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Dance review: Dance by Neil Greenberg at REDCAT

April 16, 2009 |  2:00 pm

Queer Dance 

Harps, flowers and bent wrists:  What could be more stereotypically gay?  Or queer, to put it in 21st century jargon.  The go-to guy on this subject -- at least in the dance world -- is Neil Greenberg, whose Dance by Neil Greenberg troupe served up two works exploring that hot topic on Wednesday at REDCAT (and continuing tonight and Friday).  Greenberg’s “Quartet With Three Gay Men," from 2006, and his “Really Queer Dance With Harps," a 50-minute opus that premiered last year in New York, were filled with gender-bending images, a flamboyant movement vocabulary and delicious harp music by the gifted Zeena Parkins.


The 11-minute curtain raiser was set to a remix of RuPaul’s '90s hit “Supermodel,” with Parkins’ careening harp arpeggios (also on tape) thrown in for sensual measure.  Featuring Greenberg, a recent  transplant from New York, and Luke Miller, Antonio Ramos and Colin Stilwell, the work deployed the foursome moving about in their own worlds, their sweeping, swanning arms and thrashing bare feet easily transitioning into neo-disco stylings at RuPaul’s behest to “work it.”


Carving out space in pants and shiny print shirts, these dudes kept to themselves until succumbing to collective catwalk sashaying.  Think Mister Rogers meets “Zoolander” with frenetic head-shaking, whirling and twirling.  It’s too bad, then, that this prelude was followed by a brief intermission, though time, ostensibly, was needed for setting up the three concert harps.


Greenberg -- who danced with Merce Cunningham for seven years before founding his troupe in 1986 and now teaches experimental choreography at UC Riverside -- benched himself for the centerpiece, with Nicholas Duran rounding out the male quartet and Ellen Barnaby, Johnni Durango, Christine Elmo and Paige Martin constituting the female contingency.  All eight were clad in rehearsal clothes and sported red flowers in their hair.


Kicking off with the harpists in heavy rhythm mode (a sprightly Parkins was joined by Kristen Theriault  and Nuiko Wadden, “Queer” could be thought of as a prolonged meditation on the body and society’s strictures fused into a kinetic -- and aural -- aesthetic.  Taking cues from the inventive harp score, rich with percussive sounds, tuning fork tones, harmonics and glissandi, and occasionally enhanced by Ikue Mori’s electronic renderings, the dancers again maintained an individuality, rarely making contact -- eye or otherwise -- with each other.


Familiar patterns and motifs emerged:  The flopping and flapping of arms, yoga-esque lunges and beating feet that resembled a fractured ballet vocabulary contributed to this energetic palette.  When the harp was at its most celestial -- fat, juicy chords -- one could get lost in the music, which might have been the point.  There was Miller, tall, regal and leaping with abandon, while Stilwell’s backbends proved languid and girlie-like.


Humor coursed through the work, as well, with fluttering wrists, thudding landings and faun poses poking fun at an elitist art form.  Looking altogether different when executed by the women, though, the moves still begged notice.  A brief harps-on-fire coda finally saw the troupe in full-throttle unison, a most welcome sight, especially as lighted by designer Michael Stiller.

-- Victoria Looseleaf


Dance by Neil Greenberg, REDCAT at Walt Disney Concert Hall, 631 W. 2nd St. (corner of Hope Street), Los Angeles; 8:30 tonight and Friday. $25.  (213) 237-2800.

Photo: Colin Stilwell, left, and Nicholas Duran  performs in "Really Queer Dance with Harps." Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times.
 

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