Dance Theater Workshop: “Dance by Neil Greenberg. Really Queer Dance with Harps and Quartet with Three Gay Men”.

Neil Greenberg’s Quartet with Three Gay Men.

Last week I attended one of the last performances of “Dance by Neil Greenberg” at Dance Theater Workshop. I went to the performance excited by the many reviews that spoke so well about Greenberg’s work: see, for instance, reviews by Roslyn Sulcas, Claudia La Rocco, and Gia Kourlas. In addition to the reviews, I was curious about the explicit use of “queer” in the title of the performance. In my undergraduate studies, I have thought often about the meaning of “queer”- historically, politically, in literature and in the media- yet I have never considered how the word might be used to describe movement and dance. Greenberg’s title felt like a fun and interesting provocation.

After seeing the performance, there are several thoughts still going through my mind. On one hand, I enjoyed Greenberg’s choreography, particularly in the shorter piece, Quartet with Three Gay Men. In the piece, three men move through smooth spiraling turns and soft landing jumps, crossing the floor with their arms fluttering like birds, to suddenly stop on their feet and perform a sequence of energetic arm gestures. Without ever making direct contact with each other, the dancers are at once engaged in an intimate exploration of their personal movement and aware of each other’s presence. The piece has moments of humor and of tenderness, each dancers’ body expressing itself differently even while reproducing the movements of other dancers. The brevity of the piece makes it feel like a short poem, a little reflection on movement and homosexuality. The title of the piece itself plays with the audience: three out of the four men performing on stage, we are told, are “gay men”. What does that mean for the spectator? Are any of them performing “gay” movement more “authentically”? Greenberg plays with us and simultaneously brings to the forefront important issues, both in the dance world and in performance at large. (You can read more about some of the questions he was exploring in Kourlas’ article.)

I was less intrigued by Greenberg’s second piece, Really Queer Dance with Harps. Conceptually, the piece seemed to lack the abstract quality of the first piece. You could almost trace a story, something echoing the battle of the sexes but with more indifference: two genders dancing separately, taking turns as each gender pushed the other off stage. First the women, then the men, then a brief time in which both men and women share the stage, after which each returns to be separate. In many ways, the movement of Really Queer Dance referred back to the Quartet, making the pieces work well with each other. Yet the second piece felt less organic than the first, more concerned with a structure of call and response between the two groups that soon became repetitive. The performance was also somewhat visually confusing due to the three harps in the middle of the stage. In fact the music for the piece, beautifully written by Zeena Parkins, was performed live on the stage. The sound worked very well with the movement of the dancers, bringing in a new texture to movement repetitions and phrases danced out in a canon. On the other hand, it was not clear to me why the harps took up the place they did on the stage and what (if any) relationship there existed between dancers and musicians.

Overall, I found Greenberg’s pieces interesting and provocative, although I was not quite as excited as I expected from the reviews. This makes me wonder about the meaning of “queer” today: has it been reclaimed to the point that it is fashionable? Is it enough for the word “queer” to be in Greenberg’s titles to make for such a reception to his work? Hopefully not.

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