David Neumann Goes Deep and Scores
The New Yorker has called him "one of the funniest artists in downtown dance." David Neumann is a dancer, choreographer, theater performer, and artistic director of Advanced Beginner Group. He was an original member of Doug Elkins Dance Company and a member of Doug Varone and Dancers. His work has been presented worldwide, but it was his interdisciplinary piece Feedforward, which explored and rearranged the rules and tactics of several sports with great aplomb that first caught our attention. His new work Big Eater recently premiered, appropriately enough, at The Kitchen in New York. Our man in Germany, Fred Schmalz, did a trans-Atlantic do-si-do with him.
conduit: You've said in the past that you're not really a sports fan. What motivated you to couch two of your dances (Adirondack and Feedforward) in the language and images of sports?
david neumann: I had an epiphany while listening to the broadcast of a hockey game over the radio in the late nineties. The description of the game without any image held my attention for a number of reasons. For one, it was fascinating to hear how the sportscasters used language to describe action. I thought it could be a great source for choreography. Then other layers kept emerging—cultural, gender, political, philosophical, phenomenological.
This led to the first piece, Adirondack. Some of the same interests apply to Feedforward: utilizing one "found system" to describe another—in this case sports rules for choreography—a way to look at the American culture, a set of rules for choreography, etc. I often look to outside sources to inspire choreographic ideas. Not just movement, but a contextual milieu within which I can play.
I have to admit that I'm now a new fan of some sports because of Feedforward. I've always been attracted to soccer as the flow of the game is most like the type of performance timing I enjoy. But since two years ago, I've become an enormous fan of ice-dancing—the closest mix of traditional approaches to dance and sports I've found.
conduit: Ice-dancing? Wow, where do you watch that? Do you have cable?
neumann: No, I don't have cable. I did watch tons of videos and DVDs. Some I collected from both friends and strangers who happened to have recorded the duets, some from YouTube, or other online video sources.
I've only seen it on television when there are figure skating or ice dancing exhibitions or championships and usually on tour, where I do have cable.
There's definitely a kitsch factor but there's another level of appreciation around the effort of the athletes that I think transcends the aesthetics of those in charge.
Basketball, baseball, and football have all grown on me, too—and for all the sports I appreciate them most seen live.
Sports continue to interest me, though I see myself as a closet anthropologist rather than a true, pure fan.