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Stage -Gun-Dance19888 dancers40 min

With Stage-Gun-Dance I was again playing around with meaning-making, continuing the direction I had started with my previous work, MacGuffin or How Meanings Get Lost. I had made a first draft of Stage-Gun-Dance for students at Purchase College (where I had recently started teaching), which I had titled A Gun on the Stage. For Stage-Gun-Dance I added in projected supertitles for a second time (the first was for MacGuffin) that provided tongue-in-cheek commentary about the onstage action, including the performance of choreographic and theatrical conventions. 

I dubbed the work a danse-noire, in part as a nod to the Jim Thompson novels I was rabidly consuming at the time, with their hard-boiled protagonists and play with genre conventions. We cultivated what I aimed to be a conspiratorial, at times confrontational, performance presence for Stage-Gun-Dance. We practiced looking at the audience with no whites showing above our pupils, heads tilted slightly down, which I thought made us look rather sinister in an obviously contrived sort of way. I thought of the performers as anti-heros in the pursuit of meaning, and the dance as a push-back on narrative and choreographic conventions, on psychological realism, and on narrative itself. 

The gun in the title was a reference to Chekhov’s famous narrative principle: "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." I did, indeed, put a gun on the stage, first through the slide “If a gun goes off, the dance is over.,” and finally with the repeated firing of a prop gun (otherwise known as a stage gun), staying true to the contract of the supertitle. 

The stages of Stage-Gun-Dance included a 10’ X 12’ moveable platform, a 6’ X 8’ wooden frame unfolded on the floor (about the size of the stage at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut on which I sometimes performed), and the full dance floor of St. Mark’s Church, with an offstage area delineated by blue stage curtains. 

The dance in the work included some  intentionally simplistic sequences, straight out of Choreography 101.  Viewing the recording of the work thirty-some years later, I’m especially interested in the solos for myself and the other three “principals.” I also note an unfortunate proliferation of unison episodes, notwithstanding that unison was one of the choreographic conventions I was playing with and parodying.

Other stagecraft employed: At one point we sported eye patches. Sondra Loring repeatedly stabbed herself with prop knives, which I held for her on a red velvet pillow. I put in a silly joke involving Christopher Batenhorst and the stage curtain. And the lighting design, by Carol Mullins, was spot-on. I came to her with the idea of lighting the piece like a film noir, and she came back with all those wonderful lighting effects of shadows through venetian blinds and the like. I was thrilled. 

Premiered at Danspace Project at St Mark’s Church on October 20, 1988.


Choreography and Text: Neil Greenberg

Performed by: C. Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg, Sondra Loring, Janet Panetta & Matthew Carmody, Catherine Green, Liz Maxwell, Allan Tibbetts

Lighting Design: Carol Mullins

Costumes: Patricia Sarnataro

Projections Design: Stephanie Rudolph

Platform Design: Mark Tambella
Curtain Construction: C. Batenhorst

Videography for the Danspace Video Archival Project by Character Generators at Danspace Project at St. Mark’s Church. on October 23, 1988 

Camera: Michael Schwartz


Jennifer Dunning, New York Times, 1988

Deborah Jowitt, Village Voice, 1988

Otis Stuart, Dance Magazine 1989 

Alina Gildiner, Globe and Mail, 1989

Don Daniels, Ballet Review, 1990

Additional Links

Text for Stage-Gun-Dance

Neil Greenberg
© Tom Brazil

L-R around stage: Matthew Carmody, Catherine Green, Liz Maxwell, Allan Tibbetts; behind: C. Batenhorst, Sondra Loring, Janet Panetta, Neil Greenberg
© Tom Brazil

L-R: C. Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg
© Tom Brazil

C. Batenhorst
© Tom Brazil

L-R: Allan Tibbetts, C. Batenhorst, Neil Greenberg (foreground), Sondra Loring, Catherine Green
© Tom Brazil