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    Kennis Hawkins, Will Rawls in the foreground; Chris Yon (jumping), Andrew Dinwiddie in David Neumann/advanced beginner group: feedforward
    Photo by Julieta Cervantes
    Kennis Hawkins, Will Rawls in the foreground; Chris Yon (jumping), Andrew Dinwiddie

    Games of Life

    advanced beginner group's feedforward plays with the rules


    David Neumann is curious about big life dramas: human triumph and downfall. He takes them on by looking at micro-moments, and shows the grace of success and the agony of failure bumping up against each other in small, particular interactions and affectations, over and over, in tangled loops and knotting. I'm amazed at the delicacy of his creations — he spins a fragile, layered web, made of his own and his collaborators' experience and humor. In doing this he shows us ourselves. He's revealing himself, of course, too — he directs his dialogue increasingly inward as "feedforward" progresses. Through the performers, he points and laughs at himself, and with all of us. He's knee-deep in the training of his own process, as the name "advanced beginner group" indicates. He's enjoying the game.

    Choreography by: David Neumann.
    Dancers: Lily Baldwin, Matt Citron, Andrew Dinwiddie, Taryn Griggs, Kennis Hawkins, Johanna Kirk, Mauriah Kraker, Neal Medlyn, Jo Morris, Kyle Pleasant, Will Rawls, Chris Yon.
    Set design by: Keith Nogueria, Shaun Fogarty, David Neumann.
    Lighting design by: David Moodey.
    Text: Karinne Keithley.
    Dance Theater Workshop October 23-November 3

    Neumann knows that in this day and age, sports are a major means by which we see, socialize, value, emote; how we are entertained, how we get turned on. All the animal drive and imagination we must express, held in check by rules we've learned or invented, are played out on iconographic bodies in front of millions. Gymnasiums and fields are our theaters, the place to go see something worth seeing. In the opening of "feedforward", as Taryn Griggs performs a simply arched, boldly stroked sequence, the sports announcers (Matt Citron and Neal Medlyn) comment from the sidelines: "This is a beautiful day. It's the most beautiful day we've seen in a long time. You just have to be here to know. Why aren't you here?"

    The game begins generically in an all-purpose sporting space. In Keith Nogueria's, Shaun Fogarty's, and Neumann's scenic design, Dance Theater Workshop's stage floor is white, with tape marking off rectangles on the perimeter. A small rectangle marks center, as if to note that none of the interesting stuff is actually going to happen here; or conversely, the most important thing you'll probably miss. We aren't sure what game the twelve performers are playing as they enter in ones, twos, threes, and fours. We see traces of sporting rules and dynamics, but the movement is a funny mixture of deliberate action, interaction, aggression, and poignant courtly behavior. We don't know the rules or the significance of each movement; this is what tickles our funny bone. The commentators, talking drolly into microphones behind a curtained table, profess ignorance too: "We don't know what game this is anymore, and we don't care."

    This jumble of not-knowing occupies most of the game. It might be going toward something, it might not. Many moments pass by, and action piles on top of action. But in the end, everything changes. Following the advice of a mysterious radio call-in to the commentators (a long-winded girl, Lily Baldwin, "from the desert"), we arrive at a single moment, a particular moment: through David Moodey's lighting, the stage goes lawn-green and nature crystallizes on the baseball field. We witness the moment of a pitcher working up to his next pitch. Here Neal Medlyn masterfully peels himself open to reveal his many insides.

    Karinne Keithley's text sparkles and dives  

    In baseball we see extended drama between players: the contest of skill and will between pitcher and batter. The mature pitcher must be elusive — he only dominates the batter if he plays a game of illusion. He tries to hide the ball as he throws, a real theatrical event. The batter channels himself into his bat — he's looking to connect, to hammer home. He's looking for his pitch, but he usually misses it.

    Neumann mines this threat of failure. He has a soft spot for the underdog — the Florida State baseball team is getting beaten in the real radio broadcast we hear; the announcers comment that the players are just trying to keep their dignity. All the players, commentators, cheerleaders, even the referee in Neumann's game have wonderfully particular underbellies — we see princesses in the masculine, jocks in the feminine; they leak out moments of doubt, they yearn for touch, they erupt in moments of inanity.

    In the green pitching scene Neal experiences the loser in himself, hiding out in the strong, confident, ambitious. (On winners: "I've got to hand it to them," another loser, Chris Yon, says from the floor, "they were thinking about opportunity.") We hear a voice in his head, vacillating from confidence to needling self-doubt. It's the voice every performer knows from backstage, as he's about to go on: great hope highballed with pure terror; survival fighting the urge for flight.

    Neumann's tactic of chaos-into-singularity reveals to us that it's not one voice inside the head; it's a tangle of consciousness. The lone pitcher's mind is as crowded a scene as a stage filled with performers. We're each a cornucopia: we might house Andrew Dinwiddie's beefcake umpire wearing gold lame; Neal Medlyn's sensitive coach with fits of Tourettes' pacing the sidelines, Lily Baldwin's sturdy tennis lady arched in mid-effort, or a line of marching band trombones sliding in sequence, to name just a few. It's also an animal world — we are also Kyle Pleasant's squirrel mascot with a huge boner running through everything, upsetting and overturning. In Neal's head, "I'll throw the ball as hard as I can," and "I'll be in control of the game" are mixed with "What the fuck am I doing here?" and outrageously extended bouts of indeterminate action. He steps off the mound again and again. He finally throws. A video-image of the moon appears to the right, wildly ricocheting as the camera wavers. We, the audience, are at bat. Just look at the ball, Neumann's saying; you've got to keep your eye on the ball. It's all we can do to keep it in focus.

    What is this final moon-ball? I think it's the blade of grass we try to focus on, the peeled fruit, it's what's behind the seven veils, it's simplicity hidden in complexity, it's where we want to arrive in our heart of hearts; it's the now of each moment, it's dropping away of all non-necessities, it's going for the jugular.

    I appreciate the intent and sentiment of the focus of the moon; I like the valiant sustained effort of the preceding game to get there. feedforward has great empathy for the difficulty of keeping our eye on the ball, but it suggests that we attempt it. From within our multiple manifestations, we are encouraged to look at it — withstanding bumps, jolts, dips and swells of ego, fluctuations of chatter, in all our successes and failures. It is a hopeful, sad, powerful message, dropped right into our subconscious.

    There's a lot dropping into the subconscious in this game. Karinne Keithley's text sparkles and dives — like the subconscious itself, information appears irrationally, unexpectedly; its prescience is caught or escapes; there are fly balls and rockets and bunts. She easily draws from Evangelical Christianity, Greek philosophy, advertising jingles to create word-thoughts that implant right in my mind.

    For much of "feedforward", Keithley's text is so provocative that it eclipses my attention on resonance of movement. I long — physically — for the sum total of the movement vocabulary to "drop down," to arrive at a deeper place of functionality and meaning. It keeps a couple layers of veils on; it hides itself. Perhaps this is intentional on Neumann's part.

    But it makes me think about athletes in play, their beauty-in-motion. They achieve it through functionality — they do the necessary thing to play the game. Because most of the movement in "feedforward" is played with inscrutable or jumbled rules and reasons, it doesn't read with intent, with that perfect functional aesthetic that athletes (and animals) produce. The performers are present and particular: a gift for the audience. But I don't see their presences able to develop or shift through action into deeper physical intentions, however irrational those might be — the movement doesn't roar, howl, whisper with the conviction of necessity. I want the performers, through movement, to need, to have to do.

    NOVEMBER 13, 2007

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