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Really Queer Dance With Harps20088 dancers53 min

Really Queer Dance With Harps was my first full-scale dance for which the movement was generated by all the dancers, not only by me. It was also, therefore, the first process for which I needed to articulate interests, priorities and strategies we could bring into play within each of our videotaped improvisation sessions. We focused on the queer as in the non-normative and therefore often repressed. In terms of movement this took us toward exploring the excessive and flamboyant, as well as the ambiguous and “illegible.” We used embarrassment as a clue to help us avoid immediate self-censorship. Also, I shared some new-to-me embodiment practices from Body-Mind-Centering®, which I had learned from RoseAnne Spradlin, as means to find some “paths less traveled” within our dancing. As I began structuring the movement I leaned into choreographic choices that likewise seemed queer to me, possibilities I may have wanted to pursue previously but hadn’t yet dared.

As for my previous work, Quartet With Three Gay Men (2006), with which RQDWH was paired in performance, I chose the title of RQDWH to bring topics of sexuality and gender into the thought-arena, asking viewers to hold different media together simultaneously— the dance and the concepts embedded in the title—and negotiate the poetics of perhaps not being able to connect them nor fully separate them, but to nevertheless experience their co-existence. 

About the music: Zeena Parkins had made a score of overlaid harp tracks for my partial view solo in 2005, which sent us dreaming up the plan to realize such a score with live musicians. I can’t quite believe we pulled it off.  Zeena developed the RQDWH score in a way that mirrors my movement generation and choreographic process - she recorded herself improvising on the acoustic harp and then arranged sections of the resulting tracks such that the compositions could eventually be transcribed and played live by three musicians. We dancers worked with the mockup recordings for our source movement video-recording sessions, and in performance danced around a cluster of three harpists (Zeena included).

Zeena really wanted me to include the music ultimately used for the Coda section, but I couldn’t find a way to do so - it seemed cut from a different cloth. I promised Zeena if I finished the rest of the dance in time I’d see if I could use that piece for a Coda. Happily, there was time, and that final dance became an opportunity for me to indulge in a utopian romp, an eden. 

A critical note: The late Doran George wrote in “The Hysterical Spectator: Dancing with Feminists, Nellies, Andro-dykes, and Drag Queens,” their chapter within Queer Dance: Meanings and Makings

  •            “Despite my queer viewer’s delight in the gay-male visibility achieved in Really Queer Dance With Harps, my feminist spectator insists that although…male and female dancers share a vocabulary, they access critical agency asymmetrically.” 

A fair point, seems to me. To George’s “queer viewer” RQDWH “gives the finger to heterosexual dance establishments'' and “resists femme-phobia,” their “feminist viewer” sees the women at times functioning “as a chorus for the boys,” such that “the ‘really queer’ body is thus male, overshadowing dancing female critical agency.” Again, fair point. Though I’m more interested in the work as a queer dance than as as a representation of queer people, to the extent that one is looking at/for representation(s) of identity(ies)  - which the title does put into play - I agree the dance would fall short in feminist and trangender terms.

Premiered at Dance Theater Workshop in New York City.

Choreographer: Neil Greenberg
Performed by: Ellen Barnaby, Nicholas Duran, Johnni Durango, Christine Elmo, Paige Martin, Luke Miller, Antonio Ramos, Colin Stilwell
Music:   Zeena Parkins
Musicians: Shelley Burgon, Zeena Parkins, Kristen Theriault

Lighting & Production Design: Michael Stiller
Costumes: David Quinn


Commissioned by the Bessie Schonberg/First Light Commissioning and Creative Residency Program of Dance Theater Workshop with support from the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts,the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Jerome Robbins Foundation
Multi-Arts Production (MAP) Fund, a program of Creative Capital supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Rockefeller Foundation
New York State Council on the Arts
The Harkness Foundation for Dance
James E. Robison Foundation
Research funds from the University of California, Riverside
American Music Center Live Music for Dance Program

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

Recorded at Dance Theater Workshop in 2008 by Sathya  Production Services, Molly McBride, Director


Roslyn Sulcas, The New York Times, 2008

Siobhan Burke,, 2008
Nancy Dalva, danceviewtimes
Deborah Jowitt, The Village Voice
Apollinaire Scherr, artsjournal
Don Daniels, Ballet Review

Victoria Looseleaf, Los Angeles Times

Brian McCormick, Gay City News
Gus Solomons Jr., Metro

Additional Links

Zeena Parkins: Three Harps, Tuning Forks and Electronics

Neil’s Liner Note for Three Harps, Tuning Forks and Electronics

George, Doran. “The Hysterical Spectator: Dancing with Feminists, Nellies, Andro-dykes, and Drag Queens.” Queer Dance, edited by Clare Croft. Oxford University Press, 2017
ARTFORUM '500 Words' Interview with David Valesco, 16 June, 2008
Excerpts from Really Queer Dance With Harps

L-R: Christine Elmo, Colin Stilwell
© Frank Mullaney

L-R: Ellen Barnaby, Luke Miller, Nicholas Duran, Johnni Durango, Christine Elmo, Colin Stilwell, Paige Martin  
© Frank Mullaney

Paige Martin
© Frank Mullaney

Christine Elmo
© Frank Mullaney

L-R: Paige Martin, Johnni Durango; Shelley Burgon, Kristin Theriault, Zeena Parkins
© Erin Baiano