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Flash Review, 4-20: Hanging 'Tough'
Neumann's New Routine

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2005 Maura Nguyen Donohue

NEW YORK -- Somewhere in David Neumann's journey through the mythically mundane a voice tells us to "get what can be gotten." Fair enough. This is a departure from much of what I have come to expect from this choreographer, who has impeccable comedic timing, proper hip-hop chops and an intimidating list of theatrical collaborators. "Tough, the tough," seen Thursday at Danspace Project at St. Mark's Church, isn't a stunning display of virtuosic dancing or a hilarious romp (or even a vague, unrealized group work, like some past Neumann efforts). Playwright Will Eno's text encourages us to appreciate the magnificence of mankind just standing around. Neumann's choreography essentially does the same. But "tough, the tough" is hardly the minimalist borefest this premise implies. Instead Neumann has woven a meditation on commonplace routine into a poem rife with subtle shifts, witty inflections and haunting beauty.

Dancers Kimiye Corwin, Taryn Griggs, Karinne Keithley, Erin Wilson, Chris Yon and Neumann enter the space dressed in maintenance coveralls given just a slight couture ribboning by designer Miho Nikaido. Appropriate attire for the pedestrian, overlooked, daily chores that the group meanders through. There is an eloquence hidden within the repeated act of making oneself a cup of coffee. Where I had expected my decreasing mobility to have been at odds with viewing a dance I thought was going to be about inertia, I find instead that the OCD that has been rising with my gestational hormone level is overwhelmingly satisfied by the highly task-oriented movement. Amidst the jumble of gestures and mumbling, an occasional arabesque stands out in striking contrast while the dancers perform their duties and travel their routes with a truly urban myopic zeal. As the work progresses the gestures accumulate with a dynamic vigor, though Neumann easily manages the most compelling performance of the evening while barely shrugging.

Yon stalks and skulks behind the church's pillars before an awkwardly overeager burst in the stage proper. He follows with a humorous attempt at casual recovery. He plays his moments with perfect deadpan, suffering at the hands of Taryn Griggs during a Marx Brothers-inspired slap routine, and serves as a fantastic foil to Neumann during an animated duet that has me wondering what a true changing of the guard at the India-Pakistan border really looks like.

The score plays off the sleepy bounce of the church's echoes to greater success than most. (The program includes credits for composer, to Hal Hartley; music, from the Pickpockets; live sound, Daniel Barnidge; and sound design, by Justin Kawashima, Keithley and Jane Shaw.) Rather than fight the difficult acoustics of the church, Neumann installs a chorus of performers in the balcony to deliver several sound effects. Distant chatter and echoing footsteps help create a delirious hallucinatory ambience. Sound becomes an equal collaborator, allowing me to zone out with an easy gaze on the dance while I imagine a cocktail party in the desert that I'm falling asleep at. For a few moments I train a conscious ear to the sound of the stage manager calling cues mixed with filmmaker Hartley's ethereal contributions to the score. I'm taken out to orbit and just as quickly returned to an appreciation of the choreographic craft at work. The components all work perfectly in tandem, with nothing incidental or overpowered.

Corwin and Wilson end the journey with a duet that wanders its way into struggle and conflict with an engaging bout of grappling. The final poetic image of the women standing static while confetti drops elsewhere strikes first as a clever reference to an earlier voiceover demanding "balloons and then confetti" but leaves us with the bittersweet of an elegy, perhaps for a lost sibling mentioned in the dedication.

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