New York Live Arts
New York, NY
December 3, 2014
by Martha Sherman
copyright © 2014 by Martha Sherman
Neil Greenberg has made clear that “This” does not have meaning per se; it is not “about” anything. The dance is to be seen as an exploration among a formidable group of collaborators, including dancers and creative partners. Using taped, improvised movement as a starting point, Greenberg and the dancers have built detailed re-creations of movements, weaving a construction that echoes as the dancers create phrases and patterns, dissolve, re-make, and build them again.
Photo: Mina Nishimura, Molly Lieber, Omagbitse Omagbemi in "This” Photo © Ian Douglas.
“This” is an exercise in discipline and relationship; and the choreographer has ceded control to his four magnetic dancers, letting their distinctive bodies and artistry drive the exploration. Even when they repeated the same phrases, each drew on unique qualities to transform the movement. Molly Lieber’s entrance was a display of her particular fearlessness – a long graceful belly-flop onto the ground, her hands raised behind her back to clap for attention. Other dancers later echoed the same dive, but Lieber owned it. When partnered with Mina Nishimura, Lieber was the grounded and balanced half while Nishamura’s power was more delicate and subtle, and in their shared time on stage, she looked more like a leaf in the breeze, her dark short hair swirling with each motion. Every move was crisp; the light twist of her wrists, with raised arms, led the cast in the subtle goodbye wave that closed the show.
Most of Greenberg’s selected movement patterns were light and jagged, full of angled elbows and torqued hips. Even the shifting set of the dancers’ heads on their necks, and their clapping or prayer-pressed hands added to the angularity, changing as the dancers subtly rotated around the stage. Omagbitse Omagbemi’s shoulders rolled to sweep her wing-like arms behind and over her with powerful flexibility.
Connor Voss, the lone male dancer in the group, was confidently at ease; he moved forward in exuberant high leaps and sharp parading steps. In a central solo, first Leiber raced around the stage, having removed an overshirt and stuffed it in back of her pants. She slapped the shirt repeatedly on the stage and whirled it overhead like a helicopter blade. Nishimura, sharp and crisp, did her interpretation, and Omagbeni’s was forceful. When it was Voss’s turn, the race became a full gallop. His light coloring and close cropped blonde head were a visual contrast to the dark hair of his partners.
Lighting designer Joe Levasseur also used light and dark, in a mix of drama and subtlety. Two high trees of lights split the stage from opposite corners, leaving a central space for the dancers to solo, pair, or dance in quartet, as well as a wide track around the edges, where the dancers ran. Often, a dancer would move out of the center but stand, watching, from the stage wall, in shadow, but present. Using the harsh glare of the light trees, Levasseur caught the performers’ swirling hair and limbs, highlighting both their bodies and their shadows. When the four were on stage together, they formed a ragged square, cradled between the light poles.
Even when the performers were dancing together, they performed like soloists, though in continual communication. They rotated around the space, doing the same progression of movement, turned by several degrees. As the geography shifted, our eyes shifted too, each time moving focus from one spot, making other choices. Often, the hardest viewing choice was whether to focus full attention on just one dancer, or pull back and see all four; the figures and ground of the visual plane each commanded attention.
Not every movement pattern was interesting, particularly the long, repeated runs, and the various exercise-like moves (clapping jumping jacks, static jumps, lunges and squats.) The more they were repeated, though, or rotated among the dancers or to different areas of the stage, the more they became like choruses, familiar and appreciated.
Some of the repetitions took on new interest with costume changes. James Kidd Studio created three sets of soft exercise clothes – in a denim-ish blue, a jewel-toned green silk, and lightly striped tan – and the fabrics and colors redressed the stage. Although the fabric changed, each dancer had his or her own generalized outfit shape. Lieber was in shorts and muscle shirt; Omagbemi in layered zoave pants, another reminder that even with echoed or repeated movements, each dancer was a very specific individual -- “This,” not that.
The final collaborator, Steve Roden, created a subtle score, sometimes so understated that it seemed just out of range. Light electronic sounds included pale bells, soft squeals, and gentle whizzing that gently surrounded the dancers. Like the lights, the sound was omni-directional, but it supported rather than soloing. The silences echoed, too, enveloping the dancers as effectively as the sound phrases.
In the program notes, Greenberg’s “this solo” (presumably his interpretation of the original improvisation,) was to precede “This,” but was not shown, and instead is to be performed at a later date. At first, it was disappointing to miss the choreographer’s own rendition of the investigation and reconstruction of movement. Watching the magnetic cast of four, though, it felt, finally, more apt not to start with Greenberg’s solo. That was then. “This” is now.
Top Photo: Molly Lieber in "This” Photo © Ian Douglas.
Bottom photo: Cast in "This” Photo © Ian Douglas.
copyright © 2014 by Martha Sherman