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Destiny Dance19914 dancers28 min

Destiny Dance marked my first dance performed with music of any kind other than the sound of the dancing (or props, in the case of the immediately preceding Branches, Swords, Flowers, Spears, Ribbons). It also marked both my first collaborations with lighting designer Michael Stiller and composer/instrumentalist Zeena Parkins (at the suggestion of another composer-instrumentalist, David Linton).

Granted, the music in Destiny Dance was sparsely allocated to a brief overture of wind sounds, and a four-minute section, beginning around minute 18 of the 28-minute work, for which Zeena employed manipulated samples from a string quartet by Ravel, fluctuating minor chords from a synthesizer, and more wind sounds. That’s it. Zeena was responding, in part, to my insistence that any music had to be dance-driven, by which I meant cued by the dancers. I was fairly adamant, for Destiny Dance and my next few collaborations with Zeena, that I did not want the performers to be dancing to the music. Zeena and I thought of the music as having a similar presence as lighting design, and similarly cued by the onstage action. I wanted the dancing to lead. 

The text in the work was also sparingly apportioned: The title (Destiny Dance); and the sentences on the banner (Is this the dance I was destined to make?) and the two placards (He decided to use music; I was destined to be in this dance) that the dancers displayed during the aforementioned section with music. In all, these gestures toward meaning-making were made largely tongue-in-cheek, functioning as MacGuffins. It seems to me now that I was asking where the meaningfulness resided - in the overt gestures toward meaning-making, or in the experience of viewing the dancing? Or, perhaps more to the point, in an experience of the dancing within a thought-arena in which these questions are summoned?  Because I was in actuality also at that time thinking about questions related to free-will, culturally constructed behavior, the compulsion to repeat, and other questions that lived, for me, within that overblown notion of destiny. It would be years before I learned about the field of performance studies, with the related concepts of twice-behaved behavior, and performativity. 

I structured Destiny Dance into three sections as defined by the onstage placement of four stage flats - first across the upstage wall, then moved far downstage to create a stage apron, and finally with the center two flats disappearing behind the outer ones to create an opening into an upstage playing field. These set pieces came into play simply because they were at hand: Some flats were piled into a corner of the studio where we rehearsed, which gave me the idea as well as the materials to try it out. I suppose I was destined to use those flats, or so went one of our many destiny-related rehearsal jokes (I also would sometimes sing “the love song from destiny dance.”)

Michael’s intentionally overdramatic lighting design made productive use of the stage flats, casting shadows on them and sending light beams through them. It seems to me now that his design functioned as yet another MacGuffin, while also signaling something of import was nevertheless occurring - the resonances of dance, of performance, of theater. 

Finally, I note that I began using a video camera as a choreographic tool while making Destiny Dance. I began videotaping run-throughs of the developing work for later study, which has continued to be an important resource for me. I also started recording myself working improvisationally with movement material already in the work, then loosely learning some of the resulting sequences - basically variations on the original movement - and employing them within the work. I was not yet trying to learn the recorded material “verbatim,” as eventually became my practice. But that 8mm camera, generously loaned to me by Kristy Santimyer, really started something for me.

Premiered January 18, 1991 at Performance Space 122.


Choreography and Text: Neil Greenberg

Performed by (1991 original cast): Ellen Barnaby, Christopher Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg, Kristy Santimyer

Performed by (1992): Ellen Barnaby, Thomas Caley, Neil Greenberg, Jo McKendry

Music: Zeena Parkins

Lighting Design: Michael Stiller

Costume Construction: Nancy Coenen & Leslie Alderman

Graphics: Hugo Cruz Moro

Videotaped by the Dance Collection of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts for preservation in the Jerome Robbins Archives of the Recorded Moving Image

Recorded April 5, 1992 by by Character Generators at La MaMa E.T.C.’s Annex Theater.

Cameraperson: Michael Schwartz


Developed through the Working in the Kitchen program in Autumn, 1990.

New York State Council on the Arts


Don Daniels, Ballet Review, 1992

L-R: Ellen Barnaby, Kristy Santimyer, Neil Greenberg, Christopher Batenhorst
© Dona Ann McAdams, 1991

L-R: Kristy Santimyer, Christopher Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg
© Tom Brazil, 1991

L-R: Christopher Batenhorst, Kristy Santimyer
© Tom Brazil, 1991

L-R: Kristy Santimyer, Neil Greenberg
© Tom Brazil, 1991

Neil Greenberg
© Paula Court, 1992