was best left to
the imagination. This allowed for more focus on the layers of expressive
sounds and rhythms which seemed to physically drive the ensemble
into the space.
Green stated in a program
note that she was inspired by the artists who persevere even as
their environments experience enormous cultural transformations.
It is to her great credit that I believe she succeeded in communicating
that complex idea through dance. I felt as if I met travelers who
carried with them nostalgia, loneliness and hope. They moved in
a universal dance vocabulary, but they retained a sense of individuality.
Through a series of solos and duets performed within a semi-circle
of lounging bodies, I felt like I was watching a pack of gypsies
tell stories by firelight.
The second part in this
double program instantly found something that had been missing in
the first...a sense of humor. "So That You Could See Us Coming,"
the collaboration between Mr. Neumann and Ms. Anderson, was a complete
theatrical experience. From the moment the curtains parted, I was
transfixed. A Seuss-like tree sprung from a furry trunk and bore
branches that swirled like metallic brushstrokes to hang strange
illuminating fruit. (Thanks to Paul Clay for this incredible set
design.) The music which Anderson mixed live from the sound board
was dense and pervasive, suggesting the distant past or the inevitable
future. Naoko Nagata dressed three of the dancers in pale unitards
awkwardly patched with fur, the other three girls in sexy cyber-gear,
metallic and tightly fitting. Neumann led this talented cast of
performers through a series of sapient sketches that begged the
questions: Where are we? When are we? (past or future) and who are
we? Are we the "insane animals" that Nietzche suggests we might
appear to be?
In the written program,
Mr. Neumann quotes Nietzche and Stephen Jay Gould and he introduces
cerebral ideas about the unpredictable nature of our origins. However,
the work itself is not cerebral or heavy. It is indeed like a walk
through the Museum of Natural History after dropping acid and is
equally inconclusive. The special guest appearance of a family of
tennis balls makes for some fun and a hint of symbolism that is
never quite explained to satisfaction. The choreography is very
smart, a blend of apelike looseness, locks, pops and body-waves
with more aggressive partnering and spatial movement (it's not just
a bunch of cave folks scratching their heads.) The three cyber-chicks
appear to be the workers behind this special exhibition: quick and
competent, but not necessarily more aware. This work seemed to express
in a curious new voice the paradox of man as mechanimal. I must
admit that I missed Ms. Anderson, who did not perform on the stage.
She is always an incredible performer and musician at once, and
so it was an unusual choice.
Last, but absolutely
not least, the program hit its climax in Mr. Neumann's ingenious
solo, "It's Gonna Rain." Choreographing to Steve Reich's early fragmentation
of a preacher's quotation, Mr. Neumann has created a piece as unforgettable
and universally effective as David Parsons's "Caught." However,
Mr. Neumann uses no tricks or triggers, but relies on his own impeccable
speed, accuracy and timing to create a fantastic special effect.
He is as expressive as a blade in the hand of a master swordsman;
as sharp in wit and as seemingly possessed. Thanks, David.
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