Go back to Flash Reviews
Flash Review 2, 9-9:
Nappy Neumann, Tibbitts Teeters
Mixed Bill, Mixed Results
By Andrew Simonet
Copyright 2000 Andrew Simonet
PHILADELPHIA -- Allan
Tibbitts is a stunning dancer. He effortlessly mixes fierce ballet
training with percussive hip-hop and sensuous, inventive gesture.
In his solo "Dirty Laundry" (excerpted from "I Think I Ken"), he
dances a wistful and witty elegy for a lost love. Making use of
both the form and content of Sinead O'Connor's version of "Nothing
Compares 2 U," Tibbitts finds a distinctive, vivid movement language.
His long, articulate legs scythe through the space as his arms curl
smokily through pleading gestural phrases.
But in another solo,
"Ready? O.K.!" and in his duet with David Neumann (who shared Thursday's
Philly Fringe program with Tibbitts), "Side Effects," Tibbitts relies
less on, and trusts less in, the power of his dancing. In "Ready?
O.K.!" he is a cheerleader rooting for the unbeatable H.I.V. squad.
Predictable cheers ("Give me an H!") and an utterly unconvincing
recorded "play-by-play" detract from Tibbitts's winning evocation
of an awkwardly sexy, ultimately loveable cheerleader rooting for,
and warning us about, the evil and cunning H.I.V. team.
"Side Effects" begins
with a crisp barefoot tap duet. Neumann marks through the movements
for a big tap solo with a hilarious tension between stealing the
spotlight and not doing much at all. Later, Jefferson Airplane's
"White Rabbit" propels a staggering solo by Neumann and a momentum-filled
duet. But the piece covers so many bases (an emergency broadcast
system end-of-the-world message, an overly-winking analysis of the
difficulties of watching postmodern dance, a lovely ukelele version
of "Endless Love") that it can't find home plate.
Neumann's solo "It's
Gonna Rain" is an essential dance, a truly contemporary dance, a
signal buoy in the rough seas of the post-postmodern dance world.
The music is Steve Reich's "It's Gonna Rain," a manic deconstruction
of a single recorded phrase: a preacher proclaiming that "It's gonna
rain!" Reich churns the recognizable words into a furiously rhythmic
collage of their component sounds. Human utterance transforms, through
repetition and rearrangement, into a wall of emotion-laden sound.
Neumann does the same thing with his movement.
the space while we hear the original, unedited words of the preacher,
Neumann enters a circle of downward-pointing light where he will
remain for the rest of the dance. He is shaking his head furiously
so that his face becomes a grotesque Francis Bacon-like blur. The
shaking grows larger and faster, then transfers to other parts of
his body. Perfectly matched to the shifting, asymmetrical rhythms
of the music, he launches into a twitching, popping fury of movement.
He is a cartoon, a movie played backwards and too fast, a malfunctioning
robot skipping like a scratched CD. Pedestrian gestures, contorted
convulsions, and flowing jumps bleed into one another through frenetic
repetition, shifting tidally with the music. And suddenly, as the
music cuts off, he turns sharply and walks out of the circle of
It's a whiz-bang throw-down
of a dance, leaving the audience breathless. Neumann has a deep
connection to the raw power of movement, and this solo hits me as
viscerally as the most spectacular break-dancing, gymnastics, lindy-hopping,
or drill team routine. But it also has a potent choreographic intent,
using the specific evocations of his movement to create a fearsome
character locked in a frantic world. Neumann's skills as a hip-hop
dancer, particularly his masterful locking, are in the service of
the dance (and not the other way around.) It's gonna rain, Neumann's
dancing warns us, and rain hard on our relentless, fragmented world.
(Although maybe the rain will bring relief to the compulsive body
onstage.) His movement structure is a gem-like analogue of the musical
structure. He appropriates movement from everywhere and subjects
it to rigorous postmodern parsing. He takes a physical skill from
African-American dance -- break-dancing's locking -- and excavates
the contemporary emotional/physical energy behind. It is a brilliant
synthesis that uses the tools bequeathed by the postmodernists to
actually SAY something. The Merce/post-Merce generations fought
so many battles to open the movement palette of dance and to investigate
rigorous compositional techniques. When I see a dance like "It's
Gonna Rain," I know why they fought so hard.
Neumann also performed
"Dose," a solo in which his movement mirrors the juiced-up salesman
scatting of Tom Waits's "Step Right Up." Neumann enters in a loud
polyester shirt, pimpy leather jacket, and a suave street-corner
hat. Again in a small circle of light, he is a Bob Fosse heroin
addict used car dealer, jazzing his way through seductive hat tricks
and funky sidewalk stepping. Using more "character" than in "It's
Gonna Rain," he creates a swirling world that includes abstract
gesture, sweeping full-bodied movement, and wrenching physical states.
They all appear, repeat, and transform in perfect synch with Waits's
word salad salesman.
Again movement shape-shifts
through ever-changing correspondences with language. Recognizable
gestures and characters appear and vanish like subliminal frames
in a film. Neumann is a con-man, then he is the rhythm of the con-man's
pitch; he is a junkie, then a magician, then a stereo equalizer
displaying the pitch levels of the music. The brilliance of the
piece is in his rapid-fire embodiment of different takes on the
music and his character. He presents not a solitary, final take
on who he is and what the dance is, but rather shuffles through
takes so quickly and expertly that he reveals the aesthetic machinery
(and agreements with the audience) that manufactures the takes.
Step right up. Only a dollar. Step right up. Just as Waits turns
the sales pitch upside down and inside out until it becomes a thing
of nasty beauty, Neumann the showman dismantles the seduction of
David Neumann performs
a new group work at the Philadelphia Fringe Festival tonight at
7 PM and tomorrow at 6:30 PM.
Andrew Simonet is co-director
of Headlong Dance Theater, which performs "Ulysses: Sly Uses of
a Book by James Joyce," October 19 - 22 at Dance Theater Workshop
in New York City.
back to Flash Reviews