Neil Greenberg, Dance Theater Workshop, New York

Neil Greenberg’s (like a vase) begins with Ruth Draper – the mid-century monologist who set Lily Tomlin on her course – impersonating a neoclassical PE teacher. She is instructing her stout young female charges in the virtues of “Greek poise”. The hour-long dance both shares this high-minded exerciser’s aspirations and makes even more of a hash of them than her Isadorable pupils probably did. I have never seen such well-wrought inharmoniousness.

As soon as Johnni Durango shows up in garishly patterned tights, which turn out to clash with the other five dancers’ equally garish ensembles, it is clear that the Greek columns demarcating the space are a red herring. The choreography will offer only momentary hallucinations of pattern and sense. As for the steps, they abound in legs half straightened (or are they half bent?), feet that would pound if they weren’t stuck on half point – in short, the relentlessly incomplete. I glimpse snatches of flamenco, yoga, aerobics and club dancing, executed as if stoned.

Of course, the bleariness is deliberate. The choreographer can do sharply evocative when he wants. At hour’s end, for example, the dancers move downstage to face every which way. For once, I know what their formation is not: a line. Its absence hovers gorgeously over the moment. More typical, though, is an episode in which two dancers blow the dust off standing mikes as if preparing to sing; they do not. Most of (like a vase) is a prelude or epilogue to an unrealised main event.

Until I saw (like a vase), the title reminded me of Greenberg’s affinity with the Keats of nightingale and Grecian urn. Best known for his seminal Not-About-Aids Dance of 1994, the former Cunningham dancer has long been fruitfully fascinated by the gap and overlap between art and life. His dances have felt urgent.

So it is disappointing that here he has dismantled the syntax of meaning that spawns this sense of imperative. But at least (like a vase) is not maddening. Once you realise it is as dead set on not adding up as John Cage intoning phonemes, you can relax. Meanwhile, Durango and longtime Greenberg dancer Paige Martin create loveliness out of the feeble steps by sheer force of skill – a gravitation towards sense that is intrinsic to dancing and that nothing will knock out of them. ()

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