Postmodern dances have notoriously short shelf lives, performed for a weekend before they disappear forever. So choreographer Neil Greenberg’s revival of his marvelous 1994 Not-About-AIDS-Dance, commemorating the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the disease, is cause for celebration.
“For me and for the dancers, it’s a project of the heart,” says Greenberg, who outed himself as HIV-positive via a slide projected on the back wall of the Kitchen during the original run. Driving the development of the 50-minute work were the deaths, in one year and in rapid succession, of his brother Jon (an AIDS activist who lived around the corner from him in the East Village) and nine other friends. The first production garnered wide critical acclaim, not least because of its use of projected text that introduces the cast, provides historical context, and comments on the work as it proceeds, much as an announcer provides “color” during a sprts broadcast.
“It helps the audience to get to know the performers a bit,” says the choreographer. “Maybe knowing the dancers is part of the entry into enjoying the dancing.”
This week’s run at Dance Theater Workshop is “basically a self-production, a subsidized rental, the first time I’ve self-produced my work in 20 years,” says Greenberg, who at 47 looks much same as he did in 1994. “I had to really want to do this, and to question why I wanted to do it. If it’s just about my personal need to continue mourning, to continue dealing with that time, that’s not good enough. It might meet a need for other individuals, and maybe for the community. And it’s incredibly gratifying to revive a dance that would otherwise be dead. I think it’s a really good move, and I wish there were more opportunities for my artist peers to do the same.”
Three members of the original cast, Justine Lynch, Ellen Barnaby, and Greenberg, appear in this production, joined by Paige Martin and Antonio Ramos. The latter two and Colin Stilwell—who appears in the program’s other piece, the premiere of Quartet for Three Gay Men—came Greenberg’s way at SUNY Purchase, where he’s taught since 1987. “That job and a rent-stabilized apartment I’ve had for 27 years have made my career possible,” says Greenberg, who left Minneapolis in the late ’70s to attend Juilliard. He dropped out and danced in Merce Cunningham’s company before founding his own troupe in 1986.
Completing the cast of the new work, which Greenberg calls a 10-minute “ball of energy” to disco music “aestheticized” by Zeena Parkins, are Ramos, the choreographer, and Luke Miller, a recent graduate of the NYU Tisch dance department. “I was ‘the other generation’ for Merce,” Greenberg says, “and now I’m dealing with the younger generation. It’s energizing. I love that they’ve had a different kind of dance history than I have. Different things live in their bodies. Luke has never taken a Graham class. It’s much easier for the younger dancers to feel the floor.”
Not-About-AIDS-Dance returns at a much more hopeful time for people with HIV. Greenberg has been basically asymptomatic since his diagnosis 20 years ago. “People do still die of AIDS, but nowhere near the [earlier] numbers, because of the treatments available now. In 1994, AIDS was identified as a terminal illness, necessarily fatal; as an HIV-positive person that was really difficult for morale. My brother’s death made me realize that I was going to die, and I thought I would most likely die within five years. I’d already lived much longer than the news predicted. I did go on the drugs, in 1997. What’s different now is that I don’t imagine myself and all my friends who are HIV-positive dying from AIDS. That’s a big difference.”
Not-About-AIDS-Dance runs through Sunday at Dance Theater Workshop. A panel discussion about the state of artists’ discourse and activism around HIV/AIDS follows Thursday’s performance. An interview with Greenberg conducted by Miguel Gutierrez for Movement Research’s
Critical Correspondence series can be downloaded, in print or as an audio file, at movementresearch.org/publishing/cc/cc.html.