April 14, 2007
For choreographer, dance blends with sport
Neumann's troupe on stage tonight at Alverno
Author: TOM STRINI; Journal Sentinel dance critic
As a teenager, David Neumann was a break dancer, student of the martial arts and a soccer and basketball player. Then he took a tap class.
"The teacher took me aside and said, ‘You’re pretty good. You should take the advanced beginner class,’ " Neumann said over lunch at Alverno College.
Years later, he named his company Advanced Beginner Group. Neumann and ABG will perform tonight at Alverno and will be back next year with a new piece commissioned by the south side women’s college and the National Performance Network.
Neumann, 41, still thinks of himself as a lowercase advanced beginner. He came to dance late, after completing a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting at the State University of New York at Purchase in 1988 and working in theater around New York for a few years. He even showed up on TV as a clumsy dentist on "Starting from Scratch," a short-lived syndicated comedy.
Neumann is the son of actors — his parents were members of the avant-garde Mabou Mines Company in New York — and might have been on the way up. Without really trying to, he fell into dance.
In addition to the tap classes, he had taken some African dance as a kid and was an avid breaker, freestylist and house dancer in clubs. He also "sneaked into" all the dance classes he could at SUNY. In New York, he found that the dance scene always has room for a few good men, no matter how spotty the training. In 1989, he joined the Doug Elkins Company and stayed for eight years.
"I could fake a lot of the material, but I did my damned best," Neumann said. Working alongside highly trained dancers prompted him to take a lot of classes and work hard to build technique.
He created his first dances for low-budget theater productions and seized every choreographic opportunity. He broke out with a series of works at PS 122, a new-arts venue in New York, in 1995, ’96 and ’97. He’s been on his own as a company director and choreographer since 1998.
Neumann’s work and ensemble reflect his background. He often uses text, and his performers can be actors who can move or dancers who can speak.
To create "tough the tough" on tonight’s program, he taped the floor plans of his dancers’ tiny New York apartments onto the rehearsal floor and had them walk through their morning routines — rising, dressing, breakfast, even bathroom stops — to generate traffic patterns, gestures and steps. He expanded on this basic material to make the dance.
In past work, he’s drawn on Marx Brothers physical comedy routines and a radio account of a hockey game. He’s gathering material for next year’s dance by observing Alverno’s varsity soccer, volleyball and softball practices.
He thinks that looking at sport, properly and deeply, isn’t that different from looking at dance. He stood up to demonstrate how tennis star Pete Sampras ritualized the wiping of sweat from his brow: Step forward, rock suddenly back on one heel, wipe and turn the head, back up behind the baseline, settle into ready position. Neumann repeated the sequence and added some rhythmic edge.
"Yeah, it’s a piece about sports," Neumann said. "But I’m dancing."