Titled “Sentence,” the evening of David Neumann’s choreography, presented at P.S. 122, takes clever inspiration from Donald Barthelme’s notion of a sentence. While Barthelme’s writings claim the sentence is a man-made construction to be treasured for its weakness, rather than its strength, Neumann’s multidisciplinary dance piece demonstrates the value of loosening conventional rules of focus and logic toward the creation of strong theatrical expression.
Neumann’s work delivers potent food for thought, but is so fluidly constructed that viewers must play active roles in the making of the presentation—deciding which of the many activities to focus on, figuring out how, or if, to connect them, and even determining what is part of the performance and what isn’t. The show ends with the performers sitting in chairs, gazing out at us, as if we are now expected to provide “Act II.”
The program’s centerpiece, “Sentence,” is preceded by an excerpt from “Deep Six,” which segues so gracefully into the following work that it seems to be all one dance. A nervous security guard, whom we’ve seen roaming about the space earlier, walks on stage and, though the action halts, it feels like things are still proceeding. In Neumann’s work, it often appears as if nothing important is going on, yet so much is happening. His sly sense of juxtaposition dares us to decide what to ignore. While we’re waiting for some dancing to “begin,” a techie suddenly races down from the back of the house to flip a light switch. Someone has forgotten to turn off the work lights. Or have they? When a curtain is accidentally caught in scaffolding during a set change, a woman is revealed coming out of the dressing room, half-naked. If it looks like an accident, and quacks like an accident… Or is it Neumann commenting on the imperfectness of communication?
Despite the fun of batting at the intellectual absurdities Neumann pitches, the evening’s high points were the extended dance passages—a sheepish solo performed with skilled awkwardness by Adrienne Truscott, an absorbing male quartet, and a duet in which Neumann performs his beautifully blurred vocabulary of modern and club dance styles.